October 25, 2015 – 22nd Sunday after Pentecost / Reformation Sunday
In our gospel reading today, Bartimaeus is blind. In Jesus’ day, if you were blind, there was little for you to do other than be a beggar—which meant finding a spot along the side of the road and spreading out your cloak to invite coins to be tossed your way. Jericho was a good place for a beggar to spread his cloak because it was a major stop for pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem to worship—and a beggar might just catch the good spirits and a generous handout from those on their way to worship in the great city.
He couldn’t see Jesus, but Bartimaeus made sure everyone knew that he wanted to catch Jesus’ attention. He didn’t just say, “Jesus, over here.” He yelled out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Like the response to those who brought children to Jesus, he was told to be quiet. Not to bother the teacher. But that only made him yell louder. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stops. Stands still and tells the crowd to call Bartimaeus. Hearing this, Bartimaeus threw off his cloak, sprang up and went to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?”
It’s the same question Jesus asked his disciples James and John in the story right before this one. James and John ask for places of privilege and status to be reserved for them—one on the right hand of Jesus and one on the left hand of Jesus. Jesus tells them it is not his to grant privilege and status. And he says what he’s been saying repeatedly in Mark’s gospel: “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant…Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (10.43, 31)
What Bartimeus asks from Jesus is to see. And to Bartimeus, Jesus says, “Go; your faith has made you well.” And immediately Bartimeus regained his sight.
Then, the beggar by the side of the road, who now can see, follows Jesus. He does not “go” as Jesus told him to, but he follows Jesus on the way.
In the middle of the story when Jesus hears Bartimaeus calling out to him, he has the crowd call the blind man. They say to Bartimaeus, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” You may know the word “heart” is also related to the word “courage.” So at the same time they were saying “take heart—be glad” they were also saying “take courage—don’t be afraid.”
Bartimaeus will need courage. Because he’s following Jesus and the next stop is Jerusalem. They are going to Jerusalem for the great Passover celebration—giving thanks for God’s liberating power on behalf of those who are oppressed and down trodden. But you and I know what also happens in Jerusalem. It is where Jesus will be tortured and killed. But Bartimaeus doesn’t know that yet.
Bartimaeus will also need heart. The grace to keep his heart open to love despite the terrible things that will happen as he follows Jesus on the way. The natural tendency most of us have when terrible things happen is to close our hearts because we think that will keep us from being vulnerable. The grace we need is to keep our hearts open, despite the pain, in order to stay connected to life, to God and to love.
I wonder sometimes if Bartimaeus will wish he hadn’t seen what he will see. Will he wish his eyes hadn’t been opened? Would he have leapt up quite so quickly and followed if he knew what lay ahead?
For some people, when their eyes are opened they become radicals and reformers and revolutionaries. Today is Reformation Sunday—a day that takes us back to October 31, 1517 when a Roman Catholic priest named Martin Luther posted his 95 statements of disagreement with the Roman church on the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany.
Did he have any idea where that action would take him? And take the whole church? Perhaps if he had known, he would have just written those things in his journal and kept it tucked away.
To do what he did must have taken courage. And heart—some part of his action must have been motivated by love. A love for God and for the church and a desire to see the church be faithful. He wanted to see the Roman Church reformed to more fully reveal God’s glory—it wasn’t until it became clear that change wasn’t going to come in the ways he thought that he left the Roman Church and the Lutheran Church and the Protestant Reformation was born.
A reformation, a revolution, a radical shift comes into being when people begin to see differently. In the biblical story of Job, everything is taken away from Job except his life. The book of Job is the first edition of the book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. There is lots of wrestling in chapter after chapter about why terrible things happen to Job and what he has done—or not done—to deserve it. In the final chapters, God responds directly to Job and assures him that God does, indeed, care for him and all of creation—even when that care is far beyond human comprehension.
At the very end of the story, Job says to God, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.” Job discovers a deeper and clearer vision of God. And when God restores Job’s fortune, there is this little bit at the very end of the story where we are told Job is given seven sons and three daughters. And we learn the names of the three daughters. We don’t know the sons’ names but we hear the names of the girls: Jemimah, Keziah, and Kerenhappuch. To name those three women is remarkable when so few women’s names throughout the bible are recorded. And then, even more remarkable, their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. Now that didn’t happen in the normal course of events. The father’s inheritance goes to the sons. Why would a daughter need an inheritance when she will go to live with her husband and her husband’s family? But in this story, the daughters have names and an inheritance. Honestly, that’s pretty revolutionary. And it comes after Job sees God in a new way. His eyes have been opened and with that new vision, his political, economic and social choices change and change for the well-being of his whole family.
For some people, when their eyes are opened, they become radicals and reformed and revolutionaries but perhaps in not such an obvious way. The author and Presbyterian Kathleen Norris tells the story of learning from her grandmother about the life of following Jesus. Her grandmother inhabited “one marriage, one home, one church congregation for over sixty years. Her faith,” writes Norris “was alive for anyone to see; her life demonstrated that conversion is no more spectacular than learning to love the people we live with and work among….Conversion is seeing ourselves, and the ordinary people in our families, our classroom, and on the job, in a new light. Can it be that these very people—even the difficult, unbearable ones—are the ones God has given us, so that together we might find salvation” and healing and wholeness.
I remember Ann Philbrick, the facilitator who helped us get started on the New Beginnings process—our exploration of what it is God wants us to do and be in this time and place, said the goal of New Beginnings is not to take up a new issue or cause. The goal of New Beginnings is to build relationships with people who are looking for a spiritual community and who might find a home at Central. Which just could cause us to see ourselves and others in a new light.
And when we connect with people who are looking for a spiritual community to call home it is entirely possible that God will be at work to open our eyes to see God and the world—in all its pain and its beauty—in a new way.
The New Beginnings Task Force meets tomorrow night and I am hoping we will have things to talk with you about very soon.
Take heart. Take courage. Jesus is calling you.
Like Bartimaeus, when we as followers of Jesus see the world, we need courage and we need heart. Courage, because some of what we see shakes us to our core and can drive us to despair. Courage, because following Jesus on the way requires more of us than we have believed we could give. And heart because it is easy for us to create distance by judging others as we try to keep ourselves from feeling the pain of the world. Pain, that certainly God feels too. We need heart like God’s heart that can hold it all and still breathe and live and be open to love.
Take courage. Take heart. Jesus is calling you.
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 Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace – A Vocabulary of Faith, New York: Riverhead Books, 1998, 44.