Open our eyes Lord – We want to see Jesus . . .
Open our ears Lord – And help us to listen . . .
Open our eyes Lord – We want to see Jesus.
I speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit . . .
Bartimaeus: the blind beggar who was sitting by the side of the road in the gospel story this morning. Bartimaeus was blind to many things, but he certainly saw very clearly who Jesus was. Seeing “who Jesus is” – that’s the goal of faith . . . and seeing who Jesus is leads to discipleship. By the way, Bartimaeus is the last person Jesus will heal in Mark’s gospel. Bartimaeus is also the only one of those healed that follows – the only one who becomes a disciple.
Let me take a minute to set the scene of the gospel story: Several chapters earlier, Jesus started on a journey from his home land of Galilee headed to Jerusalem. This is his last trip to Jerusalem because his mission on earth is headed toward its final phase. His mission at this point is in transition. If you remember the gospel readings over the last three weeks, while Jesus is on this final journey to Jerusalem, he is continuing to heal sick people (body, mind and spirit) . . . and he continues to confront the Pharisees when they appear to ask questions designed to trip him up – trying to find grounds to condemn him.
And Jesus also takes the time on the road with his disciples to try to explain to them that at the end of this journey he will be condemned, he will be put to death . . . and then after three days he will rise up again. Actually three separate times Jesus specifically lays this projection out for the disciples – but three times they fail to see. They fall short in the listening department. They remain blind to what’s coming up, remain blind to the vision and the workings of the Kingdom of God. They don’t get it.
Jesus is travelling with his closest disciples and a group that Mark describes as a great multitude. As they pass on through the town of Jericho on the way to Jerusalem, they encounter Bartimaeus. He’s sitting by the road screaming “Son of David, have mercy on me a sinner! Son of David, have mercy on me a sinner.” People try to hush him up – but he’s determined and persistent and confident – and he doesn’t stop ’til he gets Jesus attention. (Notice he didn’t ask someone else to do it for – no systemic triangles in operation here! Straight to the source!)
And Jesus said “Call him!” . . . CALL him. The same term was used way back at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to call Peter, James and John to discipleship. Bartimaeus hopped up and ran to Jesus . . . and Jesus said: “WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO FOR YOU?”
Now at first consideration, this may seem like a rather stupid question. Of course, a blind man wants to see. However this is actually a significant pivot point in this story. The question “WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO FOR YOU?” clarifies to things: 1) It requires Bartimaeus to know what he wants – requires him to state straight away what he wants. 2) It requires Bartimaeus to declare his faith. “Master, let me receive my sight.” And immediately his vision is restored.
You see, Bartimaeus knows he’s blind – and he wants to see. Likewise, Jesus’ closest disciples can’t see, they’re blind to what lies ahead – but they don’t know it. And so they remain blind . . .
In this gospel story, Jesus and company are on a journey – on the WAY to Jerusalem. And they are in transition to the next leg of the mission, which leads to Jesus’ death and resurrection. To be in transition means leaving the past behind. Being in transition involves grief – and uncertainty and anxiety . . . What is the mission!? What is the next stage of the mission!? Through all this, the disciples remain blind. . .
How does all this tie into our lives? St. Nathaniel’s is on a journey – we’re moving on to the next leg of our mission – we’re in transition. Actually that’s the very label our Diocese puts on any parish that has recently said farewell to a rector and has called a new priest. We are a parish in transition.
And whether we like it or not – whether we’re even aware of it – we’re called, in one sense, to begin to build in new ways on the past. And at the same time, in another sense, we are called to leave the past behind. With this comes grief – uncertainty – and lots of anxiety.
What is the next stage of our mission? Do we know? Do we have vision? Or do we, like Jesus’ disciples, remain blind?
The Good News in today’s gospel is Bartimaeus: he was persistent – he acted forcefully, confidently – he acted with vision when he cried out to Jesus. And when Jesus asked “WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO FOR YOU?” – He knew! Not only was he able to see – but with that vision he chose to follow Jesus in the way to the next leg of the mission.
What can we learn from Bartimaeus? I think we can learn to directly address the question: What do we want Jesus to do for us? What specifically do we want Jesus to do for us? And when we know what we want, we must tell Jesus what we want . . . we must pray.
As with Bartimaeus, the answer to Jesus’ question will lead us to healing and reconciliation – and it will open our hearts to new vision. And then, living into our answer to the question with intention and action will be our response to the Call of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . AMEN.