Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The promises and glory of The Redeemer . . .

     I hate weeks like this.  A couple months ago, as we were beginning to speak about Stewardship in the Vestry, I was challenged by a couple members about my lack of sermons on Stewardship.  Their concern was certainly legitimate.  During the search process, some on the Vestry and Search Committee had been excited that my own sense of my call had coalesced around a stewardship sermon I gave as a much younger layman in charge of my sending parish’s Stewardship campaign.  Not unsurprisingly, eyes lit up at that story.  You mean you are not afraid to talk about money?  You mean you pay attention to secular concerns?  I had not preached specifically on money since my arrival at Advent.  Understandably, this had some of us a bit concerned.  But I started going through the lectionary with Gregg.  We had not had many “money” opportunities.  To be sure, I had preached on stewardship in other areas of our life, but I had not hit the wallet or checkbook.  That got us looking forward.  Somewhat surprising to us both, there was no real reading on money until the Widow’s Mite.  But, it was in November and stewardship would be ramped up by then and it would work.
     For two months or so, I was pretty certain what I wanted to preach on today.  Then the week hit.  Try as I might, I could not bring myself to preach on the widow’s mite today.  Believe me, I tried hard.  But for some reason I felt the knowing urge to go elsewhere today.  That being said, at least in naming the sermon I am not preaching, maybe you will hear an old one in your minds and mull it over more in your prayer life this week.  Or maybe, if you prefer, ask a friend what his or her preacher said about the widow’s mite and giving to the church this week.
     Instead, I was drawn to Ruth.  Like Job, Ruth is one of those books that we ignore to our own detriment.  Heck, it is a book that ought to appeal to those of us who love Outlander, Game of Thrones, a love story, a bit of suspense, a bit of tragedy, and an incredible ending.  For those who have forgotten the story, Naomi and Elimelech are suffering from a drought in the beginning of the book.  Faithful Jews, they are tending the land promised to them since the time of Abraham.  Those who farm often live on the edge.  I know the joke is that there are few atheists in foxholes, but there are fewer even in farming.  Farmers can do everything right, everything from plowing to adjusting the pH of their soil to selecting their crops, but if the rains do not come in a timely fashion, or if the scorching heat and freezing cold occur at just the wrong moment, all their hard work can be undone.  Many pray to God for the weather, because they recognize He sets the patterns in place.
     Naomi and Elimelech are so on the edge of starvation that they eventually abandon their inheritance.  I have explained to you several times that living in the Promised Land was much like us sharing the Sacrament.  It was that outward symbol of God’s grace and promises.  Imagine choosing to give up the Sacrament.  Maybe it is not so hard for us today either.  Many of us know people who cannot find time to attend church, who’d rather be golfing or sleeping than giving thanks to God for what He has done in their lives.  Perhaps some of us have been in that mood as well.  In any event, Naomi and Elimelech hear that life is better in Moab.  Moab of all places!  What in the heck is going on with God?  He is causing rain among one of the enemies of His people but is withholding it from His people?  Is He asleep at the wheel?  Has He forgotten His instructions?  No, of course not.  This is the time of the Judges.  People are doing as they see fit rather than listening to God.
     Naomi and Elimelech head to Moab and begin scratching out a living with their boys.  Eventually, the time comes for the parents to find brides for their sons.  Faithful Jews would look from among the Jews, right?  That’s what God commanded.  Naomi and Elimelech, unfortunately, look locally.  They choose two Moabite women as brides for their sons.
     Not unsurprisingly, the story goes downhill from there.  Elimelech and the two sons die.  We, as students of God’s instructions, know that this is clearly His judgment on the family for forgetting God and His commands.  They left the land, they went to Moab of all places.  They chose Moabite women as wives for their sons.  Maybe they should have flipped God off as they went about their life.  Clearly, this book is about judgement.  The patriarch sins and God exercises vengeance against him and his sons, just as He always promised He would.
