46They 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.
What does it mean to see something?
[Look at it with your eyes] -- there’s the physical act of looking...the light waves bouncing off whatever objects are within your field of vision into your eyes that then are translated by your brain into colors, and shapes, depth and size. You look at something, and it’s photons and chemicals - a scientific process that takes multiple organs working together to be able to see those things that are in front of you.
But what else does it mean to see something?
There’s also this element of knowing or understanding. I could hold up a variety of objects in front of you and you could see them, but if you didn’t have an idea of what I was actually holding up, you wouldn’t be able to really, truly see them. I watch this with Michael all the time, as he’s learning and growing and figuring the world out. I could have 10 different objects in front of him and ask him if he sees this or that, and if he doesn’t already have an idea of what I’m asking for - his brain has no way to make sense of the different objects in front of him. Like right now, we’re doing it with magnetic letters on the refrigerator. He’s really good at being able to see the letter “M” (in fact, wherever we go, he can pick that letter out), but other letters - A….K….Y… he just doesn’t see. There’s no connection between what he’s looking at with his eyes, and any sense of greater understanding.
There are a lot of layers of “seeing” that is going on in today’s scripture passage: what it means to see and be seen...to be blind, both literally and spiritually...and how our seeing and unseeing impacts how we relate to ourselves...to one another...and to Jesus.
In our story we have bartimaeus, a blind beggar, sitting by the roadside - presumably in the spot he always sits - looking for anything anyone will give him. When Jesus and his disciples leave the city, he hears of it and begins to shout out - “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those around him try stop him from crying out, but it only increases his desperation as again he calls out to Jesus. Jesus stops, stands still, and asks those who had tried to silence Bartimaeus to call him forward. They tell him “take heart, get up, his calling you.” Bartimaeus leaps up and casts off his cloak and makes his way to Jesus. (As a side note, I always found it interesting that they didn’t help him find his way to Jesus).
Jesus asks him, What do you want me to do for you?” And Bartimaeus says to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus tells him that his faith has made him well...and immediately, Bartimaeus regains his sight and follows after Jesus.
The literal blindness of Bartimaeus and his regaining sight is a fairly straightforward layer in the text, but there are other blind people in this story - and it’s a bit more subtle. The crowd is blind to Bartimaeus; his ailment and his status as a beggar render him unworthy of an encounter with Jesus - at least in the crowd’s opinion. Even though they see him - they don’t truly see him...he is invisible, his cries - though heard - fall on deaf ears, and his very personhood is unvalued.
Until, that is, Jesus stops, and invites the crowd to call him. Jesus doesn’t invite Bartimaeus forward directly, Jesus tells the crowd to give him the message. In this act, Jesus heals the crowd of their spiritual blindness. He opens their reality to the value and worth of Bartimaeus, and where once they were trying to subdue his shouts and cries and pleas for help...they now encourage: “Take heart, get up, he is calling you.” In this act, connection and relationship within the community is restored - Bartimaeus is no longer invisible to them.
The interaction Jesus and Bartimaeus have is one that I find deeply moving. Bartimaeus sees something that the crowd does not - he calls Jesus “Son of David” which is a title that Jesus never uses publicly in his ministry. The crowd doesn’t fully understand who this Jesus is - and perhaps they see who they want to see in Jesus - a healer, a miracle worker, an exorcist, a teacher, a potential military leader, a revolutionary, a simple carpenter’s son, a great speaker. They don’t see what Bartimaeus sees - Jesus as the Messiah….Son of David...the Son of God.
Jesus is fully seen by Bartimaeus - a blind man. Bartimaeus sees despite his blindness - and Jesus fully sees Bartimaeus. Jesus doesn’t assume that Bartimaeus wants to regain his sight. Jesus doesn’t reduce Bartimaeus to a problem to be solved, or a series of labels. Jesus asks the question, “What do you want me to do for you?” which honors Bartimaeus as a full person - one with many wants, needs, and desires. Jesus invited Bartimaeus to gauge within himself what he wants of Jesus.
