Series: “Discipleship Camp”
October 25, 2015
William G. Carter
We have been on the road with Jesus for a while. Just like the other Gospels, Mark portrays faith as a journey. Jesus appears in the desert, gets baptized, is tested in the wilderness, and then he is off and running. It is a rare occasion in the Gospel of Mark for the Lord to sit still. There is always a leper to be healed, a storm to be silenced, or a parable to be hurled into the crowd. The world is in rough shape, and the Savior has a lot of saving to do.
Mark’s favorite word is “immediately.” Immediately Jesus goes into the village. He says to the paralyzed man, “Get up and walk,” and immediately the man jumps to his feet. Immediately he goes here, immediately he goes there. Mark portrays Jesus as a man of action, the strong man of God who is on the move. Jesus is on the go, and if you wish to follow him, you have to keep up with him.
And if you keep up with him, his words and actions invite you to a deeper faith. Listen to this story:
They came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
Finally, somebody sees. This is the second story of a blind person healed by Jesus. The first story was back in chapter eight, and it didn’t go so well. Jesus was up in Bethsaida, a fishing village not far from his home base in Capernaum. They brought to him a blind man. Jesus took him by the hand and led him out of the village. There he performed the traditional folk cure of wetting his fingers and placing them on the man’s eyes. “Can you see anything?” The man said, “I can see people, but they look like trees walking.” So Jesus had to do it again, give him a second whammy, and then the man could see. Jesus said, “Don’t go back into the village.”
It’s an odd story, but pretty soon we understand how hard it is to see. Jesus takes the twelve on a retreat and asks, “Who do people say that I am?” Simon Peter gets it half-right: “You are the Messiah, the Christ,” but he doesn’t understand that the Christ has not come to beat up the Romans or stage a religious revival. No, Jesus has come to give his life in self-giving love.
And then we have one story of somebody after another who does not understand Jesus. Mostly it’s the twelve disciples. They see Jesus glow with the power of heaven, but can’t comprehend that he uses that power to heal a child with epilepsy. He reminds them again how he will go to Jerusalem and give away his life for many, but then he has to interrupt an argument among them about which one of them is the greatest. After the healing of a blind man, the disciples can’t see a thing. They simply don’t get it – and neither do those around them.
Let me briefly recount the stories we have heard this fall.
· The disciple John, one of the original fishermen, runs up to tattle on a wayward exorcist. “Teacher,” he exclaims, “we saw somebody casting out evil in your name, and we told him to stop because he wasn’t following us.” Jesus said, “Don’t stop him; we are on the same team.” (9:38-42)
· Parents were bringing their children to Jesus and get them blessed, but the twelve disciples were trying to keep them away. “Adults only,” they said. “Get those kids out of here!” But Jesus said, “Let them come. Let them come! The kingdom is for them, and those who are like them.” (10:13-16)
· Then a true-blue spiritual seeker comes near and says, “Good Teacher, how can I inherit the life of eternity?” They talk about God’s expectations, and Jesus loves what is in this man. But he lacks something: he lacks a neighborly charity. Jesus says, “Give it all away to the needy, then come with me.” And the man can’t do it. He loves his money and his material belongings more than the life of eternity. (10:17-31)
· So Jesus says a third time, “I’m going to Jerusalem to give away my life for the benefit of the world.” And James and John, the two brothers, push to the front of the line and say, “Ooh, ooh, when you come into your glory, can we sit next to you?” And then another fight erupts when the other ten find out that James and John got to ask him first.”
They don’t get it, any more than any of us get it. It takes a conversion to follow Jesus. Anybody can tag along as an affiliate member, but to go the whole way . . . whew, that’s difficult. Mark is teaching us that spiritual clarity is an ongoing journey. You have to keep at it, keep stripping away the illusions, keep peeling away the protective layers of vanity, keep pushing your soul beyond self-preservation.
So they go to Jericho, the oasis town by the Dead Sea, and there’s another blind man. This one has a name: Bartimaeus. Most of the people Jesus cures, we don’t know their names. But this one we do. He is the son of Timaeus, Bartimaeus. And he calls out to the Son of David. That causes a stir. Surely there are Roman soldiers near the street in Jericho, and “Son of David” is an explosive phrase - - some say it was code language for a military hero, so the townspeople say, “Shh! Quiet down! Don’t get us in trouble.”
But then Jesus does something remarkable. He calls to Bartimaeus, who jumps up and leaves behind his beggar’s cloak. And the Lord asks the same question that he asked James and John last week: “What do you want me to do for you?” This man does not want power or prestige. He wants mercy. He wants the powers of heaven to show him some kindness.