     As the story continues, Naomi and her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, are in tough shape.  Naomi hears that things have improved back in Israel—God has opened up the heavens again.  So she determines to head home.  Before leaving, the seemingly accursed mother-in-law frees her daughters-in-law from her.  She tells both that they are young and able to find new husbands.  Were she even of a mind to try a Levirate marriage, they would be well past child-bear age once she produced another son for them to marry.  Not surprisingly, Orpah heads back to her family, though after an emotional parting.  Clearly she loved Naomi.  But, she accepts Naomi’s wisdom and heads back into Moabite society.
     Ruth, on the other hand, refuses to leave Naomi.  Naomi’s God has become her God, and she will forsake neither.  Though Naomi tries to dissuade her, Ruth is determined.  So the two widows set out for Israel.
     Eventually, they arrive back in the area of Naomi’s family.  There they meet a kinsman of Naomi named Boaz.  Boaz, we are told, is a righteous man.  In fact, when he sees Ruth gleaning the field, he instructs his workers to give her something to drink and assist her, because of her faithfulness to Naomi.  He tells the men not to hassle her.  He even instructs her not to go to anyone else’s field.  I need not remind you all of the vulnerabilities faced by women in the ANE.  Imagine being a young, beautiful, immigrant woman in that day and age.  I don’t have to because I have met lots of Ruth’s.  The more things change the more they stay the same.  Yes, faithful Jews were supposed to let the poor and foreigners glean the fields.  Yes, the faithful Jews were expected to be gracious hosts and to remember above all else that the Lord their God loved the widow and the orphan.  Of course, faithful Jews were supposed to keep the Land their Lord had given them.  Faithful Jews were not supposed to marry Moabite women.  Boaz stands out because he lives his daily life in testimony to his Lord.  He does his best to do as God instructs.
     As a curious side note, Boaz even explains to Ruth the source of his seeming generosity.  He has heard how she gleans for Naomi, how she left her home and land and travelled to Israel in faithful service to his kinswoman.  And for her faithfulness he offers a prayer of blessing.  He prays that God will bless her and reward her both for her service and for seeking refuge under His wings.
     This is where our story picks up today in our readings.  Naomi asks her daughter-in-law to trust her, but that she needs to get her some security.  Naomi instructs Ruth to bathe, anoint herself, and dress and then sneak into the threshing floor after the men have fallen asleep for the night.  She tells Ruth to observe where he sleeps.  Once he is asleep, she is to uncover his feet and do as he says.
     I said that the story is like Game of Thrones or Outlander.  It is more so like the latter, but it has some good sexual innuendo in it.  The Hebrew word for feet is also the Hebrew word for another part of the male body.  I see you get the danger of the passage now.  Naomi may well be pimping her daughter out for their mutual security.  Such was the likely outcome of widows.
     We already know, though, that Boaz is a righteous guy.  We have been told that, and his actions have backed up what has been described to us.  He has told the men not to harass Ruth.  He has told them to share their water with her.  Heck, he has even given her as much as five gallons worth of grain for gleaning!  Nevertheless, hearing this story for the first time, we should probably hold our breath.  What will he do?  When Boaz wakens and finds Ruth at his “feet,” he blesses her for what she has done.  On the righteous hand, she has loved Naomi enough to have offered herself to Boaz so that he might redeem Naomi and her family by giving her a son.  On the other hand, she has trusted Naomi even to the point of prostituting herself to care for her mother-in-law.  She has defied common sense and normal relationships.  She has come to truly care for the mother of her husband, the lady who instructed her in the love and grace of the Lord.
     Boaz does not seem to think himself to be quite the catch.  He is neither young nor rich nor hunky.  Ruth, in his mind, should have been chasing after young men, wealthier men, or more handsome men.  She has chosen instead to trust the advice of her mother-in-law.  But a problem remains.  There is a kinsman who is closer to Naomi than Boaz.  Before Boaz can redeem his kinswoman, this closer relative needs to give up the right in front of the elders at the gates.