Bartimaeus in some sense had already made his decision - when he came forward to Jesus, he threw off his cloak - the most valuable possession he had - it gave him warmth and shelter, collected coins, gave him cover and an identity and a livelihood -- a thing safe and familiar that he cast off in order to meet Jesus...demonstrating a trust in this man he’s never met but knows and sees and that is confirmed when he follows Jesus after regaining his sight.
On the one hand, we could talk about and identify with the crowd and ask - who are the unseen people in our world or on our island...where does Jesus need to heal our own spiritual blindness to the troubles that allow and enable us to dehumanize and render others unworthy or less than. There’s a wealth of conversation we could have about how that plays out in our world and in our community.
Yet while the crowd features prominently in the story - it’s the encounter between Jesus and Bartimaeus that leads me to consider the same question Jesus asks: What do you want me to do for you?
It’s a question of self-reflection and invitation for healing -- a question where Jesus asks us to examine our hearts and discover what lies therein...a question that points to our longings and fears. Jesus might also reframe the question: “What do you imagine I desire for you? Where in your deepest desires might we find each other?”
It’s a question that invites us to look within and see ourselves as we are - the hurts and pains and joys and sorrows, our intentions and mixed motivations, our deepest shame and our proudest moments, our sharpest wounds and faded scars. And to answer that question honestly, it requires that we see Jesus who who he truly is - God’s son sent to heal us and bring us back to life….to resurrect the dead and dying places in our lives and in our world...and it requires us to trust that when Jesus sees us - he doesn’t reduce us to our problems or our needs - Jesus sees all of who we are. He sees us as people worthy of love and attention, even if we struggle with thinking that about ourselves...he sees our suffering and our wounds, even if we try to hide them ...he sees the best and the worst in each our hearts...and looks on each and every one of us with love and compassion, longing for each of us to bring those wounded places to him for healing.
To end, I want to invite you into a place of reflection - hearing Christ call to you in and through this story. This was written by Rev. Steve Garnaas-Holmes, a United Methodist pastor serving in Acton, Massachusetts.
Close your eyes….breathe in and out….and hear these words:
Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting beside the Way.
What is the Way you are beside: something incomplete,
something not yet happening? Offer it to God.
He began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Many sternly ordered him to be quiet.
What has silenced you?
What has kept you from rushing headlong to God?
Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.”
Imagine Jesus calls you.
Jesus wants you. Wants you near.
They called the blind man, saying to him,
“Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”
Recite these words to yourself.
Take heart; get up, your Love is calling you.
Throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.
Your souls is not as timid as you:
casting your safety aside, leaping, unseeing, to the Beloved.
Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Let him ask you.
“My teacher, let me see again.”
What would you see?
Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.”
Your crying out, your soul's leaping,
your blind begging is holy.
Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
What is the new Way you will follow on?
Pray this all day long without ceasing:
“Jesus, Beloved of God, have mercy on me.
“Jesus, Beloved of God, have mercy on me.”
Scripture - Mark 10:17-31
Mark 10:17-31 (NRSV)
17As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
28Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
Hymn - Jesus Calls Us (UMH 398)
I have to say, I really identify with the man who comes up to Jesus to ask him what he has to do to inherit eternal life. Of all the questions that he could ask Jesus - this man who works miracles, who casts out demons, who possesses all wisdom and knowledge - he picks the question having to do with getting eternal life. The big reward. The grand prize, blue ribbon, giant trophy. In the school of life, it’s the question - “what do I have to do to ace this class?” And being the good student that I am, I can relate to that. I was one of those kids that you didn’t want to have in the class if the professor was going to grade on a curve because if there was one thing I knew how to do well, it was being a diligent student and giving exactly what was demanded of me to perfection. What assignments do I have to complete, what rules do I have to follow, what books do I have to read. High school was tough because of classes like English and History where there weren’t any “right answers” - it was in college where this gift truly shone and I could hone in on my math and science skills to figure out the right way to arrive at the right answer. And truth be told, I operate out of that wanting to do things the “right way” mentality a lot of the time - wanting to say the right things when someone’s having a tough time or when I’m in a difficult conversation with someone, wanting to parent Michael the right way so he grows up into the person God created him to be -- wanting to have the right spiritual practices, to have all my stuff together and be presentable, to say and do the right kind of things that are expected of me...and when I don’t feel like I handled something the right way or mastered something I should have been able to do - I run through the scenario over and over again in my mind, thinking, “I should have said this” or “done that”. It’s all about matching my actions to outward expectations.
