Archive for October, 2015

Mark 10:46-52

October 27, 2015

Let’s go through the story of Bartimaeus a second time and highlight some details we may have overlooked.  For instance, we see that only Jesus and his disciples entered Jericho, but a large crowd tagged along on their way out.  Was it that Jesus won many new disciples in Jericho?  Perhaps a few; but most of the crowd were curiosity seekers, like the throngs that would tag along after a circus.  They hoped to see some wonders.

Another detail.  Is there anyone here who has not passed a beggar sitting on the sidewalk?  We may place some cash in their hand, or even stop and chat briefly, but we all know that nothing we can give will alter their situation significantly.  They need more than funds.  In fact, for them some of the most basic human needs are lacking — the need for respect, for self-esteem, the need to be able to contribute, and above all, the need to belong.  Actually, we don’t need to be a Bartimaeus to suffer acute loneliness or a sense of uselessness; and many successful people harbor and hide an absence of self-worth.

Another detail.  When Jesus called for him, Bartimaeus threw off his cloak.   He left it lying there beside the road, his warm covering at night, his shelter from the sun, his protection from sand storms and rain, his pockets for food and whatever wealth he had.  He would have been like a hermit crab, pried cruelly out of its shell.

A final detail.  Jesus said, “your faith has made you well.”  Here the Greek word translated well cannot be understood as cured or even healed.  A good translation might be, complete, whole and secure.  “Your faith has made you complete, whole, and thus secure.”  Picture an arch: until the keystone is dropped into place, the arch can collapse, because it isn’t complete.  Faith is that keystone in the arch of our lives..

With these details in mind, let’s ask ourselves what Jesus meant when he said faith; “Your faith has made you complete, whole, and secure.”  What did Jesus see in Bartimaeus that he recognized as faith?

Can we say that Jesus meant Bartimaeus’s trust in Jesus’ power to restore his sight?  Possibly, but look at it from Jesus’ point of view.  Here is a man Jesus has never met, with whom he has no relationship, who suddenly jumps up, and most irresponsibly casts aside his cloak, and — solely on the basis of Jesus’ reputation — asks to see again.  It could well be the action of a credulous fool, on a par with people who sell all they have and head for a mountain top, because they believe the world is about to end.  Jesus wouldn’t have called that faith; more likely credulity.

But Jesus was noticing something else.  He would have known the price of being blind and a beggar.  It means being a social outcast.  If we have any doubt look at the way the members of the crowd tried to shut Bartimaeus up.  In their eyes he was beneath their notice, and certainly beneath Jesus’ notice.  So on the one hand, Jesus would have guessed his loneliness, his lack of self-esteem, and how prone he would be to depression.

On the other hand,  Bartimaeus did not act that way!  On the contrary, he expected that Jesus would want to see him.  He shouted out to Jesus, confident that he had every right to Jesus’ attention.  And when the crowd around Jesus snarled at him to shut up, he wasn’t cowed.  His self-assurance gave him the élan to shout more insistently.  So Jesus was drawn up short.  In other words, he confronted an experience at odds with his expectations, and he realized something deeper was going on.  Put it this way: Jesus saw that his cloak was not Bartimaeus’s security.

Let’s review.  First the blind man was led to Jesus.  Then Jesus said, “Go, the deep faith you already have has made you complete, whole and secure.”  Maybe that was all Bartimaeus needed: for a spiritual authority to confirm what he knew in his bones.  He knew that in God’s eyes he stood on a level with everyone, and like everyone, he was unique and uniquely loved.  He knew he had gifts of love and service to offer on a par with anyone else’s.  He knew that nothing could ever separate him from God’s love, and that was all that mattered in the end.  He knew all that, because God was a personal presence for him.  And Jesus recognized that as faith.

After that we are told that Bartimaeus regained his sight.  Shall we leave it at that?  Shall we leave it that Jesus, the wonder worker, performed a miracle?  Wowed the crowds?  No surprise then, that people were avid to tag along for the show!  But suppose the Gospel wants us to look deeper — to see that Jesus wasn’t about doing wonders, but about transforming the human heart?  To see that the real action is not “out there” but “in here”?

I’ve long thought that parishes should identify themselves, not as churches, but as vision clinics.  Every one of us is blind to one degree or another.  We come to church to say with Bartimaeus, “Let me see again.”  What are we really asking for?  What did Jesus do for Bartimaeus that we want too?

Let me answer that question and close with this story.  Stuart and I have two friends who live in London now, but were born, raised, and educated in Syria.  They have watched with horror as nearly four million Syrians have left the country and nearly eight million are living as refugees within Syria.  In Syria this past summer they did what they could for 200 frightened children, who had fled from all over Syria, and who were living in shelters in Latakia.  Our friends created a summer camp.  Every day they gave the children lunch and snacks.  One day the lunches included a hamburger for each child.  One little girl refused to eat her hamburger.  Asked why, she replied that she wanted to take it home to share with her family — her family of ten people living in one room.

We can hear that story as if it were a wonder story, and indeed it is.  In our mind’s eye we watch in amazement as one puny hamburger gets divided ten ways.  And we watch in equal amazement as a small child acts with extreme generosity.  But those are the stories “out there.”  What is the story “in here”?

The real miracle cannot be seen, for it is not the child’s generosity. In fact, the child was not being generous.  The child simply did not see herself as separate from those she loved.  We don’t think of our right hand being generous when it washes the left hand, or when it puts food in our mouth or washes our face.  I believe this is what Jesus meant when he said in Matthew’s Gospel, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

It is not a wonder or even a miracle as we become like little children.  It is a transformation, a process — sometimes sudden, sometimes slow — that is invisible, except for those who, as Jesus said, “have eyes to see.”  I submit that this is what the Gospel means when it tells us that Bartimaeus “regained his sight.”  All of us experience the oneness of all things when we are little children.  Then gradually the world’s blindness overtakes us.

Like Bartimaeus, we want to say, “My teacher, let me see again.”  I invite us to make it our mantra — a centering phrase as we go through our day.  For we go, not as tag alongs, but as followers on the Way, people of faith — complete, whole and secure — knowing that what Jesus did for Bartimaeus he can do for us.  Amen.