     Boaz may be righteous, but he is nobody’s fool.  He seeks out the kinsman and asks if he has heard that Naomi is back and that her sons are dead.  The implication is, of course, that the old woman needs someone to care for her and to try and father a child on her for poor Elimelech.  The kinsman wants nothing to do with the cursed hag mentioned by Boaz.  So Boaz offers to redeem his kinswoman in this guy’s stead, as well as the Moabite hanger-on.  For different reasons, both are excited to do this in front of the elders at the gate.  The closer kinsman wants freed of his responsibilities to Naomi.  Boaz wants to marry the faithful beautiful daughter-in-law of Naomi. 
     Plots, intrigue, some comedy, a little sex—the story seems right out of prime time network television, does it not?  In the most amazing way, God answers Boaz’ prayer.  Never in a million years did he think himself anyone’s answered prayer; yet God used him to redeem the family of Naomi and Elimelech.  Both lived happily ever after, it seems, yet we are given an amazing footnote.  Boaz did indeed know his wife and she conceived a son.  His name was Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David.
     For her faithfulness, this Moabite widow is not only grafted into the vine of Israel, but she becomes one of the matriarchs of the Holy Family.  Yes, the town to which Ruth and Naomi returned was Bethlehem.  Yes, Ruth is the grandmother of David, the king of Israel.  More amazingly to a foreign widow and to us, she now stands in the lineage of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of David.
     The story is a beautiful story and full of twists and turns and humor and sadness.  On the surface, it is about the kinsman redeemer of Israel, the Go’el.  None of Israel was to be dispossessed of their land.  To be dispossessed from the land was equated with being cut off from the promises of God.  Whenever tragedy befell families, God expected kinsmen to alleviate the suffering and eventually produce an heir, if possible, for the ones dispossessed.  It is a simple and complex rule and was followed by the righteous and ignored by those who did as they saw fit. 
     Family dynamics are . . . .interesting, are they not?  Most families, it seems to me, excel in putting the fun into dysfunction.  But what we call dysfunction, God calls normal.  Every family has its difficulties.  Sometimes it is a black sheep; sometimes it is someone who besmirches the name of the family by their actions.  We like to think such black sheep are distant cousins or weird aunts and uncles.  But, with the holidays on the horizon, let’s be real.  Some are far more closer to our immediate families than distant cousins or odd aunts or goofy uncles.  Some are brothers, some are sisters, and some are seen by us in our mirrors.
     At the deeper level, though, the story of Ruth speaks to all our need for a Go’el, a kinsman redeemer.  We all need someone who will rescue our families from whatever systemic sin we find ourselves rooted.  The story of Ruth speaks to that frailty, that weakness we all share with the One who came down from heaven and called Himself the Son of Man.  At the deeper level, Jesus took on that title and uses this story to remind each and every one of us that He is our brother who has redeemed us.  When we should have been cut off, when we should have been abandoned, He stepped in and adopted us into that same family that now counts among its matriarchs and patriarchs Ruth and Boaz.  When we were the drunken uncle, when we were the crazy aunt that could not stop pinching cheeks, when we were the black sheep who hung out with the wrong crowd, introduced substances to our bodies that had no business being there, or sought comfort in the arms of one after another, He stepped in and reminded us that we were loved, that we were invited into this amazing holy family, that we could be white sheep, while retaining some of the unique characteristics that made us us.  And the relationship He offers us is not one of tolerance, not one of “I only have to deal with you on special occasions like holidays,” but rather one of love!  How do we know this?  Because He died for us, knowing all our faults, long before we ever came to know and understand Him.  He died for us even when we were fighting against Him!
