Proper 25, Year B/ II
Sunday, 28 Oct 18
St Paul’s Brunswick
Imagine the scene. Jesus is going through town and people have gotten word that there is something about this guy that is worth seeing and hearing. They are crowding around, shouting, standing on their tiptoes to get a glimpse of this mysterious man from Nazareth. Jesus had become a spectacle. While all this is going on in the street, a blind man, Bartimaeus, was sitting on the side of the road, virtually invisible; he does not even get his own name, as Bartimaeus means son of Timaeus. He was on the margins of society, ignored unless he was being shushed and told to stay in his place. Yet the blind man called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Not to be shushed or put down he called out again, even louder, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Over everything that was going on around him, Jesus heard and acknowledged this one marginalized man, and in doing so, acknowledged his human dignity and individual identity.
How often are the words, “Jesus, have mercy on me” the only prayer that we can manage to utter in desperate circumstances? We just want to get God’s attention, to be acknowledged as worthy, so we cry out, “Jesus, have mercy on me,” having confidence that we will be heard and our hearts will be laid bare before our creator.
The people who were telling Bartimaeus to be quiet were suddenly telling him something very different. “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So, throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.”
What does it mean to “take heart”? It is not a phrase we hear every day, but I would argue that it is one that would do us some good to hear more often. Life can be hard, and we should all take heart. Have courage. Do not hide. Do not back down. Be bold!
“He is calling you.” Wait, what? Calling me? Out of all these people begging for attention, he heard me calling out to him? I’m going to get to talk to him! What am I going to say? Should I actually go to him? Who knows what was really going through Bartimaeus’ head when he was told to go to Jesus, but these are things that would probably be going through my head in the same situation. Whatever he was thinking, he did not hesitate. He knew what he had to do. Throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.
Now that cloak was not just some dirty rag that he happened to have. It was likely his only possession. He would have used it for everything; to keep warm, to try to stay dry, as a cushion to sit on. For him to throw it off and leave it behind is pretty huge. If it was me, I would have been clutching it to me even as I approached Jesus, reluctant to give up my one possession that gave me some security in the world. But Bartimaeus did not do that. He had so much faith that his life was about to take a turn for the better, he left the cloak on the side of the road.
This is a story not only of healing, but also one of seeking and calling. We often hear about the disciples leaving everything to follow Jesus. And we have heard more than one story about Jesus healing those who needed it. But what really strikes me about this story, is how Bartimaeus responds to the presence of Jesus. He was a hungry, weary, dirty, smelly, blind beggar. He did not have anything but his faith and himself to offer, yet he boldly called out to Jesus above the crowd. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. He courageously answered the Lord and was quite frank with what he asked for. He did not sugar coat things. He did not umm, ahh, and err. He knew what he wanted, and since Jesus was giving him the opportunity to ask, gosh darn, he was going to take it! “My teacher, let me see again.” In that question, he was probably seeking more than just his sight. He was seeking, love, freedom, and abundant life… he was seeking Jesus, so he literally turned to him, made his prayer known, and his life was changed forever.
Aren’t we all seeking the same thing? Presiding Bishop Michael Curry calls this seeking the Jesus Movement and he gives us seven practices for a Jesus-centered life, that he calls The Way of Love. These seven practices are turn, learn, pray, worship, bless, go, and rest. The first, turn, is exactly what Bartimaeus did; he oriented his attention toward Jesus. We are being called to be bold like Bartimaeus, and daily turn our lives toward Jesus.
So yes, Jesus gave Bartimaeus his eyesight, but Bartimaeus could already see some things better than those around him. Jesus was not just a spectacle to behold and gawk at, Bartimaeus saw him as one who offered the hope of a better, more full life. Since he could not see Jesus with his eyes, he saw him with his heart and intuition, which revealed Jesus as the Son of David, the savior. So Jesus, acknowledging that Bartimaeus really saw him, gave him the gift of seeing with his eyes.
How do we respond when Jesus calls us? Do we take heart? Do we leap up and boldly ask for what we need? Or do we gape, wondering what he could possibly see in us? Because here is the thing, Jesus is calling you. Yes, you. Right here in you layers of jackets and hats and mittens. Right now. You may not be able to see him with your eyes or hear him with your ears, which can make things particularly challenging. But like Bartimaeus, we can listen with our hearts and our intuition. As we sit here in the chilly sanctuary, wrapped in extra layers for warmth and maybe sitting a little closer together than we normally would, how can we hear Jesus? Can we suddenly relate a little better to the many people experiencing homelessness in our community, and those who cannot afford the heat bill, who just want to be warm?
We can look at this story from multiple perspectives, and each can show us how we can respond in the world to the call of Jesus. If we are in the place of Bartimaeus, we are craving healing and connection. We are desperate and we cry out until we hear Jesus tell us to come. Perhaps we hear the voice of Jesus in a friend who offers us an empathetic ear during a crisis. Perhaps we hear him in the voice of a doctor offering us hope. Or a phone call from a friend checking in on you when you are at a low point in life. Do we have the courage, when we hear Jesus call us, to tell him with confidence and boldness what we want and need from him?
Another perspective is to see things from the view of Jesus. He hears the cry of the poor and he acts to help the most vulnerable in the community. He does not pass by, allowing the man to be quieted back into invisibility. We can do the same. Talk to the person experiencing homelessness who you pass on the street. Ask them their name. Pray for them by name throughout the day or week. Bring food for the food pantry to help those who cannot put food on the table and are crying out for the sake of their children. We can be the hands and feet of Jesus, responding to the desperate cries of the poor and marginalized in our community.
Seek love. Seek freedom. Seek abundant life. Seek Jesus.
What are you going to do when Jesus calls out to you? You could sit there and wallow in your unworthiness or you can be like Bartimaeus and throw off your cloak, springing up to meet the savior.