A Sermon for the Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost
October 25, 2015
(Job 42.1-6, 10-17; Psalm 34.1-8; Hebrews 7:21-28; Mark 10:46-52)
Growing up I used to play ‘Stuck in the Mud’ with classmates during school lunchtimes. I hated being caught.
Of course, sometimes, I was. Once tipped, I had to wait, legs wide, for someone to come and set me free. Of course, it cost them to do this. They had to slow down and crawl through my human bridge. It was a risky moment. Mostly I disliked the waiting.
I despised being stuck.
Our gospel passage begins with Jesus and his disciple’s leaving Jericho.
They are heading for Jerusalem – the place to which Jesus pointed in two of his three predictions regarding his suffering, death, and resurrection. There is a deepening sense of imminent arrival. Everything from here happens in and around the City of David.
Characteristically our passage recounts a healing. Crowds file past a blind man. Bartimaeus begs. His is no business of hope. It is about survival. He will never make plenty. On a very good day there may just be enough.
If anyone is stuck it is this blind man.
We do well to remind ourselves that blindness really can be much more than physical. Each of us goes through life not seeing everything. We may be blind to God. Blind to the need of others. Blind to ourselves. Blind to the mission of God’s kingdom.
Bartimaeus’ experience just may connect with yours more readily than you realise. This is more than merely an historical story. Is this account able to point us to something of the way God works in us today? Something of God’s desire and ability to get us ‘unstuck’?
Perhaps we all do well to make the shout of this blind man our own: ‘Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!’ Raw, desperate, demanding. It reeks of an only chance. Get Jesus’ attention now or this unseeing, dependant life will be the whole story. The dismissive crowd’s objections strengthen his steely resolve. He prays louder: ‘Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!’
Perhaps your faith could benefit from some of this urgency.
After all, Jesus responds to this humble plea. He hears, stops, commands the crowd to call him. Bartimaeus casts off his garment, springs to his feet, comes. Spontaneity. Enthusiasm.
Yes, perhaps we can learn here.
Jesus’ inquiry into motive seems absurdly unnecessary. Blind men want to see.
And so it is with Bartimaeus. There is no contentment with his situation; no holding onto the past; no concern for dignity. On Jesus’ part there is no touch, no prayer, no preparing of mud. His role is reduced to the acknowledgment of trust.
And blind Bartimaeus sees.
We are left to wonder how deliberately Mark is contrasting the simple faith of Bartimaeus’ with that of the disciples. Next to his simply trust stands the faith of the twelve. They look complex: stuck in their silent response to Jesus’ predictions; stuck in the self-serving ways of the world around them; stuck in a limited and safe understanding of the kingdom.
But this newly seeing beggar is so different. He demonstrates courage in the face of adversity; responds to Jesus’ invitation with uninhibited expectation; knows exactly what he wants from the Messiah.
When Jesus puts it all together he – for the sake of the twelve – names it ‘faith’.
And so did the early church. They named the cry of Bartimaeus (and others) ‘The Jesus Prayer’ – an example of the humble trust God sought: ’Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me a sinner’.
An example of faith for the disciples, for the early church, and, of course, for us.
Over recent weeks we have followed the famous story of Job. Today we come to the opening of this man-of-faith’s eyes. Job, like Bartimaeus, was blind. He couldn’t see what God was doing.
But he trusted in the darkness; was faithful through confusion; chose God when he could easily have opted for another path.
And the reward was surely beyond his wildest imagination.
And so is ours. As I read the scriptures, I am left with the suspicion that Job’s experience, and indeed that of Bartimaeus, offer glimpses, momentary visions, of all that God is doing.
Jesus’ kingdom will come. It may be hard to see, but it is coming. And the reward for trust is far beyond all that you can ask or imagine.