     And what does He ask of us?  Everything and nothing.  In one sense, becoming a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth is as simple as asking Him to come into our hearts and to rule our lives.  When we sin against God or neighbors, we repent and try again.  He has already born the true cost of our forgiveness on the Cross.  On the other hand, though, becoming a disciple of Jesus, becoming a follower of the Lord, is the most difficult thing you and I will ever do.  Accepting that relationship means that we become His hands and feet and voice in the world, a world which wants nothing to do with Him or us.  Accepting that relationship means that we begin to live as if we believe the things He taught are true.  Boaz had every reason not to want to father a grandson for Naomi.  As a faithful man, he no doubt felt some twinge of guilt about marrying a Moabite woman as go’el.  Yet, he also had the witness of Ruth’s service to Naomi before him.  He knew she was different that her sister.  He knew she placed her trust in her mother-in-law and, far more importantly, in her God of Israel.  Knowing he was no looker and no longer young, Boaz likely understood there would be whispers and laughter at the man being taken advantage of by the Moabitess.  But he was determined to follow God and serve him in all that he did.  How he treated the poor and aliens before Ruth entered the picture is clear enough to us.  And God blessed his faithfulness in ways this humble, faithful man could never have expected.
     That same relationship is offered by our Lord to each one of us.  Our Lord stands ready to redeem each one of us, not as a slave, not as a servant, but as a friend, a brother, and a sister.  Our Lord stands ready to serve us even as He asks us to serve Him.  Brothers and sisters, each of us has incredible misery in our lives.  Were we honest and truthful with each other, we would all know, way down deep inside, that we are in a real way unlovable.  Still, He loved us and died for us and offers to redeem us.  All those secrets He knows, and still He suffered to redeem us!
     His love for us will not make the hurt magically go away.  Our decision to follow Him will in no way end all our suffering in this world.  But our decision to follow Him, just like Boaz’, will have incredible opportunity for redemption in our lives.  He will give meaning to the senseless in our lives.  He will give value to the valuelessness of our lives.  He will sanctify and redeem that which the world claims is not.  And for our faithfulness, for our willingness to pick up a cross and follow Him, He will give us rewards even greater than Boaz received, for all eternity.  That’s what it means to be THE GO’EL.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What do you want Me to do for you?

     I guess I made it a whole week in the New Testament, huh?  Our Gospel story today in Mark is familiar to many.  If anyone asks if you know the story about Blind Bartimaeus, most people recognize the name.  What gets confused are some of the details.  Was he the guy with mud on his eyes?  Is he the one who begged and whose parents make him testify before those in the Temple?  Is Bartimaeus the one who is blind because of sin?  What’s worse, the story is one of those “Synoptic problems.”  Details differ between those relating the story.  Did this occur on the way into Jericho?  On the way out?  The synoptic problem is simply the biblical commentators’ acknowledgement that the stories of Matthew, Mark, and Luke don’t always agree.  We live in a society that is full of Law & Order, NCIS, and all kinds of other criminal shows.  This generation understands that witness testimony often differs on details, which is why forensic evidence is so important in trials.  Human beings tend to pay attention to different things at the same event.
     I was thinking of this yesterday as I left the office.  George and Maxine were swinging by church to place the flowers on the altar as I was heading toward a football game at the house.  We stopped to chat a couple moments.  I asked Maxine if she had her house back in order after the big family visit for the baptism.  Maxine laughed that things still weren’t clean.  Then we shared a laugh about our prospects, Karen and mine, if our kids each just have a couple children.  Finally, George and I talked a little shop about a couple small things at church.  If you were to grab the three of us in, say, a decade, and ask us to recount the encounter, how would we remember it?  George might remember it was a bit of a business visit.  Maxine might remember it as a “I told you so moment.”  I might remember it as a warning.  Whose recollection would be wrong?  We pay attention to details that are important to us; we don’t just record facts.
     In the healing of Batimaeus, Mark is interested in telling other parts of the story than his counterparts Luke and Matthew.  In particular, Mark has been building a Dagwood sandwich worthy of the comic strip character’s name.  Mark will often tell stories with so-called sandwiches and meat.  The meat is the important teaching he wishes to convey within the narrative.  Sometimes, Mark crafts sandwiches within sandwiches within sandwiches.  Such is what is happening in our reading.  Let’s look and feast.
