Text of the sermon preached on Proper 25B (October 25, 2015) by the Rev. Katie Hargis at St. Cornelius Episcopal Church in Dodge City, KS.
Job 42:1-6, 10-17
I want you to close your eyes for a few moments and imagine that you are blind. You can no longer see the beautiful gold, flaming red, and burnished bronze colors of fall. You cannot see the dear smiling faces of your family. Your world is an unrelenting darkness. You have to rely completely on your hearing to distinguish who is talking. You are utterly helpless and have to rely on other people. How will you get back from church today? You are unable to drive. How will you work to earn money to buy food for today? Without being able to see, you are lost, scared, and dependent.
Please open your eyes now, and take a moment to thank God for you sight. Perhaps using our imagination can help us to understand blind Bartimaeus’ desperation to see, as described in today’s Gospel lesson. At the main gate into Jericho, where the crowds gathered in expectation of the great deeds of Jesus, the blind man
Bartimaeus sat in his customary place, begging cup in hand. He is unseeing and unseen, invisible, out of sight, out of mind, as the poor and the powerless so often are, both in this country and around the world. Bartimaeus sits alone. Still. As still as in the eye of a hurricane. Meanwhile, everyone else around him is moving, places to go, people to see. They are excitedly accompanying Jesus, the great Teacher and Miracle Worker as he travels out of Jericho and makes his way steadfastly to Jerusalem — where he alone sees that suffering and death await him.
The crowds watch every single move that Jesus makes, and listen intently as he shares with them the good news of God’s love. But suddenly, the unnamed crowds can’t hear Jesus very well. Some tiresome person is making a heck of a lot of noise, calling out to Jesus to help him. “Son of David, have mercy on me!” The crowds are annoyed. “Be quiet!” they shout down at him. “We can’t hear Jesus.” “Stop being such a nuisance!” “There is only one of you and you are a beggar! Jesus is too busy with us to deal with you.”
But blind Bartimaeus will not be quiet. Even though he is facing some seemingly insurmountable odds, he perseveres steadfastly. He is determined that he will meet Jesus and be healed. So he continues to yell, to cry out, to shout, to call “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Ol Barty knew that there was something special about this Jesus guy, the descendant of King David. He had faith that Jesus could restore his sight. I mean, hadn’t Jesus already healed others? And yet, Jesus saw this believing human being whom nobody else wanted to see. Who others went as far to tell that he wasn’t worth being seen or heard by Jesus.
Jesus heard the desperate cry amidst the chattering throngs and he stopped everything. Jesus told the crowds to call Bartimaeus.
Now. It’s important to realize here that this isn’t just a story about a miraculous healing. This is the story of Jesus’ call to an outsider to see him as he truly is, and to follow him on his way to suffering and death in Jerusalem. Bartmiaeus springs up, throws off his cloak, the one possession that he actually has — the one that kept him warm and comforted him — and came to Jesus. How different the joyful Bartimaeus is from the sad, rich young ruler who we heard about a couple of weeks ago — who had so many possessions that he turned away refusing to follow Jesus on the way.
When Jesus asks Bartimaeus what he wants Jesus to do for him, the blind beggar simply said, “I want to see.” Again, how different the outsider Bartimaeus is from Jesus’ two disciples, James and John — the insiders. James and John had physically been following Jesus for three years. Their eyes had watched Jesus move with compassion, serving, and healing. Yet, when they were asked what they wanted, James and John requested power, privilege, and special status for themselves alone, over all of the other people and disciples. In a way, James and John are actually the blind beggars, the outsiders, sidelined at the edge of the way, clinging to the filthy rags of earthly power. As the saying goes, “there are none so blind as those who will not see.” Don’t forget that Jesus did not honor James and John’s request, but he granted Bartimaeus’ request for sight. He spoke the words of healing that immediately and miraculously restored his sight.
Today’s gospel story of the healing of Bartimaeus is an important transitional story in the middle of Mark’s Gospel, bringing in the focus on the themes of physical eyesight and spiritual insight. It is the only healing story in Mark where we know the name of the person who is healed. It is also the only healing story in Mark where the person who is healed follows Jesus on his journey. Not too long after this healing story, the disciples and others, including Bartimaeus, will see Jesus arrested. They will abandon the Lord in his hour of need, having no mercy on him. The disciples will be like the other blind man mentioned two chapters earlier at the beginning of this section of the Gospel of Mark. They will need a second touch of Jesus to finally be able to see him as he really is: God himself in human form. It will take the resurrection of Jesus to help his disciples see that he is indeed the anointed one, the Messiah, whose death was all part of God’s sovereign plan to save and heal the entire world.
Today, we may have our physical eyesight, but we still may not see clearly — we may lack insight. Is there anything or anyone blinding us from seeing clearly who Jesus Christ really is and keeping us from following him? What is it that is blinding us to the desperate needs of the human beings around us in Dodge City and the world? Do we no longer see the poor, the disabled, the mentally ill, and the incarcerated?
As we enter into this very busy time of the year with Halloween celebrations, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, it would be easy to miss the cries of those God puts in our path and for us to just keep on walking.
It seems that we may miss the cries of people like Bartemaeus because we have become spectators of everything. In fact, the observation is sometimes made that Americans have become a nation of spectators. Rather than playing sports, we watch them — and instead of going to the ballpark or stadium or seeing the game happen in person, we watch them on tv. Even worse still, we often bring some of these same preferences to our faith and worship. Televised worship may be a blessing for those who cannot go to church to worship with others, but in a way watching worship on TV is like watching others eat, rather than enjoying a meal with family and friends. And then when we do go to church, we sometimes sit and watch others “perform” rather than we ourselves actively participating in the singing, praying, reading, and responding. Worship doesn’t just happen with me, Sharron, Kerry, Nan, the choir, or whoever else is up front. It takes all of us to have a worship service. Another tendency we have is wanting to pay others to do ministry and evangelism for us, rather than us getting our own hands dirty and embracing these as the tasks in which every follower of Christ is called.
The story of Bartimaeus is more than just the story of a man being healed from his blindness. It is the story of one who moved from the sidelines to the playing field. His blindness had reduced him to a life of begging, sitting by the roadside with his cloak
spread before him, waiting for others to help him and do for him what he could not do for himself. However, ol Barty didn’t even let his blindness rob him of his awareness of his surroundings or the will to free himself from his disability. What is it that we allow to keep us on the sidelines? What is it that is robbing us of the quality of life and faith we might enjoy?
Bartimaeus called out to Jesus and he kept calling out until he was heard. He would not let the others keep him from getting the help that he so needed and deserved. He asked Jesus for his freedom. He asked him directly to free him from that which kept him sitting “by the roadside.” For most of us, what keeps us on the sidelines is something that is far less difficult to deal with than blindness. Jesus assured Bartimaeus, “your faith has made you well.”
Faith itself has a healing power! The change in Bartimaeus was immediate, and he then followed Jesus on his journey. He moved from the sidelines to the most thrilling experience of his life.
The story of Bartimaeus should be a story that we read on a daily basis to remind ourselves that we never want to be content with being spectators, simply watching others live, worship, or do ministry. The call to discipleship is a call to active participation. What are you going to do today to move off of the sidelines and jump into the game?