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Lessons From a Blind Beggar

October 28, 2018

LESSONS FROM A BLIND BEGGAR

New Millennium Church

Little Rock, Arkansas

October 28, 2018 (Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost)

 

Mark 10:46-52

 

46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 49Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ 50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.51Then 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.’ 52Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

O Jesus Christ, teacher and healer, you heard the cry of the blind beggar when others would have silenced him.  Teach us to be persistent in prayer and give us courage to ask plainly what we need from you, that we might respond in your name by the power of the Spirit through the ministry entrusted to us for the sake of the gospel.  Amen.

 

The Biblical context for this sermon is more than a little interesting.  Jesus and his closest followers have been walking from the region of Galilee – where Jesus did most of his ministry – to Jerusalem to observe the annual Passover holiday.  The Passover was annually observed then, as now, within the Jewish community as a reminder that God delivered their ancestors from imperial tyranny, worker oppression, and ethnic bigotry and discrimination in Egypt that we read about in the early chapters of Exodus.  

 

Jesus lived when most people traveled by foot.  So Jesus and his disciples had walked south from the villages of Caesarea Philippi in the northern region of Galilee and entered the region of Judea.  The events of today’s lesson occurred in Judea on the outskirts of Jericho, a city about thirteen miles northeast of Jerusalem.  Jericho was the site of a Roman fortress, and the place where Jesus confronted the Palestinian Jewish man named Zacchaeus who was chief tax collector for the despised Roman empire.  As Jesus walked with his disciples and the growing crowd leaving Jericho, they walked past Bartimaeus, a visually impaired man who sat by the roadside and survived by whatever he could beg from travelers. 

 

After Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was walking among the passing multitude, he made created a spectacle by pleading for help, shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  When others (sternly) ordered him to hush, Bartimaeus shouted even louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Eventually, Jesus stopped walking and ordered that the man be brought before him.  The people who tried to silence Bartimaeus changed their reactions to him at that point.  

 

Jesus asked the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Bartimaeus answered, “My teacher, let me see again.”  Jesus then said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.”  The man regained his sight immediately.  But instead of leaving Jesus, he joined him along the way to Jerusalem.  

 

It is easy to see and celebrate the healing miracle documented by this passage.  It is easy to recognize the persistent and dramatic way Bartimaeus made his plight known and pleaded with Jesus to have his sight restored.  We should celebrate God’s presence and powerful mercy.  At the same time, this passage challenges us to see and remember some lessons that are inconvenient, if not uncomfortable.

 

This passage reminds all of us that in Jesus, God took up residence as healer in our suffering world.  

  • In Jesus, God did not come to the rule as conqueror, but as healer.  
  • In Jesus, God did not come to the world as capitalist who peddled access to healthcare for profit, but as healer who provided care to anyone without charging anything, let alone a co-pay.  
  • In Jesus, God came to the world as a healer who did not disqualify people with pre-existing conditions from receiving free care.  
  • In Jesus, God came into the world as a healer who did not require people needing health care to be drug-free or undergo drug testing.  
  • In Jesus, God came into the world as a healer who didn’t force unemployed people off healthcare.  

 

In Jesus, God walked as a disenfranchised person in our world of influence-peddling politicians and preachers.  God traveled with the disenfranchised.  God walked!  

  • In Jesus, God didn’t have a donkey, mule, stallion, chariot, or ox-drawn cart to ride.  
  • In Jesus, God couldn’t afford a donkey, mule, stallion, chariot, or ox-drawn cart.  
  • In Jesus, God walked as a preacher who didn’t have his followers buy him a donkey, mule, stallion, chariot, or ox-drawn cart.  
  • In Jesus, God walked because Jesus wasn’t a temple preacher.  
  • In Jesus, God walked because Jesus was teaching and healing people who couldn’t afford donkeys, mules, stallions, chariots, and carts.  

 

In Jesus, God walked in a world where empires sent soldiers to occupy and control people in other places by force and threats of force.  

  • In Jesus, God walked among colonized people whose lives were controlled every day by displays, threats, and acts by armed forces.  
  • In Jesus, God walked under the threat of violence from armed forces that were constantly ready to seize, assault, imprison, and kill anyone who dissented from Roman supremacy, meaning whatever the Roman Empire did and represented. 

 

In Jesus, God walked along roadways where disabled and impoverished people begged because they could not get healthcare for disabling conditions that prevented them from seeking and doing gainful work.  

 

In Jesus, God walked along roadways where disabled and impoverished people begged while politicians and religious people disregarded them, tried to silence them, and blamed them for their plight.

 

In Jesus, God walked in our world alongside religious people like James and John, the men who left the fishing work they shared with their father, Zebedee, to follow Jesus.  As Jesus walked toward Jerusalem, James and John asked him to appoint them to leadership positions in the political empire they thought Jesus would set up after they reached Jerusalem (see Mark 10:35-37).   