     Events are now progressing rapidly.  Jesus and His disciples are leaving Jericho and headed toward Jerusalem.  We all know how the story ends.  As they are leaving, a blind man named Bartimaeus cries out to Him, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”  As many of you know, it was customary for beggars to sit at the gates and beg for alms.  Typically, they spread out the cloak and begged, hoping passerby’s would toss a coin or three onto their cloak.  We might say their cloak was their business or storefront.  Unlike the blind man in the first healing in Mark, though, who remains passive to Jesus, Bartimaeus aggressively seeks healing from Jesus.  Those around the poor blind tell Bartimaeus to be quiet, to quit bothering the rabbi.  But Bartimaeus only gets louder.  Jesus stops and tells the crowd to call Bartimaeus to Him.  Those who moments before were sternly telling the blind man to be quiet are now full of encouragement.  “Take heart; get up, He is calling you.”
     Bartimaeus, Mark says, hopped up and cast aside his cloak and came to Jesus.  Throwing off his cloak is an amazing act in itself.  That was his blanket at night, his wrap during inclement weather, and his source of income by the gates.  We might say it was likely his most valued treasure.  But, at the summons of Jesus, the blind man casts it aside, his only really valued possession, and goes to our Lord.  Compare that to the response of the rich young man or even the Apostles James and John, whose concern is, shall we say, more in line with the world’s thinking than God’s.
     “What do you want me to do for you?”  So often, Jesus asks these words.  So few people give Him the right answer.  Last week, if you read the Gospel while I preached on Job, you might recall that Jesus asks the same question of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who want to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand when He comes into His glory.  Jesus tells them they do not understand what they are asking.  He will not enter into glory the way they expect.  He will enter into His glory through the Cross, and two thieves have already been prepared to sit at His right and His left.  The Apostles are focus on temporal goods, on power.  Jesus is focused on something far more important.
     Blind Bartimaeus somehow sees Jesus and the focus of His work.  Our first hint was the title he uses to address Jesus.  Others call Him Rabbi or Teacher.  Jesus calls Himself the Son of Man.  Bartimaeus is the first to call Jesus “Son of David” in Mark’s Gospel.  To us, sitting on this side of the Cross and Resurrection, the titles may seem interchangeable, but to 1st century Jews, the title “Son of David” was equated with God’s Anointed or Messiah.  Somehow, despite the blindness in his eyes, Bartimaeus is able to see Jesus for who He is.  Was it the stories of all the healings?  We do not know.  We only know that a blind man sees Jesus as the Son of David in his midst and capable of the healing for which he so longs!  More amazingly, when pressed by the Son of David what he wants done for him, the man says simply “My teacher, let me see again.”
     As you can see, there is a tremendous irony in the man’s request.  In many ways, the faith of the Apostles is not yet as mature.  The blind man healed at the beginning of this sandwich sees only shadows and figures that look like trees.  Not a few verses later, Mark teaches us how his brother and sister Apostles and disciples saw Jesus.  Some see Jesus as the path to worldly honor and prestige.  Some will see the glory of the Transformation and yet miss the teaching of Jesus of how His glory will be achieved.  At least one will actively oppose His teaching of a suffering servant.  Some will be jealous of their relationship with Jesus, uncomprehending of the fact that one who casts out demons in His name can long oppose Him and His mission.  Some will cast out marginalized children, forgetting that He teaches they must be childlike in their faith.  On and on the list goes.  The disciples sort of get it.  But like the first blindman, they do not see clearly.  None do, until blind Batimaeus.