And he makes it very specific: “My teacher, let me see again.” His prayer is granted. Faith like that makes him well.
I have spent a bit of time this week, thanking God for the gift of vision. When you can see every day, you start to take it for granted. One of my friends developed a detached retina a week or so ago. She had surgery and all went well. For a week, she wore an eye patch and we joked about getting her a parrot so she can be a pirate for Halloween. But losing your sight is no laughing matter.
If we have troubles with our vision, it is hard to get around – my friend was temporarily unable to drive for ten days. She had to depend on others to drive. And unlike those who have adjusted to sightlessness, most of us are not prepared to suddenly have our lights go out. Can’t we all understand why Bartimaeus asked to see again? It sounds like once he had been able until something took it away. He knows what it was like to see the deep colors of the sea or the wrinkles of a familiar face. “Let me see again,” he says.
Just the other day, at the end of a week that had a few bumps, I was feeling a little blue. So was my wife Jamie. An idea came out of the air – “Let’s go for a ride and look at the autumn leaves.” It was just what we needed. We went out to Newton Township and drove along the base of the mountain. We turned right and toodled our way over hill and dale. Somehow we found ourselves in Nicholson, so I took her by the cemetery so we could say hello to friends buried there. We found the back way to Fleetville, and since we were close, we went over to the dairy to say hello to the cows and get ice cream cones.
It was a perfect day, full of color and beauty. We must have been out for a couple of hours, enjoying the scarlet maples, the yellow birches, the auburn oaks. This is a beautiful part of the world, especially if we take the time to see it. And it gave me a glimpse of what Bartimaeus wanted. He didn’t want another donation, he didn’t want to remain a beggar or a fixture by the side of the road. He wanted to participate in the world. The blind man wanted to see.
But the irony is that he already did see. He is different from the other characters that Mark has been parading in front of us. He recognizes who Jesus is and trusts what he can do. Bartimaeus’ lack of visual sight has been a hurt that has defined his life. He’s been the local beggar who sits by the road, but he doesn’t want to be that any more. Sight, for him, is not only the ability to see the leaves and hills and the faces that accompany the voices he hears.
Sight is the clarity to see the truth, to peer through the ways the world pulls the wool over our eyes. It is to perceive what others have missed, to notice what everybody else ignores, and to shed the denial to which we have become accommodated.
Just review with me again what others have in this Gospel have overlooked between the two stories of blind men that Jesus restored. We see the other exorcists who are out there doing Christ’s work, even if they are not part of our particular tribe. We see the children that the disciples think they should chase away. We see the affluent man who wants to “inherit eternal life” but cannot give what he has to his neighbors in need. We see the longtime insiders, James and John, who think their persistence has earned them a higher rank than those who empty themselves for others as Jesus does.
Jesus says to Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus says, “Let me see.” And when he sees, he leaves the old life behind and, in the very next verse, follows Jesus who goes into Jerusalem to carry his cross.
Finally somebody sees… not merely the beauty of God’s earth which restores our souls, but the invitation of God’s Christ to give our lives for the service of others. As Mark describes Jesus, he is constantly doing whatever he can to repair the world and tend to the souls upon it. That is the tactical work of God’s kingdom. It is to confront everything that demeans and demolishes life, and work for healing with the mercy of God.
I hope when you reflect on your life with this church, you perceive there is more here than meets the eye. There are so many people in this church family who are committed to doing Christ’s ministry. Some are quiet, some we wish were a little more quiet, but all of them wishing to be part of God’s saving and salvaging work in Jesus Christ. We send funds to support mission work around the world, but we send people too, for if we merely write a check and don’t show up, we cannot see what God is doing.
We are so blessed with people in this church who look in on one another, who offer rides and deliver meals, who visit the sick and sit with the dying, who listen with a loving heart and a box of Kleenex, who testify with their skin and bones and souls that God is stronger than the powers of destruction and Jesus is risen from the dead. I hope you see this, because if you can see it, you can take part in it.
And if you take part in it, I promise you will see Jesus. When we join him in his work of repairing the world, he walks with us. Maybe he is a half-step ahead, beckoning us to follow. Or maybe he is right behind us, giving us the proper nudge to get moving and keep moving. But this is what delights the Lord: a company of unfinished people who join him in his unfinished work.
They are the ones who decide they are not going to sit by the side of the road anymore; they are going to get in step. They are the ones who believe they live by God’s mercy, and now they will show that mercy to others.
They are the ones, when asked, “What would you like the Lord to do for you?” will say, “My teacher, let me see again. I want to see where you are going, so I can go too. I want to see what you are doing, so I can do my part. Open my eyes, Lord, so I can see your presence in all that you have set before me.”
(c) William G. Carter. All rights reserved.