Healing our Blindness, Sermon for Proper 25(B) – 2015

[RCL] Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22); Job 42:1-6, 10-17; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

Bartimaeus son of Timaeus was a nobody. He wasn’t just any nobody he was a nobody among the nobodies. People often walked past Bartimaeus and at best they thought of the blind beggar as a nuisance. Day in and day out Bartimaeus would make his way to his familiar spot. Feeling his way along the crowded streets of Jericho, Bartimaeus was invisible to the people who hustled by on the way to something glamorous and important.

You see Jericho wasn’t just any city, Jericho was a city for the important people, the well-to-do. Herod had his winter palace there and all the rich Roman families spent their winters in Jericho. Jericho was an oasis, a destination city. You couldn’t get to Jerusalem without passing through Jericho so anyone who wanted to be seen had to have an address in Jericho.

So every morning Bartimaeus made his way to the Jericho Road, knowing that the rich people, the military and the important people had to pass by on their way. Jericho Road was the place to be if you were a blind beggar. But even on the main road Bartimaeus was invisible. Occasionally someone would drop a copper penny or two in his bowl so that he could eat for the day. But deep down in his heart Bartimaeus knew he was someone. He knew that God’s love for him was deeper than his blindness. He was certain that even though people tried not to see him, God saw him and that was all that mattered.

Then something happened that changed Bartimaeus’ life forever. He heard that the Rabbi name Jesus was in Jericho. Rabbi Jesus had been preaching and large crowds of people gathered to hear him but Bartimaeus couldn’t get close. He had heard about Jesus, whispers here and there that Jesus could perform miracles, that he cured the sick and preached about God’s love.

Bartimaeus decided this was his chance, this was his time. Jesus was passing by and he mustered every ounce of strength he had and shouted “Jesus, so of David have mercy on me!” The good people following Jesus, even his disciples, told Bartimaeus to be quiet but he yelled all the louder; “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

It happened almost too quickly. The people parted and someone grabbed Bartimaeus’ hand and suddenly he was kneeling before Jesus. This man who for most of his life was invisible, this man who no one recognized, this nobody was standing before of Jesus. The words tumbled out of his mouth faster than his brain could process them; “My teacher, let me see again.” And with just seven words Bartimaeus could see!

The story of Bartimaeus is often held up as one of the great healing miracles of Jesus. In the gospels Jesus transforms the lives of those on the margins and draws them more and more into the center. But what if we saw this story as the crowd, the followers of Jesus, being blind and not Bartimaeus.

The crowd in our gospel saw this blind beggar as annoyance, disturbing Jesus as he preached God’s kingdom. Bartimaeus was an disturbance, a distraction from the ‘way things are done’, but Jesus skillfully moves him from the sidelines, recognizes his humanity and dignity and draws him closer to the center.

Bartimaeus wasn’t blind where it really mattered. Barimaeus had a perfect vision of what it meant to be a beloved child of God. Not only did he know that he was a beloved child of God he insisted on being treated like a beloved child of God. Not even the crowd could hold him back and Jesus recognizes him for his bravery.

We as the church can quickly become like the crowd; blind to the needs of those sitting right outside our doors. The Bartimaeus’s of our day do not necessarily sit with a bowl begging and blind, they are the ones in greatest needed reaching out along the Jericho road leading into our church. Like in our gospel we, the crowd, are the ones in need of having our sight restored, our blindness healed, our vision focused.

If we listen hard enough and look long enough we hear the cries of Bartimaeus still. Listen…

Jesus, son of David have mercy on us….

  • We are the ones who are blinded by a world who deems them of no account.
  • We are those who are blinded by a society that too often measures worth by the things we own and the cars we drive.
  • We are the ones who have been told time and again that we are of no value that we are outside the realm of God’s love and peace.
  • We are the ones blinded by the pain of grief and loss, broken relationships and failed dreams.
  • We are the ones blinded by a disease and crippled by a diagnosis.
  • We are the ones blinded by the word illegal and immigrant and refugee.