     And let’s look quickly at the healing.  In healing the first blind man, what does Jesus do?  He makes must with dust and spit.  And, if we want to be careful, we notice that the complete healing does not take place on the first try.  What is required for Him to heal in all His power?  Faith.  Think of your favorite healings.  Those stories which truly speak into our souls are those where Jesus’ power is sought by others.  If I but touch the hem of His cloak . . . Why could we not cast out the demon? . . . And let’s not forget the rich young man who cannot follow Jesus and goes away grieving because he had many possessions.  In whom or what did the rich young man trust?  His wealth.  Over and over again we see Jesus’ power sufficient to meet any need, and over and over again we see examples of those whose faith is strong and able to claim the healing power of Jesus for themselves and others who must spend a bit more time in the presence of the Lord.  And the Apostles clearly fall into this latter group.  As with the Syrophonecian woman and so many others, though, Jesus simply tells Batimaeus to go, his faith has made him well.  Bartimaeus sees what the Apostles, the Pharisees, the Temple priests, and the crowds have missed.  The Son of Man is the Son of David.  Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s covenant with David.
     What do you want me to do for you?  In many ways, I wish this was the assigned reading for next week, Healing Sunday.  But I think its occurrence this week gives us all time to think.  What do we want from Him?  So often, when people approach the altar rail asking for prayers, I ask that question.  I often wonder if we approach the throne of grace confidently.  Do we come to this rail as did the hemorrhaging woman, those little children, Jairus, or even blind Bartimaeus?  Do we come confident in the belief that Jesus is sufficient for any need we might have?  Or are we more like Peter?  Like Paul?  Like James and John?  Or even more like the rich young man?  Do we come with our own conditions, our own baggage, and an unwillingness to trust in the Son of our Father in Heaven who wants only abundance for us?  Or do we come expecting Him to heal us or, if we are like Paul, in need of a thorn in our side to remind us that His power is made perfect in weakness?  Week in and week out we come to this rail, and I wonder what we seek?  What do you want Me to do for you?
     It seems this lesson in Mark, aside from some other more obvious commentary on discipleship, gives us also a bit of lesson about healing.  First of all, we learn that healing does not come easily.  Yes, Mark pays little attention to the miracle itself.  Jesus just cures blind Bartimaeus with a word and adds a commentary to it.  But notice the effort required of Bartimaeus.  When he calls out to Jesus, the crowd tries to silence him.  Rather than listen to the crowd, however, Bartimaeus calls louder.  He risks infuriating those upon whom he is dependent for a living.  He risks a cuffing or assault in which he will possibly never learn the identity of the one striking him.  And he even risks the comfortableness of his surroundings, no matter how unenviable we might think them.  He risks losing his spot and his cloak, both of which are essential for him in this blind condition for scratching out a meager living. 
     Bartimaeus is not alone in Mark’s Gospel.  Jairus must ignore cultural norms and even the mockery of the mourners to see his daughter restored.  The Syrophoenician woman likewise must overcome cultural norms as well as the fact that she is a gentile woman seeking a Rabbi’s help.  The paralytic man’s friends must lift him onto the roof and then dig their way through the thatch and mud so that they can lower him down.  You think the homeowner was not likely to notice the hole after the crowds dispersed?  The hemorrhaging woman fights through the crowd and then dares to answer Jesus in full view of the crowd when confronted by His question.  The list goes on and on.  Many of those in Mark’s narrative must display incredible persistence seeking the healing they desire.  How often do we, though, give up on Jesus because of the crowd around us?  How many times do we hear the God does not work that way any more and live as if such testimonies are truer than God’s Word?  How many times do we tell ourselves Well, I asked once, I guess that is a “no?”  Heck, how many of us ask for the wrong thing when we find ourselves in Bartimaeus’ position?  How many of us truly know what we desire or need?