So when I see this man talking with Jesus - I see someone wanting to get it right, wanting to figure out what he has to do to be right with God, wanting to discover the expectations so he can get the prize. And Jesus hands him the list - no murdering, no stealing, no lying, etcetera. Your basic commandments - the ones, as it turns out, this man has been following all along. No sweat. A plus, buddy, you pass with flying colors.
But for whatever reason, this doesn’t satisfy the man. He wants more - and again, I can relate to that - the desire to master a challenge, to really sink your teeth and dig in to a project. A spiritual conquest, something that really proves that you’ve earned that eternal life.
Jesus, in our passage, looks at the man. And the text notes that Jesus loved him as he told the man the one thing he needed to do - the one thing that was missing, the one thing that Jesus probably knew that the man wouldn’t be able to do: to sell what he owned, give the money to the poor, and follow him. The man went away shocked and grieved because of his many possessions.
Jesus goes on to use this man as a bit of a teaching moment for his disciples - but again, his disciples miss the point - Peter is quick say that “Hey Jesus, we all left everything behind to follow you...look Jesus, don’t we get an A+ for that? We didn’t have a problem with letting go of our stuff to follow you.” Jesus instead brings the conversation back to their greatest sticking point - the biggest barrier to their own being all-in with Jesus -- and that was this whole notion of the first being last….and the last being first….and asking the disciples to let go of the notion that somehow they’ve earned first place or the position of being the greatest in the kingdom of God.
Jesus’s invitation - for both the wealthy man and for the disciples - is to give up the life they know and to live for others. To not be attached to the ego - the possessions, the need to be greatest, the need to be right - and instead live for others.
“The last shall be first and the first shall be last.”
This life with Christ is not about checking off boxes - following this or that commandment….sitting on this or that church committee….putting x amount of dollars in the plate -- and thinking that that equates to following Jesus. A life with Christ isn’t even about achieving a certain status of holiness or worthiness - as if you have to level up your soul to unlock new skills or additional bonuses before living the abundant life Christ offers. We can’t work or earn our way into it or create it ourselves - it is impossible for us to do. We can’t get there on our own.
When Jesus told the young man to sell all his possessions, I think Jesus knew that it was the one thing that was impossible for him to do. There was no way that he was going to be able to accomplish that task - and maybe that was the point. For if the young man had it within him to do it, had he said, “alright Jesus, consider it done” and went straight away to take care of it and came back to follow….he would have inherited eternal life all by himself - worked his way into the kingdom, getting there on his own merit, achieving eternal life as a reward for a life well-lived, done right, expectations met and managed.
Jesus knows this. He tells the disciples “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
“For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
How many of us are trying to save ourselves, relying on our own resources, rather than letting God grow the kingdom within and around us? How many of us lean on our accomplishments - spiritual or otherwise - and use them as a metric for determining our worthiness rather than offering all of who we are - the good, bad, and the ugly, and relying on God’s grace for the rest?
We can’t work ourselves into God’s favor or earn our way to eternal life - that was the mistake made by both the disciples and the young man in our passage. It’s a mistake I know I make all the time, thinking that somehow I can use my gifts and education and possessions and efforts and knowledge and translate that into saving myself from my own destructive habits, or that I can earn my way into making God love me more - as if the spiritual life were something to accomplish rather than a life poured out in love for others. The reality is, however, that there’s nothing you or I could ever do that would make God love me or you more...or less. And the way to access that love isn’t by achieving anything or getting your life in order or by thinking the right things or ticking off the correct religious boxes...but by surrender and letting go...surrendering our need for control or validation...our need to achieve or accomplish...our need for security and safety in the things we can see and touch….it’s a letting go of that which we cling to most tightly in order to follow Jesus…..a task that is impossible for us on our own….but not for God.
