23 Pentecost Proper 25 Yr B Oct 28 2018 Audio
We take up with the gospel of Mark again in the shadow of Jerusalem, on the way to the cross. We've been on this road for a while now, partners with those in the story who are also on the way. Before the followers of Jesus were called Christians, they were, as we are, people of the way. This story of the blind Bartimaeus is the last story of Jesus’ ministry before the cross, the passion, and resurrection. I think this story of Bartimaeus is in stark contrast to the story that we heard last week, the story about James and John. James and John ask Jesus for power and status, Bartimaeus asks Jesus for healing. God lavishes love on them all, Jesus calls them as followers, and yet each of them must let go of something they’ve been holding on to live fully free, fully alive.
"What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asks Bartimaeus, it’s the same question that Jesus asked James and John only a moment ago in the story, and that we talked about last Sunday. But the gulf between the request that James and John make, and the request Bartimaeus makes is cavernous. James and John were somewhat confused remember, they ask Jesus for power, they think the kingdom is about a seating chart. But Bartimaeus, Bartimaeus asks to see. Nothing like the power and status, the place at the table that James and John were all about, and what’s more is that Bartimaeus wasn’t even officially a disciple.
Imagine Bartimaeus, sitting in the road, probably at the main gate of Jericho, day after day, all day, in the hot sun, begging. But Bartimaeus knows who Jesus is, he’s listened to the talk, he calls out to Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me. Let me see.
Two things here that are so unlike the James and John story, or the story of the rich young man, which we also heard a couple weeks ago. First, the request, have mercy on me, heal me. Second, the ramifications of that healing, what it means to follow Jesus.
Have mercy on me, Bartimaeus asked, mercy. You know what mercy means? A heart for other peoples troubles. Bartimaeus was asking Jesus to have a heart for his troubles. That’s all, hear me, see me, and if you’ve got it in you, heal me. And that’s what Jesus did, Jesus heard him, Jesus saw him, and having a heart for his trouble, Jesus healed Bartimaeus.
So once Bartimaeus is healed, what does he do? Bartimaeus’ profession is begging. Once he is healed, his life is changed, he can’t go on begging anymore, so he follows Jesus. Just like the others, he gets up and follows. Bartimaeus exchanges a life of begging, a life of blindness, for this life of following Jesus. And you and I know where that’s going, straight to the cross.
No matter how much we think we have, no matter our wealth, our status, our power; no matter what we think we don’t have, our lack of health, our lack of wealth, our lack of support, we leave it all behind when we follow Jesus. We get so wrapped up in our own shortcomings, or we spend so much time valuing our worth by what others think is important, that we forget that we are God’s beloveds, and we forget to have mercy, a heart for other people’s troubles.
Jesus calls us to follow, Jesus calls us to surrender things that poison us, or things that keep us from seeing what is around us, Jesus calls us to be merciful, to have a heart for other people’s troubles. Jesus' call to us, the call to be followers, is to open ourselves up, to surrender the stuff that insulates us from our neighbors, to let Love win. Being healed isn't easy for us. Last night, I had the privilege of hearing Anne Lamott talk about her new book, Almost Everything, Notes on hope, and all her wisdom really, Anne said, “when you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, it’s time to surrender.” Being healed is like that; it’s finally recognizing your loveliness in Jesus’ eyes and finally letting yourself be loved, and finally letting go whatever it is you’re sick and tired of, because you can’t control it anyway.
But there is risk involved in being healed. There is risk involved in letting Jesus change you. Life will never, can never be the same. Out of what seems like death, letting go sometimes feels like death, comes resurrection. We cling so desperately to that which we believe is our identity, no matter how healthy or unhealthy; it's nearly impossible to give that up to an identity as beloved of God. Letting go of what we believe defines us to take on our true identity as God’s beloved, is hard. But unless and until we let die what is killing us, we can never be healed, we will never be transformed into the new person in Christ. The Good News is that when we make room for Love to interrupt our precisely organized patterns, we make room for Love to change our path; we make room to go home by a different way. And there will be new life in ways we can hardly begin to imagine.
Bartimaeus is called, and healed, and follows Jesus. But the journey to the cross is as difficult as it is exhilarating; following Jesus is not for the feint of heart. It was only a very short period of time between Bartimaeus being healed, being restored to the community, and Jesus’ passion, suffering, death and resurrection. But the good news is that we are all in this life together. The good news is that we are capable of mercy and love. The good news is seeing, seeing, the grace, the joy, the wonder, in all that life throws at us. Unlike Bartimaeus and the others, we know the end of the story. We know that resurrection happens. We know that life always wins over death. We know that we are part of resurrection. There is hope.
Following Jesus is not about having the right answers; it’s not about being perfect. Following Jesus is seeing healing right in front of us; following Jesus is having a heart for other people’s troubles. Following Jesus is being transformed, being changed; becoming the creation that God calls us to be. Following Jesus is loving our neighbor, our neighbors who don’t look like us or worship like us.