by Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens
Last week, we had the joy of witnessing our laity – our friends and fellow congregants – lead us in worship! I am particularly grateful for a church community that is so willing to step in and be a part of our worshipping experience by bringing us the message; by singing with our choir; by participating in worship as a liturgist, an usher or a greeter; and by helping our children. It is a joy to be a part of such an active and vibrant community.
It was also good for me to see our worship experience from a different chair – sitting in a different part of the room, witnessing the wildlife active on Sunday morning, having different experience, seeing with new eyes.
Today’s scripture lesson is about seeing things differently; about stepping outside of our comfort zone, taking a risk and placing ourselves in the position to experience the work of God.
We begin with our scripture from the gospel of Mark, chapter 10, verses 46 – 52: The disciples are traveling on the road – their journey has been a long one and they’ve encountered many needy folks on the road – the rich young man (whom Jesus tells to sell his worldly goods); the disciples ask “who is the greatest?”; and Jesus predicts his own death and rejection. It has been a long journey and they are still “on the way.” Our scene takes places as finally they arrive in Jericho and encounter a blind beggar on the roadside. He was named Bartimaeus and was the son of Timaeus. (This person is named twice in this text: Bar in Aramaic is the prefix meaning “son of”, so he is Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus… )
Take note of the place of Bartimaeus: he is typically sidelined – on the side of the road. We may see this story as another example of Jesus helping those on the metaphorical (and the literal) margins of society. But, it was also the best place to be for beggars, strategically located outside the city gate to appeal for help to passers-by. (1) This was the place to be – for Bartimaeus and for us – in the path of the One who can help! And what did he do:
When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’
The others on the roads (other beggars, the crowds, perhaps even the disciples) shushed him and reminded him he was a nobody. “You are not to address Jesus that way!” But Bartimaeus cried out even more loudly, our text says. ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’
Bartimaeus saw himself as a somebody, not a nobody. And so did Jesus. But the disciples were the ones who were “blind” to the importance of such an act of faith, such an important witness to the awesome power of God. In a similar account in the gospel of John, the disciples have an understanding of blindness that underscores their misunderstanding:
John 9, beginning at verse 1:
1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ 3Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.
“Their question – who sinned, this man or his parents – reveals that they believe the blindness is a consequence of a personal sin. The sect of the Pharisees, by the Hebrew root of their name, were separatists… they saw themselves as separate from others by their own perceived righteousness, and they were very conscious of what others observed them doing in public view.” (2) And Jesus says, no one sinned… he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.
We don’t know much about Bartimaeus. We don’t know where he lived, how far he travelled, or even what he was doing there on the road outside the temple besides begging. But THERE HE WAS! In the path of Jesus. He was not hiding in the dark, separated from the “somebodies”. He was not sheltered and protected from the world, ashamed of his ailment. He put himself in the path of the one who could help him, acknowledged his need and asked for help!
So, Jesus said to the disciples, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’
In the book of Mark, Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ And we are told he immediately regained his sight and followed Jesus on the way. I have heard stories of miraculous life-changing events in which we are “blind to the truth” and suddenly we see! But those are rare. More often this dramatic healing comes gradually, not as a story of “Immediately he regained his sight and followed Jesus” but a story of “ eventually, something changed, which led to something else, which led to something else and after a while he realized he was changed and decided to follow Jesus on the way…”
This part of the healing story in the book of John is an elaborate ritual Jesus goes through to cure this man. He is not immediately cured, there is a process that takes place: Jesus spits on the ground and makes a mud with his saliva and spreads the mud on the man’s eyes, and says to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then the man went and washed and came back able to see.
This is a reminder to us that after we place ourselves in the path of the One can help, after we cry out for help and healing, sometimes there is a process; there is a waiting time, a time of action in which we ourselves must do something, a time in which we must recognize what is happening. Perhaps we don’t notice the healing because God is making a paste for us and anointing us and calling us to “go and do” as we wait.
Now, the disclaimer: It is hard to talk about healing stories in the bible, because some of us present would love the kind of healing described in our texts: some of us need a cure for disease, healing for our bodies, a salve for our pain, comfort for our afflictions and we put ourselves in the path of Jesus, we cry out “Have mercy on me, Son of David!” and no healing comes. It’s hard to talk about healing stories, because for many of us healing will not come – we will live with our afflictions, the pain in our bodies, in our minds and in our spirits… but the point is: we LIVE with our afflictions. Healing is a miracle, whether it comes to the areas we would like to be healed or in a different way. We live! The grace offered to us is GRACE given to us by God. Will we decline it because it’s not the grace we wanted?
God is working. And sometimes we need “new eyes” to see how… we need new ways to understand, new methods to perceive the amazing ways God is going out of his way to help us….
9 years ago, my friend Molly and I went on a grand adventure to Greece – we spent 4 days on Crete and 5 days in Athens and surrounding areas and …. as we were preparing to travel from Crete to Greece proper, we drove across the island and found ourselves at lunchtime at a roadside café. It was empty, but the proprietor – in limited English – ensured us we were welcome, so we sat down at the table. And examined the menu. We ordered PIZZA! And she responded, “That is not possible.”
So, we looked and found another option: “an Omelet!” we said.
“That is not possible.”
So, taking her suggestions, we decided on several Greek dishes, and as she scurried off to the kitchen to cook our food for us, we began to talk and laugh as she arrived with a basket of rolls for us. She also placed a bowl of water on the table and instructed us to dip the rather stale rolls in the water and then eat. Thinking this was the way the Greeks did it, we followed directions and continued our conversation, but we could tell something was wrong. The Greek lady was uncomfortable with the rolls and in her broken English kept apologizing to us… for something….
We chatted and ate, observing the group of Greek men having coffee across the street when all of the sudden, our Greek lady left her restaurant and went running down the street after a van, yelling at the top of her lungs! We sat amazed at the scene and after a few minutes, she returned fresh bread in hand. She ran down the street, after the bakery truck, returning breathless, just so we could have fresh bread with our meal!
This is the kind of extreme GRACE God offers us.
Sometimes, we place ourselves in the road before Jesus and cry out for healing and Jesus says “That is not possible.”
Sometimes, we place ourselves in the road before Jesus and Jesus asks us to look up from our meal and pay attention to what is going on in the world and how God is addressing our needs.
Sometimes, we place ourselves in the road before Jesus and He astonishes us by the lengths He will go for us – by running down the street yelling at the bakery truck – to provide for us.
May we see with new eyes the ways God is working in our lives today – perhaps not in the ways we expect, perhaps not in the ways we asked – but God is working, going to extremes to provide us with Grace and love and joy in this life. May we live it fully, with gratitude for the mercy we’ve been given.
- William Loader , First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages from the Lectionary, Pentecost 22, found on http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/MkPentecost22.html
- Found on http://www.mpnhome.net/characters/john9.htm