 

James and John wanted to become political insiders in Jerusalem.  I suspect they had been present in Jerusalem on another occasion when Jesus healed an un-named man who was blind from birth (John 9:1-41).  But as Jesus walked along the road outside Jericho to return to Jerusalem for Passover, we do not read about James and John doing anything to help Bartimaeus reach Jesus.  

 

Beyond the fact that these men who clamored for top positions with Jesus are not identified with any effort to help Bartimaeus reach Jesus, lies another troubling matter.  Nowhere in any of the gospel accounts involving Jesus healing Bartimaeus do we read that James, John, Peter, or any of the other close disciples of Jesus did anything to help Bartimaeus reach Jesus!  When we read at Mark 10:48 that many people “sternly ordered” Bartimaeus to stop begging to Jesus for help, we could also infer that James and John – men who clamored to be closest to Jesus when he set up the empire they expected him to establish once they reached Jerusalem – were among those who “sternly ordered” Bartimaeus to hush.  

 

Why would people who were closest to the healing power of God that was walking around in Jesus try to prevent Bartimaeus from being healed?  Why would people who had the most experience with the healing power of God that walked around in Jesus believe they were being obedient to the example of Jesus when they tried to intimidate a desperate and disabled man who sought mercy from Jesus into silence?  Why was blind and impoverished Bartimaeus forced to scream for Jesus to help him because people who were close to Jesus tried to silence his earlier pleas for help?  

 

I warned you that these are inconvenient, if not uncomfortable questions.  They become even more uncomfortable when we consider the plight of Bartimaeus in light of current events.  

 

Yesterday morning a man armed with an assault rifle entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  He did so on Saturday, the worship day for observant followers of Judaism.  According to the Washington Post, the man killed 11 people and wounded six others, one of them critically.  He did so after shouting hateful statements concerning Jewish people.  The man was arrested.  

 

According to an online article in today’s edition of the Washington Post, the gunman is a white supremacist who had posted anti-Semitic messages on Gab, a social media platform hosted and patronized by white supremacists.  Some of his most recent Gab postings expressed hostility toward the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HAIS), one of nine organizations that provides assistants to immigrants and refugees (see https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/suspected-synagogue-shooter-appears-to-have-railed-against-jews-refugees-online/2018/10/27/e99dd282-da18-11e8-a10f-b51546b10756_story.html?utm_term=.9b4372dcf820).

 

The same Washington Post article mentions that last week another gunman tried to enter Jeffersontown First Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.  When he found it locked, he shot and killed two black people who were shopping at a nearby grocery store.  The assassin has been charged with murder, and authorities are also considering charging him with committing a hate crime.

 

The same Washington Post article mentions that 26 people were massacred by a gunman last year in a Baptist church at Southerland Springs, Texas.  The gunman later killed himself.  

 

 In 2015, 9 people were massacred at an African Methodist Episcopal Church during a prayer meeting in Charleston, South Carolina.  The gunman, another white supremacist, was charged, found guilty, sentenced, and is now serving nine life sentences in prison.  

 

Earlier this year 17 students and teachers were killed by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, an affluent suburb about 30 miles from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  

 

These tragic incidents involving massacres of unarmed and innocent people by gunmen happened in a nation where people who call themselves evangelical followers of Jesus are opposed to governmental bans on assault rifles.  Now, as with James, John, and the others close to Jesus who “sternly ordered” Bartimaeus to stop trying to draw attention from Jesus to his helpless plight, the people who clamor to be identified as closest to Jesus seem hostile toward people who God, in Jesus, intentionally lived to heal and deliver from oppression.  

 

In recent weeks a number of people incarcerated in Arkansas prisons have been found dead in their prison cells.  Some of the deaths appear to have resulted from drug overdose.  Yet the people who call themselves evangelical followers of Jesus have been strangely quiet.  Where are the current versions of James, John, and the other close disciples of Jesus as advocates for incarcerated persons plead for action and protest the ways incarcerated persons are dehumanized, scapegoated, and exposed to death from state-sponsored, financed, and sanctioned political actors?  What are we doing?  Are we trying to hush the voices of people who are need help?

 

Our congregation is part of a community where people who call themselves evangelical followers of Jesus try to silence the pleas of families, students, teachers and other supporters of public education about state-sanctioned efforts to privatize and de-fund public education and disrupt collective bargaining rights for public school teachers.  Are we trying to not hear their cries?   And when their cries are finally heard, are we, like the people who tried to hush Bartimaeus, acting as if we wanted them to be heard all along?

  

There are disquieting lessons for us to learn from the account of Jesus and Bartimaeus.  Perhaps the most disquieting lesson for us to take from this account is this:  Bartimaeus was poor because he was blind, and was blind because he could not receive healing.  The people with good vision who walked closest to Jesus were blind because they did not want him to be heard so he could be healed.  

 

Let those who have ears, hear the cries of our suffering neighbors.  Let those who have eyes, help our suffering neighbors receive the healing power they need.  Then the world will know we are not only walking along the roadway with Jesus.  The world will then know we are in step with Jesus, and in touch with the heart of God.

 

Amen.

 

©Wendell Griffen, 2018