How do we respond to the many Bartimaeus’s in our own time? We show them to Jesus.

Notice in the gospel the crowd is the first miracle of healing. The crowd is given their sight and actually sees Bartimaeus. And once their blindness is cured the crowd didn’t pray for Bartimaeus, they didn’t form a committee, or call a meeting or even have a theological discussion on the merits of Bartimaeus. The crowd saw him and showed him to Jesus and let Jesus do the rest.

The same is true for us. We are called as followers of Jesus to first be healed of our blindness so that we can see clearly to invite others to share in Christ’s healing.

As Bishop Michael Curry said to the Episcopal Church gathered in Utah this past June; “Put Jesus up front. Put sharing that good news in front. Put forming our people as followers of Jesus – as disciples for real – at the front. And then put inspiring and enabling them to serve in their personal lives, and for us to witness in the public square in the front. That’s the church; that’s the movement.”

Once we as the church recognize those on the margins, those sitting on the sidelines, our faith demands that we show them Jesus and together be healed.

Because if you notice at the end of the Gospel story Bartimaeus didn’t go off and found “The Society for the Formerly Blind of Jericho”, he didn’t go dancing through the streets shouting from the rafters, he “regained his sight and followed in the way.”

In the end as Christians that is all that we can do once our vision has been restore and blindness cured, follow in the way of Jesus.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see. Amen.

Download the sermon for Proper 25B.

Written by The Rev. Deon Johnson

The Rev. Deon Johnson has served as Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brighton, MI for the last nine years. A Liturgical Consultant, Deon specializes in helping communities revision their worship spaces to better reflect both their needs and the theology of welcome found in the Eucharist. In his spare time Deon enjoys working on websites and is an avid photographer.  

 

Throwing off the cloak, 22 Pentecost, Proper 25 (B) – Oct. 28, 2012

Job 42:1-6, 10-17 and Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22) (or Jeremiah 31:7-9 and Psalm 126); Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

“Throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.”

In today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark, we may imagine the cloak was given to Bartimaeus by his mother. Giving him the cloak was one thing she could do for her son, for whom she always felt a mix of grief and pity, a sense of guilt too that she had given birth to a beautiful baby boy, who was also, forever, indelibly, unfortunately blind.

She and Bartimaeus’s father, Timaeus, had rejoiced when her birth pangs began – exulted that they would soon meet this product of their love. They had decided that if this baby was a boy, they would name him after his father, so his name would mean “Son of Honor.” They couldn’t know the irony at the time.

When Bartimaeus was born, their rejoicing turned to mourning. Ten perfect tiny fingers, yes; ten perfect tiny toes. That his lungs were strong they knew when he wailed for the first time, taking in big gulps of air here in the world outside his mother’s womb.

But then, they noticed: his eyes covered with a white milky film that did not clear; not with the midwife’s compresses; not with the prayers of the elders; not with the breaking of his mother’s heart and his father’s tears. Their son was blind.

This Son of Honor would know the indignity of begging. In fact, on the street they didn’t even call him by name. He was known as “a blind beggar” or just “the blind man.” His lot in life, his lone contribution to society, was to be the recipient of others’ charity. His one purpose in the eyes of others was to be the vehicle by which others fulfilled their religious duty to give to those less fortunate than themselves. He would serve as a reminder for others of their own good circumstances. “There but for the grace of God go I,” he would hear people remark as they walked past him.

“Alms for the poor,” he would shout out to them. “Have mercy on me, poor blind Bartimaeus!”

His cloak was his most important possession. Made of wool, thick enough to warm him on cool mornings and in the evening after sundown, his cloak was his blanket, his covering, his one constant companion. He was such a familiar sight by the roadside on the way out of Jericho, wrapped in his cloak, it had become part of his uniform, his identity. When he could hear passersby coming, he would quickly unwind it from his shoulders and lay it out in front of him to catch the coins people dropped for him. After the crowd passed, he would push the cloak’s frayed corners together in order to gather up the coins that collected in its center. The cloak was dusty from using it like this, but Bartimaeus didn’t mind. The smell of the dust and wool brought comfort to him when he wrapped the cloak tightly around him again, a tangible reminder that someone had cared about him once, enough to give him this gift. He had had the cloak so long, he couldn’t really remember his life before it, couldn’t imagine his life without it.