Jesus always invites us - “come and follow me.” That invitation stands wherever we are - however we are - whoever we are. There is no need to perform for God...or for each other. There is no need to show off our spiritual medals - or lack thereof. It is not necessary to have it together...in any area of your life. All that is needed is to accept the great depth of love God has for you - exactly where you are, no accomplishments needed - and trust that Jesus wants you to follow him not for your own sake only...but for the sake of a hurting and broken world that also needs to know how much God loves it.
We cannot save ourselves - but God can. May we trust this week in that invitation from Jesus - the one in whom all things are possible - to step together into that kingdom that God is building not only in the heavens but here among us on earth. May we accept fully God’s love for us - so that we can be a people poured out in love for others. Amen.
Scripture - Mark 9:38-50
Mark 9:38-50 (NRSV)
38John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”39But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40Whoever is not against us is for us. 41For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
42“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
49“For everyone will be salted with fire. 50Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
*Hymn - There’s A Spirit in the Air (UMH 192)
“There's a Spirit in the air,
calling people everywhere:
praise the love that Christ revealed,
living, working in our world.”
This is an image that gives me hope, after living through this apocalyptic week - not apocalyptic in the end of the world sense (though I know that some are feeling that way) - but apocalyptic in the original sense of word and in the way original hearers of scriptural texts would have understood it, which is what happens when the layers of our society are peeled back to show the truth, often the very uncomfortable truth, about what’s been going on. We’re in the midst of this kind of uncovering in our country and regardless of where you stand politically, it’s nearly impossible to ignore the hurt and pain we’re inflicting upon one another as a result of this great divide. The fear and anxiety for the future that many live with on a daily basis seems to permeate the very air that we breathe.
I find strength in remembering that God’s Holy Spirit is in the air as well -- moving everywhere, calling and drawing people in all kinds of ways and in all kinds of places, also at work revealing truth - that love is also at work, living and breathing in our world, in the church, outside the church, with the church - and without the church. It’s a Spirit that cannot be bound or owned by a group of people, and cannot be controlled or ordered about.
Jesus points to this - and so much more - in our Scripture reading this morning. Immediately before this morning’s text, the disciples had had an argument about who among them was the greatest - and in response, Jesus had given them a pointed lesson on being the servant of all and getting to the back of the line to be great in God’s kingdom. Jesus had taken a child in his arms - a symbol for all those people society considered to be less-than - and told them that welcoming him - and welcoming God - was to be found in embracing the most vulnerable.
And so here we have John, one of the disciples, who speaks up and says, “But teacher, we saw this person casting out demons in your name and he wasn’t following us. He was working this miracle and we weren’t a part of it. He was trying to claim something that he isn’t a part of. He’s not one of us. He wasn’t doing it the way we do it. Make him stop before he ruins everything.”
Jesus essentially tells them to worry about themselves, not what others are doing—especially when this work also builds up the kingdom of God. The Spirit works in many ways - not just through them, Jesus tells them. Policing your own behavior, your own actions, is probably as much as you can handle anyway. Jesus reminds them of the stakes of being a stumbling block to the poor and vulnerable people in the world. It would be far better, Jesus says, for you to lose an eye or foot or hand if it’s causing you to stumble, to have a millstone hung around your neck and be cast into the sea, in the event you prevent those who are the last and least from my love.
Jesus goes on to describe in gruesome detail what to do if a hand or foot or eye causes the disciples to stumble, with images of the unquenchable fires of hell paired with the image of being salted with sanctifying fire.
I imagine that the disciples were probably a bit shocked that Jesus didn’t take their side in this...but perhaps their concern around this unaffiliated exorcist had less to do with what he was or wasn’t doing, and more to do with their need to ensure that they were the only ones who were truly “in” on Jesus’s work. It was more about their egos than anything else….after all, the complaint against this man was that he wasn’t following them….not that he wasn’t following Jesus. Again - it’s like they weren’t really paying attention to what Jesus was telling them two minutes earlier about service and humility. It’s like they wanted to be the only ones who could do it - who could cast out demons and perform miracles in Jesus name, they wanted to be the gatekeepers for God’s work in the world.
Except that’s not how God works.
