Sermon for Sunday October 28th
Jesus and his disciples came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 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!” Jesus stood still and said, “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.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
On Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem, with his crucifixion only a week away, the Gospel writer Mark tells us an interesting story. Although not one of the original 12 disciples, Mark was a follower of Jesus, and probably a witness to these events that he describes in such detail. He is known in the earliest tradition of the church as Mark the Evangelist. And he is going to tell this story in such a way as to win you over to the cause of Christ. Let's see if he succeeds!
According to Mark, Jesus and his disciples came to Jericho. As they were leaving Jericho for Jerusalem, a distance of about 15 miles, Bartimaeus was sitting by the roadside begging, and when he heard that Jesus was near, he shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus heard the voice in the midst of the surging crowd that surrounded him. Jesus stood still, as if to quiet those around him, and said, “Call him here.” The disciples told the blind man to get up, then the blind man threw off his cloak and sprang up, and he came to Jesus. Jesus said to him “Go, your faith has made you well,” but the blind man, with his new-found sight, “followed him on the way.”
What does all this mean--this coming and going, this sitting and standing, this getting up, this springing up, this coming to Jesus, this going away from Jesus, then following Jesus?
As an English major in college in a bygone era, I can nevertheless still identify and count verbs. I count 11 verbs in this brief passage from Mark that have to do with mobility. And this is a passage about a blind man! A blind man in Jesus' day had no mobility! Remember the story of the blind man who sat by the pool of Siloam. When the waters were troubled in the pool the blind man couldn't get in the waters to be healed, because he had no mobility.
And Mark seems to be obsessed with a person's posture. Bartimaeus was sitting; Jesus was standing still. Then Jesus says to a man with no mobility, mind you, "Call him here!" Can you imagine the spectacle? The blind man throws off his cloak and springs to his feet. Then he stumbles along on legs that had become wobbly with hours of sitting, and he feels his way along the edge of the crowd that had gathered, until he comes face to face with Jesus, who is standing and waiting in silence. Jesus was in the midst of a long journey, to and from Jericho and on to Jerusalem. Could he not have taken a few extra steps and confronted this man where he was sitting?
I believe that what Mark is trying to tell us is that we have to do something in order to be healed. Perhaps something dramatic, something unexpected, something symbolic.
I know that we are so accustomed to taking communion every Sunday that it has lost its symbolic and dramatic power, unless we are supremely conscious of the moment. Perhaps you should throw off your cloak and spring to your feet this morning. But you can practice consciousness even if you are unable to kneel at the rail, even if you must stay in place and lift your hands to receive the gift
Healing is a natural everyday occurrence in life for most of us, most of the time. It has to do with forgiveness of sin, healing of memories, recovery from resentments, replenishment of our bodies, the restoration of nature, and, in the Hebrew tradition, tikkun olam, the “mending of the world.” Healing is part of the fabric of the universe and is such a pervasive part of life that we take it for granted. The lesson of Bartimaeus is that we must not take it for granted.
Mark was a young Gospel writer, producing the first Gospel. Perhaps he had become frustrated with the growth of the church and with would-be disciples who, in his day, as in ours, had become complacent. They didn't get the message that it takes more than piety to be a Christian. It takes action! And more action! And that is a good way to increase your piety. I believe that what Mark is trying to tell us is that we have to do something in order to be healed.
Mark is using Bartimaeus as an extreme and memorable example of what we must do to express our faith. His coming to Jesus and then his following Jesus on the way are intended as a metaphor for your own life of faith and witness.
If you want to do something to increase your devotion to Jesus, take action on one of the issues of justice or compassion that confront you today. Find a way to witness to the love of Jesus in your life today. Don’t allow another day to come and go without your own coming and going in the service of our Lord. The life of Christ in us is not a stationary life, but an expeditionary life.
We are on a life-long expedition to find Jesus, to make our way to Jesus out of our own blindness, to receive his healing mercy, and then to follow him to the cross. Even blind Bartimaeus was not given the privilege of immobility. Jesus makes the journey of many miles to discover each of us in our weakness, but he asks us to cast away our old way of life and to spring to our feet, and stumble toward his mercy for a few yards to complete the circuit. In your own experience of healing, in your own life, don’t you recall something you had to do to give concrete expression to your faith, in order to be healed?
The tradition of the early church says that Mark the Evangelist was martyred in 68 A.D. when the people of Alexandria, Egypt, where Mark had founded a church, nevertheless placed a rope around his neck and dragged him through their city until he was dead. Even in his death, Mark was on the move for the Kingdom of God. And today the Christians of Alexandria trace their church back to the first century faith and witness of Mark the Evangelist.
Why don’t you try something today to indicate your own faith in the mercy of Jesus, and your own resolve to follow him on the way? Write a letter. Talk to a neighbor. Bake a cake. Tell someone you love them. Do something symbolic or dramatic or unexpected. And let us borrow an approach from the wisdom of the Big Book of AA. We addicts are not in the habit of telling someone he is a drug addict or she is an alcoholic. We are in the business of telling someone that WE are addicts and WE are alcoholics. So instead of telling someone that they need Jesus; tell someone that YOU need Jesus, and that Jesus has opened your eyes and shown you a mercy that has transformed your life.
And may God bless us as we follow Jesus on the way.