And then, one day, everything changes. Bartimaeus sits, fingering the fraying threads of a hole forming in his cloak, his chin lifted, eyes open but unseeing, listening. A large crowd approaches. Such a crowd is nothing new on this busy road, and yet there is something different: an urgency, excitement. Bartimaeus strains to sift one voice from another, strains to hear what people are saying as they come closer. He hears voices mingled, the fragment of a story, a strain of a song. And then one word, a name: Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth. Bartimaeus has heard this name before. He has heard the man by this name has the power to heal, to make whole, to make dreams come true, to make Bartimaeus’ own dreams come true, his dream of freedom, a life free from begging, a life where he can live fully into his own name: Son of Honor. A life where he can lift his head high, square his shoulders, set his own course, go wherever he desires.

Bartimaeus cries out, his voice dry and raspy, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

“Be quiet, beggar!” a voice close to him snaps. “Quiet down.” Someone tosses him a coin. “Keep quiet.”

But Bartimaeus cries out again, his voice gaining strength, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

And then he hears it. A man’s voice, up ahead, saying, “Call him here.”

More voices close by, “Take heart, beggar. Get up. He is calling you.”

And Bartimaeus does the one thing he had never before imagined being able to do. He throws off his cloak.

He throws off his cloak.

In that moment, he is like the trapeze artist who trusts that the strong man whose arms are outstretched to catch him will do just that. He trusts that the air through which he sails suddenly untethered is not nothing. The air is the place where a new thing can begin. The air is the substance through which he travels to meet the man coming toward him, whose grasp is strong, whose timing is perfect, who knows Bartimaeus and what he needs, but will give Bartimaeus the honor of allowing him to name his own desire.

And so, standing cloakless – he feels almost naked to tell the truth, but like a new being, a newly birthed person – Bartimaeus stands before Jesus and says, “My teacher, let me see again.”

Jesus replies, “Go; your faith has made you well.”

Bartimaeus remembers the word spoken, like a distant dream. Jesus had said it: “Go.” Bartimaeus, you are free to go. Where you want. Go.

But Bartimaeus realizes that he does not wish to go. He wants to follow. To use his gifts, all of them, including his newly found sight, for something, not just for himself. He is freed to follow. And Bartimaeus follows Jesus on the way.

Years later, when the disciples told the story of their friend Bartimaeus, they joked about their own blindness, their inability to see the significance of who Jesus was, even when he was standing right in front of them, plain as day. They laughed, because they had missed it so often, and this blind man, Bartimaeus, could see clearly who Jesus was without even laying eyes on him.

They told Bartimaeus’ story because Jesus left them with a challenge. Jesus would not always be with them physically, in plain view. They would not always be able to see him. But Jesus promised to be with them, to be known to them in the breaking of bread, in the sharing of the Word, in friend and stranger. He told them to use the eyes of their hearts to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself. He told them to use the eyes of their hearts, because there are many kinds of blindness.

There are many kinds of blindness, and we all bear a cloak of some kind. We all carry something with us or within us that we cling to, that is part of our identity, that brings us comfort, that it is hard to imagine our lives without.

In throwing off his cloak, Bartimaeus embraces the new life he knew Jesus could give him. He knew that the security, comfort, usefulness of his cloak would be replaced by something much bigger, much better, more permanent. Bartimaeus never goes back to get his cloak. He never retreats to its familiarity. He just follows.

Jesus calls to us too: “What do you want me to do for you?”

 

— The Rev. Amy E. Richter is rector of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Annapolis, Md.

