For those of you new or newish to the congregation, I have to apologize this day. I know, we’re not supposed to apologize before we give speeches or sermons, but I can’t help it the day after diocesan convention. The week before convention requires that we stuff four days of work into three. Then there is the loss of my supposed “off day,” which is really a day where people try not to pester me with “stuff,” but gets used a lot for reflection. There is always the hope that one can do real work during the boring parts of convention and clergy conference, but it is usual hard even when there are lots of boring parts and clergy conference does not “feed us.” This year was a bit unusual in that clergy conference was excellent, and there was not a lot of down time during the convention. We were moving at a pace doing some work, so there was very little time for reflection for good pastoral application of this week’s readings. So if today’s sermon sounds more like a paper, I am truly sorry. If, however, it sounds pretty good and fairly pastoral, know that God showed up again because your pastor had no real time this week!
The healing of Bartimaeus is well known even outside Christian circles. If you mention his name, people who do not often come to church will ask “wasn’t that the blind guy?” Now, they might confuse these details with other stories, but the restoration of Bartimaeus’ sight is fairly well known. it is, perhaps, so well known that we who hear the story probably overlook some of the details and the accompanying lessons. As I was reflecting on the passage earlier this week, I was struck that there are several messages embedded in the text which speak directly to a few of our discussions over the past few weeks.
One of those lessons is that healing, true healing, requires perseverance. Now you and I might be tempted to think that Bartimaeus’ efforts were not that hard, but look again at the text. When Bartimaeus calls out, what happens? The crowd tries to silence him. You can well imagine why. The crowd is excited. Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. If He is the messiah, the Romans are about to be thrown out. The reign of David is about to be re-established. Who has time for a begging blind man in the midst of such excitement. Certainly none of the crowd has time for him. And if they don’t Jesus must be far too busy to pay any heed to Bartimaeus’ plea for help. Besides, some in this crowd has no doubt witnessed the behavior and attitude of the Apostles and disciples. When parents brought their children, how the disciples respond? Much like the crowd does in today’s reading. And yet, knowing the anticipation, Bartimaeus cries out. Even when they rebuke him, Bartimaeus is determined to make his case known. Talk about taking a chance. As a blind man, Bartimaeus is utterly dependent upon the good will of others in order to live. If they do not toss coins on this cloak during their trips to or from Jerusalem, he has no hope. He is taking a terrible chance aggravating those upon whom he must depend for food and shelter by calling after Jesus.
We should not be surprised, however, at the required perseverance. Think to some of your favorite stories. How many of them require perseverance on the part of the one healed? The Syro-Phoenician woman argues with Jesus about the puppies to save her daughter’s life. The friends of the paralyzed man must literally tear the roof off a house to get their friend to the Healer. The menstruating woman must fight through the crowds and risk the wrath of having made the Rabbi unclean for worship by touching His hem. Jairus and Lazarus’ sisters must overcome their own crowds and fears to see an incredible miracle in their midst. I could go on and on. Why, do you think, does Jesus require perseverance for healing? What kind of value do we place on unearned, easy things? Ever notice how a child takes care a toy that they purchased with their own money than, say, toys they have been given by others? One of our jobs as parents is to teach our children to understand the work involved in the accumulation of “things.” And if we bad parents have figured that out, do you think our Father in heaven has? If healing required no perseverance on our part, with what kind of value would we esteem it. We have talked the past couple weeks about those whose commitment to community worship seems to be flagging. If we truly understand the cost of our healing, of our salvation, can you ever imagine not having the energy or the time or the whatever to worship God and to give Him thanks and praise? Those of us who understand the cost remember the beatings, the punches, the shame, the ignominy of the cross. We understand our salvation cost Him everything! And yet He went willingly to that cross. He knew the effort, He sweated blood at the prospect, yet still He set His face on Jerusalem for our sakes. It seems only a bit fair on His part if He makes us work for it. It seems only fair that He make us persevere for our own healing so that we can better appreciate, better give thanks, for what was done for us. Such is one of the lessons of Bartimaeus.
