Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sermon – Mark 10:46-52 – Pentecost 22B

Read the entire text here: St. Mark 10:35-52

What do you want me to do for you?
Jesus has been on the way to Jerusalem now for the last couple chapters.  Throughout this journey he has repeatedly tried to help the disciples to understand that Jerusalem is going to be the place for rejection, betrayal, crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection.  And over and over the disciples have demonstrated a complete lack of understanding; a blindness to everything Jesus has been trying to teach them.  For them, Jerusalem signifies glory, power, victory and wealth!  Last week in our Gospel lesson from the verses immediately before the lesson for today, James and John come to Jesus (immediately after Jesus has again repeated for them the purpose of his trip) and asked Jesus to do something for them.  “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks in verse 36.  “We want to sit at your right and left hand, when you come into your glory!  We want to be powerful like you!  We want to share in your glory!”  “Oh, you will share in my glory all right,” says Jesus.  “But not the way you think.”  Is it any wonder that for most of Mark up until this point Jesus keeps telling the disciples to be quiet and keep their mouths shut about the things they have seen?  No, because they may have seen but they have not perceived or understood.  They have been completely blind to everything that Jesus had been teaching them.
So, we have reached the end of the journey, but there is still one more healing in Jericho.  “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The anguished voice pierces the air.  This voice calls Jesus, the “Son of David.”  It won’t be long (the beginning of chapter 11 in fact) when cries of “Hosanna to the Son of David” will ring out loud and clear.  But this voice comes not from the crowd, but rather from a poor blind beggar.  “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  The crowd, who like the disciples still is blinded by their visions of glory and power, tries to silence him.  “Shut up!” They tell him.  “The Master is too important to be bothered by the likes of you!”  “Shut up!  Jesus has more important things to do; Jesus has more important people to see; Jesus doesn’t need to be bothered by some poor looser like you who is a leech on our society!”  But Jesus stops, and I can imagine one of his disciples saying to him quietly, “Don’t bother with this guy, Jesus, he is a looser.  Don’t encourage or enable him.  We have more important things to do.”
I am really struck by the beginning of this healing story.  Jesus has come to the end of his journey.  He has consistently made it clear that he is going to be crucified and raised; that his calling is for all human beings, not just the select or the powerful or the wealthy or the good and pure – but for all, especially tax collectors and sinners; and he has gone out of his way to love, heal, reach out to, care for and feed those who are on the margins, those who are poor and sick and are needy, those in questionable relationships, those who the rest of society thinks are loosers and leeches and sinners.  That is who Jesus cares for and serves! And that is who Jesus keeps pushing the disciples to open their eyes to see.  And before I go any further – please note – when Mark talks about disciples he is not just talking about the 12 – he is talking about all of the disciples of Jesus, through every age: the community of believers down through the ages even to including us here in Steeleville.  We are the ones who are the disciples and the crowd around Jesus who want Jesus to focus on us; on power and glory; who are interested only in our own relationship with Jesus, and who would at the same time like to shut out the cries of those who are hungry, those who are sick, those who are hurting, poor and on the margins.  They are loosers! They are leeches! Jesus has more important people to see and things to do!
Well, perhaps not.  “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks the beggar, Bartimaeus?  Recognize the question?  Jesus just asked James and John the same question, using the very same words.  “What do you want me to do for you?”  For James and John, it was we want to share in the power and glory of God.  For Bartimaeus it is, “Open my eyes so I can see again!”  And what does Jesus do?  Nothing!  He does nothing.  He simply affirms that this man, because of his faith, can already see clearly.  Much more clearly in fact than the disciples and crowd whose vision is clouded by their own preconceptions, prejudices and priorities.  “Go, your faith has made you well.” “Go, you can already see, for faith has opened your eyes!”  And the Gospel tells us that immediately this man then follows Jesus on The Way – which was the name for the early Christian community.
So what do you want Jesus to do for you?  Do you have a long list?  Would you also like to share in Jesus’ power and glory?  Would you like Jesus to make you comfortable and wealthy and worry-free?  Would you like Jesus to affirm your prejudices and priorities? If so, we are in danger of beginning to sound like that praying Pharisee from Luke’s parable: “Thank you God, that I am not like those others folks, the poor, the sick, the hungry, those who I think are immoral, those who’s relationships I don’t approve of, those who are different from me.”  Is that what we want from Jesus? From our church? From our religion?  Affirm me!  Judge everyone else!  Affirm me!
Maybe it is the election season – I don’t know – but it seems to me that here lately in all kinds of contexts – not just politics – there seems to be more and more judgment going on.  Good Christian folk seem way too quick to judge – this person, this group of people doesn’t believe the right things, they are too poor so they are on the take, they are in the wrong kind of relationships, they are sinners, they are evil – I hate those people!  Yes, I have heard the “h” word spoken and not just on TV.  How can any Christian dare to use this word?  Here are echoes of the disciples and the crowd, looking out for number #1 – “Can we sit at your right and left hand? – And many sternly ordered him to be quiet.”
There is another way.  Bartimaeus is showing us a different way and prompting from us a different prayer:  “Let me see again.”  Perhaps, we could ask God to open the eyes of our faith, and with Bartimaeus to ask Jesus to let us see again; to let me see the neighbor in the one who is different from me; to let me see my own calling to service as I encounter those who are sick, or hungry or poor, or struggling; to let me see that I have this responsibility as a Christian and a follower of Jesus on the Way!  This is not pablum friends – this is the Gospel of Jesus!  We are called to serve.  Jesus says in verse 45 – “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  And guess what, this is what our calling is as well; for we are called to join Bartimaeus following Jesus on The Way towards the cross, and towards resurrection.
Take a minute here and do this exercise with me.  You can close your eyes if you want.
Bring up in your mind a person or group of people who you hate, or let’s say dislike intensely.
Now – bring to your mind the reason you feel this way.  Why?
Now – keeping all this in mind – here is what the Gospel says to you today – these are the folks you are to find a way to serve!
What ways can you find to serve these folks who are so different from you, and whose values you reject?  Jesus doesn’t say you have to like them – or agree – but Jesus does say you have to serve them.  That means to me, to not put them down, not speak badly of them but to give them the benefit of the doubt, to provide for their basic needs as best you can.  These are some ways.  So – who are they and how are you going to do this?  Our Lord came to serve and has called us to serve. Our Lord offers us sight, but with it comes responsibility and service.
The Gospel is inviting you to join Bartimaeus on The Way -  to take a step towards service – towards fulfilling the great commandment.  Our gospel today is inviting you to take a step; to spring up, throw off your cloak and run to Jesus
Jesus’ disciples were blinded by their preconceived notions, and this kept them from being open to really being able to experience God’s grace – instead it kept them firmly rooted in judgment and law and in self-centeredness.  And this is true with us as well – every time we judge, every time we use that “h” word, or dismiss another group of human beings we bind ourselves tighter with the knots of the law and judgment, every time we turn our back on another human being we tie the knots tighter and tighter and in so doing we judge ourselves.  But, every time we take a step towards service and reach out to another in faith and in Christ’s love – esp the other who is so different than we are – then our bonds are loosened and we move towards freedom and healing and wholeness – we move towards grace – we move towards God’s love.
What do you want me to do for you?  Lord, let me see again!”

"Jesus Heals Bartimeaus" by Nicholas Poussin 1650

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