The path has unfolded before us once again, Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 25 (B) – October 25, 2009

(RCL) Job 42:1-6, 10-17 and Psalm 34:1-8 (19-22) (Track 2: Jeremiah 31:7-9 and Psalm 126); Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

Recipe for success: one part awareness, one part knowledge, one part motivation, one part action. Slowly add one ingredient at a time, gradually and with care. Then begin again. Note: you may be inspired to start over at any point in the process.

One might place knowledge before awareness, but without awareness how does knowledge develop? Once we are aware and know, it takes motivation to produce action.

This recipe for success is present in the lessons we’ve read today with one specific difference; where the accountability lies.

Our reading from Hebrews describes a sort of “designated hitter” concept and might be heard as supporting a hint of clericalism. Priests abound, and their work keeps them going. Their main purpose is to intercede for others. In this context, the recipe for success might be difficult because the action ingredient belongs to someone else. For some, this might be just fine. In fact, for some, not having the final action or burden for action enables a lack of accountability for individual relationship and success.

The gospel, on the other hand, provides us with an account of the recipe for success from the perspective of Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus was aware of the ministry of healing that Jesus had become well-known for at this point in the story. Bartimaeus asked to be healed, to be able to see again. And Jesus healed him.

These two stories lead us to interpret the recipe for success in two very different ways: one, giving over the final ingredient to someone else; and the other, total responsibility for our own outcomes.

Certainly each of these readings describes Christian life as the end product in a “Recipe for Success.” In our experience of our faith and tradition there have been times when we have relied on someone else to intercede for us. An example might include a reliance on a priest to connect us with God in worship although our Book of Common Prayer would actually suggest that we are all equal in this process. Total engagement with the mission and ministry of the church is what we are all called to be.

Our Anglican tradition actually encourages a balance between scripture, reason, and tradition suggesting an individual and corporate collaborative awareness and knowledge, not a reliance on intercessors or interpreters. Certainly we must be aware of the scholarly perspectives throughout history that guide us in understanding scripture. Throughout history we have become aware of just how important the scholarly perspectives are that impact our tradition and expression of our faith. There seems to be some difficulty when we begin to apply reason to the mix, as we have seen in recent debates.

But back to our recipe for success – the one thing that is certain is that awareness and knowledge, the first two ingredients, are essential to the end product.

Once we put the two readings together, our recipe for success might lead us to understand that it takes both individual and corporate restoration to wholeness for “real” success.

Using the metaphor of sight in the gospel story we can understand that physical sight is not required to produce faith. In fact, Bartimaeus is blind but his faith is strong. He does not seem to condition his faith on whether or not he can be healed or whether or not Jesus will stop and heal him. But he asks Jesus for healing or physical sight so he can be fully restored to wholeness.

Throughout history, God has worked miracles through political forces, social action, and ordinary events, meeting people where they are and restoring them to wholeness. Whether or not we fall and call out from the gutter like Bartimaeus or turn ourselves around with a heightened sense of awareness and knowledge motivating us to act justly and walk humbly with our God, the product is faithful living.

Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Of course Jesus had already heard Bartimaeus calling out to him and asking for healing, for sight. Why would he have to ask again what he was asking? Is it possible that the question served to emphasize the faithfulness, the confidence that Bartimaeus felt? Was Jesus asking again so that his disciples would reconsider their own faith, possibly suggesting that some self-reflection was in order?

It may be that Jesus also wanted to point out that the disciples, his followers, need not act as his agents, screening out whatever they felt Jesus should not attend to. Brian McLaren’s book Everything Must Change: When the World’s Biggest Problems and Jesus’ Good News Collide makes a strong case for considering the obvious here. “The kingdom of God is not simply a new belief or doctrine that can be patched into an old way of life; it is, rather, a new way of life that changes everything.”

Mary Anderson writes in her Christian Century article “Blind Spots“:

“Some changes are no doubt fast and immediate, but the changes that endure unto the generations are the result of a process of human or divine origin.”