Another lesson is that one must go to Jesus for that healing. Each of us in the course of life is given at least one encounter with the Risen Christ. Each one of us, during our lives, comes face to face with the Savior who asks us “What do you want Me to do for you?” As a counterpoint to Bartimaeus, Mark records others questions asked by other individuals. Herod kills the prophet when his question is answered. Pilate will put Jesus to death when the crowd answers his. But Jesus is able to overcome all our prior bad answers. Like Bartimaeus, we might be tempted to ask our Lord for money. We might be tempted to ask for physical health. We might be tempted to ask for any number of things which short-change Jesus in our eyes and cause us to underestimate what has been done for us. Our answer to the Lord should be for healing. The great thing is that He knows what we need far better than we. And so when we pray for healing, we may not get a cure or restoration of our bodies, but we will, hopefully, be given the grace of the inner peace which comes only from His Spirit. If we know that our life has been redeemed eternally, we can face all of life’s vicissitudes confidant that we will be glorified in Him. If we have committed ourselves to Him, we know with absolute certainty that He will redeem us even from death. We can face physical difficulties, we can carry emotional baggage, we can deal with whatever life throws at us because we know that He has never reneged on a promise. He has never failed to keep His word. Ever. And so He that asks what we want from Him can accomplish anything for us. We need only His healing and His indwelling Spirit.
Another lesson is the urgency and importance of the decision. One of the seductions of God’s Enemy is that we have time. Far too often we believe that we can wait to make a decision when confronted by Christ. What we forget is that time truly flees and that a decision to not make a decision is a decision. Think of the rich young man. When confronted by the same Teacher, how does he respond? He goes away sad. Bartimaeus, by contrast, chooses to take advantage of the moment. Bartimaeus clearly believes that Jesus is prominent in the re-establishment of God’s kingdom. We know this by his acknowledgement that Jesus is the Son of David. Nobody else in Mark’s Gospel uses that title. Though the crowd encourages him to be quiet, Bartimaeus calls out for the personal attention of the One he believes is anointed. When given the attention, there is no “let me think about it.” When Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you,” Bartimaeus does not ask if he can get back to Jesus with an answer. The question requires an immediate response. Otherwise, the chance for healing may pass by for forever.
The last lesson offered by Bartimaeus, I think, is the action after the healing. Think of Bartimaeus’ response in light of the tragic response of the rich young man a few verses earlier. When offered healing, the replacing of his ultimate faith from money to God, the rich young man chooses poorly and goes away sad. He is one of those most pitied souls who rejected the personal invitation of our Lord. Bartimaeus, by contrast, follows where Jesus will lead, even if it is the road to Calvary. When Bartimaeus gets up to go to Jesus, he takes off his cloak. The significance of the action is lost on us. When Bartimaeus begged, he would spread his cloak out before him to catch alms. By leaving it behind, Bartimaeus is visibly signaling to us where his faith now resides. He trusts in the Anointed One who has worked countless miracles in the midst of the people. He will go wherever Jesus will lead. Those things in this life upon which he depended, he has visible and significantly foresworn.
Speaking to this crowd of Bartimaeuses here today, I cannot claim any special need to drive this point home. Each of you here gathered who has been healed by God no doubt follows where He leads you. I just spent a couple days reflecting with others on our ministry. For 47+ years some of you, and this congregation as a body, has fed the hungry in our community. For the past half dozen years or so many of you have ministered to Battered Women and the children in our community. Many of you are engaged, either physically, emotionally, or financially in the modern Exodus of which we seem to be in the vanguard. Nearly three dozen of you faithfully fed the hungry for almost five years until those in charge were seduced away from following our Lord. Our list can go on and on. You know, as a people healed by God and promised eternal life in His kingdom no matter what may befall you in this life, that there are no observers in the kingdom. Everyone has a job to do. No one is too important or too insignificant to work for His glory. And it is increasingly hard, as many of you have told me over the years, to watch God work amazing events and not get excited, not get involved. Guess what? We are not alone! When God is working incredible miracles in the lives of people it is hard not to get excited. It is hard not to throw away your cloak and join the procession. That’s why it is called Good News. That’s why we are told to share the thankful joy we have in our hearts.
Two last reminders. It is easy to get caught up in the important work of God and forget that God calls all of us and all those whom we meet. The ones who try to silence Bartimaeus include His followers, our spiritual ancestors. Yet, through the noise, through the seeming odds, God hears Bartimaeus cry, calls him, and posits the question: “What do you want Me to do for you?” Over the din of the world, He hears all our pleas and asks us the same question. No one, not ourselves, not anyone we meet, is beneath His notice. And no one, no matter how many times they have heard the question and given a wrong answer, no one is not able at any time to change their answer and ask for His healing. It really is that simple. And from such a right answer “Lord I want to see again,” God works amazing healing in lives. Not only was Bartimaeus healed that day, but all of us who have heard the story and followed after, encouraged by his persistence and faith, are reminded that even we are on the sidelines, even when we are beneath the notice of others, our Lord is reaching out that hand of grace asking us “What do you want Me to do for you?” Pray that as we each hear that question, we give the answer of Bartimaeus and so draw others into that holy embrace.