This passage is Jesus’s attempt to tell the disciples - pay attention to what is important! Don’t be distracted by what others are doing or not doing, focus on what you are doing, how you are living, how you are being my disciples - because the stakes are high. What you do and how you act affects the ability of others to be in relationship with me. Faith is hard. Don’t be a stumbling block, don’t make faith harder than it already is, and don’t, by your words or actions, by your focus on the little things, by your insistence on doing it your way, prevent those who are suffering and vulnerable from experiencing my love and presence.
Attend to your own behavior and conduct. Be faithful in what you have been entrusted with to build up the kingdom - and don’t worry about what others are doing...because ultimately this is God’s work, and not yours.
Or, in the words of Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, Do Your Job.
That goes for us as individuals….it also goes for our witness as a community of faith. Do your job, trust God with the rest. Be faithful in your work because your witness matters.
I want to share with you something I read from Debi Thomas at Journey with Jesus this week. She writes,
“What we do really matters. If Jesus is telling us the truth in this passage, then it is entirely possible for Jesus’s beloved “little ones” to stumble because of our carelessness, our apathy, our unkindness, our dogmatism, our prejudices, our unforgiveness, our laziness, and our fear. It is even possible for them to stumble as a result of our well-intentioned efforts to protect God, protect the Church, and protect the “purity” of our religion.”...She continues by saying,
“Jesus, does, however, want us to think carefully about what it costs to become path clearers. Stumbling block removers. People of God who actually help each other succeed. Because let’s be honest: sometimes, the process of removing a stumbling block from the path of faith can feel like surgery without anesthesia. Saying goodbye to a harmful relationship, surrendering a cherished point of view, breaking an addiction, forgiving a family member, making a significant lifestyle change, welcoming the oddball Other — all of these things can feel like deaths. Like drownings. Like losing our arms and legs. Jesus knows what he’s talking about; it hurts to change. It hurts to cut off the precious, familiar things we cling to for dear life — even as those things slowly kill us. The bottle. The affair. The obsession with money. The decades-old shame. The resentment, the victimhood, the self-hatred, the rigidity.”
The consequences of not doing this, as Jesus points out, is not being able to stand the sanctifying fire - I imagine that would feel pretty hellish...and when enough of us fail to do our jobs - if we’re so worried about who is doing or not doing what and not attending to our own inner life with Jesus - the body of Christ is in danger of becoming, in the words of Jesus, salt that has lost its flavor. A light hidden so it can’t shine. A house built on sand. In short, becoming nice people who occasionally do nice things for others in ways that can be safely expected, never to move the needle very much, either for them or for the world.
In other words, Jesus says - who you are, how you conduct yourself, what you do -- really, really matters, both as individuals and as a people who call themselves the church. And when we get caught up in trivialities, when we get distracted by the minutiae, when we stake our lives on molehills rather than on mountains, when we worry more about who will get the credit or policing the behavior of others, when we try to slide gently through the world without creating ripples -- when we lose our focus on being disciples of Jesus, hungry people go unfed. Hurt people find no one to bind up their wounds. Lonely people are left at the door. Homeless people find no shelter. And we find the world no different than we left it...and when that happens, as Jesus says, it would be better for us to have a millstone hung around our necks and be cast into the sea.
Yet paired with that challenge is a promise - that if we do our job, do that one thing that God calls us to do; God will take care of the rest.
Jesus points out: The world does not need more nice people. The world needs people who season the world to show where God is present and at work...people who witness to a healing community of hope where we are bound together by God’s love...people who embody Jesus’s love for the hurting and suffering and those no one else cared for, and those living in fear...people committed to serve in the way Jesus served...people who follow that Spirit in the air that shows Christ living and working in the world right now, whose whole lives are grounded in the deeper reality of God’s kingdom that transcends empires and the powers and principalities of this world.
That is the job. Kingdom work and aligning ourselves with that greater purpose rather than be distracted by other things.
And so God challenges us this week to do your part, to attend to your own witness, and to let God be God. To be faithful with your calling and let the God of the universe who loved you even before there was time take care of the rest. To be salt for this community - Chebeague Island - to be about the important things in our lives and in our work together as a church. To trust that God’s at work among us and out in the world in ways that we can’t see or understand.Let us do our part and let God take care of the rest. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.