Arriving at the place of restored wholeness can only happen through the process of self-reflection and self-knowledge. We cannot diminish the process and in fact it is the journey toward wholeness that is often the grace that binds us to God and each other, sustaining our faith and transforming us as God’s own. This level of transformation can only be known if we are honest and open – seeing clearly what is before us and giving way to those things that are best put into the past.

Reflection and restoration complement each other serving as process, as guideposts, which result in our personal journey toward life in Christ and the faithfulness like that of Bartimaeus. We are held accountable in our corporate lives as believers, being for one another the reminder, the emphasis the looking glass, to see those things that we may not be able to see or acknowledge. No matter how much we trust each other, though, this is a difficult scenario – one that we see being played out in the life of the church today.

We can be tempted to see the loss, the risk associated with this corporate interdependence and faithfulness. We have to be willing to let go of our rigidness, the hardened heart and embrace a new vision of ourselves and each other. We are always moving from blindness to sightedness, from unfaithfulness to faithfulness. And our faithfulness is what leads us into action or mission, a major focus for our church.

As we move forward we must recognize our blind spots and look creatively at our corporate life, seeing it with new eyes. Only then will we be taking the path that transforms the process so that our recipe for success produces a new product.

There is no question that a new product is necessary. We recognize already at some level that the mission of the church is a corporate activity. But once again, we individually have to undergone the reformation process, the transformation into wholeness before we can corporately share that same process.

As with the readings today, we cannot rely on others to intercede for us and seek God’s blessing on our behalf. Waiting for this to happen, risks our own relationship with God. It is very obvious as we view the world around us that inaction on our part or reliance on someone else to be the instruments of God in our world, produces what I would venture to say is a less than perfect world. The time has come for us to change our awareness and anticipate just what kind of world we are leaving for our grandchildren.

We disciples of Jesus have vision problems. We sometimes describe our blindness as an inability to see the forest for the trees, but that’s a benign analysis. More worrisome is the inherited blindness of each generation, which so often assumes it is the best generation of all, with no lessons left to learn, only an inheritance to enjoy. This arrogance is the root of our blindness. We still need the miracle of restored sight. This is the time to follow the recipe for success once again – first individually, with the gospel as our guide; and then corporately, creating the new sight, the new vision for the church. We have so many gifts to share, why would we rely on someone else to do what God has called us all to do?

The path has unfolded before us once again. Ask for new sight just as Bartimaeus did, and then use what God has restored in you to transform the world.

 

— The Rev. Debbie Royals is a regional missioner for Native Ministry Development, based in the Diocese of Los Angeles. She is the Province VIII Indigenous People’s Network chair and a CREDO health faculty member.

I’m blessed, Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 25 (B) – October 29, 2006

(RCL) Jeremiah 31:7-9 or Job 42:1-6, 10-17; Psalm 126 or 34:1-8 (19-22); Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52 

Gospel singer and evangelist Clay Evans sings a song entitled “I’m Blessed.” It’s a great piece about God’s goodness and mercy, always present, always here, through all things. In one verse, Evans soulfully sings:

“If you want to see a miracle,
All you gotta do is just look at me.
I’ve been blessed, I’ve been kept, by goodness and mercy,
Right now, I’ve got the victory.
I’m blessed.”

It’s of note that Evans is African American, born in Tennessee in 1925, who became a leader of the Civil Rights movement. Certainly no small or easy journey.

In today’s gospel reading, we hear another story about a difficult journey. We hear the story of Bartimaeus, a blind beggar.

In the pre-industrial society in which Bartimaeus lived, a beggar was the lowest of the low in the social hierarchy. One can well imagine the pain and suffering he endured. But through it all he somehow managed to maintain his hope, opening him to be in a place where he could call out to Jesus as he passed by. Sitting by the side of the road, Bartimaeus called out, “Jesus, have mercy on me.” But he was sternly ordered by the people in the crowd to be quiet. Yet in hopefulness he persisted, crying out more loudly still, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” And Jesus heard. Bartimaeus was healed, made well, to get up and follow Jesus on the way.