     The second lesson regarding healing in Mark’s narrative is the requirement that one must go to Jesus for healing.  It makes sense to us as Christians.  The Son of Man is the Son of David is the Son of God.  But in this world in which we live, how often are we told that real healing is to be found in the care of doctors, of mental health professionals, or in crystals, or in some channeling of the universe’s life force, or some other idol?  Either Jesus is who He says He is or He is not.  Either He is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, of God’s grace, and of all that He revealed in Scripture, or He is not.  We live in a pluralistic age that likes to confuse us, that likes to convince us that truth is relative, that there are any number of paths to the same destination.  Part of Mark’s testimony is that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the light.  Jesus is the God incarnate/Man divine.  More importantly, He lived the life the Father asked of Him.  And for that obedience He was raised from the dead as proof of the testimonies He gave us.  How do we know Messiah came otherwise?  Yet how often are we too quick to seek anyone and anything but the One who promised to redeem all things in our lives?  How embarrassed are we to speak our need to the One who seeks and knows our hearts?
     Those of us watching the story unfold might think Jesus’ question is out of place. If He knows what I need, why ask?  For all His grandeur and glory God desires that we choose to follow Him.  God always gives us a choice to follow or reject.  More amazingly, when we realize we have rejected, He sent His Son so that we could simply repent and try again!  But God always gives us a choice.  It does not matter whether it is you or me, our neighbor, our co-worker, Jonah, Paul, Peter, the Syrophoenician woman, or any other character you admire in Scripture or life.  Everyone has a choice.  Bartimaeus’ answer stands in contrast with those who do not choose correctly.  The rich young man goes away grieving because he had many possessions.  James and John are thinking only in terms of worldly power.  Bartimaeus, though blind, sees clearly who Jesus is and what He offers!  And He readily accepts the opportunity.
     The third lesson that we get in the story is the reminder that there may not be a next time.  I was advised, when I proposed starting a healing service at Advent, that many of us would be loathe to come forward for healing for any number of reasons.  I must say, I listened to the Advent crowds and found my expectations lowered.  But the response of those who have come forward, as well as that of Bartimaeus, reminds us that there may not be a next time.  What if Bartimaeus had decided, “I will wait until Jesus comes back this way and ask to gain my sight?”  This is Jesus’ last pass through of Jericho.  What if Bartimaeus had waited?  Similarly, what if today or next week or next month is the time that God has set that appointment for you or for me?  What do you want me to do for you?  What if we meekly say nothing and keep to our current condition?
     Lastly, the healing requires a response.  Bartimaeus does not simply go back and sit by the road.  The healing is something too joyful for him to contain.  So, what does he do?  He casts aside everything and follows Jesus.  He follows Jesus on this journey that will end in a few short chapters.  He follows Jesus on this road that leads to Calvary.  Unlike those so far in the story, He follows Jesus wherever He leads.  What if Jesus answered our prayer?  How would we react?  Would we be another of those who testified to His saving and healing grace?  Or would we do our best to slip back into the crowd and live the life we have chosen?
     I know I have been a bit heavy today.  I can feel it.  My job and my intention is always to afflict us where we are comfortable and to comfort us where we are afflicted.  Perhaps, sitting here this morning listening to me drone on, you have recognized times in your life where the crowd has gotten the better of your determination, where you realize that you have treated Jesus as if he was of secondary or tertiary importance in your healing, or where you feel like you gave the Lord the wrong answer.  Maybe as the week goes along and the seeds I have planted germinate, such will be the places in your mind to which you turn.  Two things you need to hear: (1) Even if you have missed an opportunity, that was not the last time He was passing through your life.  Each moment you live, each moment you breathe, you have another opportunity to ask for the healing you need.  Next week, we will live that request more intentionally, but such answers can be given at any time.  (2) If you have forgotten who Jesus is, if you have been seduced by the world, you stand in good stead.  You stand in the company of none other than the Apostles and disciples who accompanied Jesus!  And just as His grace and love and forgiveness made them into the men and women we admire from afar, so is His grace and love and forgiveness capable of transforming each one of us into a Bartimaeus of this place and this time!  What do you want Me to do for you?  That, brothers and sisters, is the question before us all, this day and every day.