As much as we might wish otherwise, our Christian faith does not provide immunity from hard times and struggle. Our churches are filled with people of faith who are suffering through some of life’s most difficult challenges. People who have lost a child or a spouse, people who are battling addictions, people who are loving yet anguished caregivers, people who are fighting life-threatening illnesses, people wracked with worry about their loved ones fighting overseas, people who are trapped in cycles of extreme poverty and oppression. The list is almost endless. It is a sad but true fact that many Christians at some point endure painful, soul-wrenching struggles.

But while our faith cannot prevent us from experiencing these struggles, God’s promise of goodness and mercy can carry us through even the worst of times. The difficulty is maintaining our belief in that promise. The question this morning is therefore, “How can we, as Christians, maintain our belief in God’s goodness and mercy through life’s most painful challenges?”

First and foremost, we can turn to the promises of Holy Scripture. We can find hope in the story of Jesus’ own suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus knows our suffering. He experienced first-hand what it is to suffer, and He knows our pain and suffering. Through God’s continued spiritual union with creation, we can be assured that when we suffer, we are not alone. God suffers with us. Every tear, every heartache, is one also felt by our creator. And we can be assured that God stands in solidarity with us through even the worst of times, whether or not we sense God’s presence. And God gives us hope. Just as Jesus’ crucifixion was not the end of the story, our suffering is not the end of the story either.

Another way we can maintain our belief in God’s goodness and mercy is through prayer. A young seminarian who lost both her parents at an early age shared a way of praying that helped her through the worst of times. She shared that in those most painful of days, she used to sit with her grandmother. Together, they would read the Bible, focusing on two particular passages.

First was the one that follows directly after the Bartimaeus story we heard this morning – the story of Jesus approaching Jerusalem, when he asks two of his disciples to go ahead and find a colt for him, on which they place their cloaks.

The second is Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The woman used these two images together to prayerfully imagine Jesus inviting her to take his yoke of love, in exchange for the heavy load of grief, loss, and doubt that she carried. She pictured releasing the pain she carried, which was placed by Jesus on the back of the young colt in exchange for the yoke of spreading the message of Christ’s love in word and action.

We close this morning with the story Captain Porter. The captain served in the Vietnam War. After an exemplary tour of duty, he was called home. On his last night overseas, he wrote excitedly in a journal about a young nurse from Kansas that he was to see that evening. But then tragedy struck. On his way home, the Captain’s vehicle was attacked, resulting in injuries that left him paralyzed from the neck down. It was twenty years later when a newly ordained priest came across him in an assisted-living facility in New Mexico. He had been living in the facility for nearly two decades, confined to his bed or a wheelchair. The new priest was nervous about meeting the captain. She knew his story, and fully expected to find him bitter and downcast. She wondered how she could be of comfort and offer hope to someone whose promising life had been cut short and severely compromised. It was with some trepidation that she knocked on the door of his room.

Imagine her surprise when he greeted her with eyes that sparkled, expressed his joy at seeing her, and invited her to sit down. The two spoke, and she finally asked how he was able to maintain his faith and optimism. He shared that each night, a caring attendant came in, and together they read a few passages of scripture. Next, she would prop a flashlight up on his nightstand to illuminate the icon of Jesus on the crucifix hanging on his wall. The captain explained that as they gazed at Christ’s image, he and the attendant would recite the Lord’s Prayer together. As he finished his story he looked at the young priest, smiled, and said, “You know, I’ve lived a blessed life.”

One can almost imagine The Rev. Clay Evans singing in the background:

“If you want to see a miracle,
All you gotta do is just look at me.
I’ve been blessed, I’ve been kept, by goodness and mercy,
Right now, I’ve got the victory.
I’m blessed.”

 

— The Rev. Suzanne E. Watson has served as a priest in the Episcopal Dioceses of El Camino Real, San Diego, and Connecticut, and in the Anglican Diocese of the Waikato in New Zealand. She currently serves as a Staff Officer for Congregational Development working with small-membership churches (those with an average Sunday attendance of 70 or less) at the Episcopal Church Center in New York.