Faith United Methodist Church
October 25, 2015
22nd Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Kristabeth E. Atwood
Scripture: Mark 10:46-52, Job 42:1-6
Sermon: How Would You Respond?
I was mid-way through my third-grade year when I began having trouble seeing the black-board. It shouldn’t have been a surprise ~ near-sightedness runs in my family after all. But I didn’t want to say anything at first because I knew what speaking up would mean. It would mean a trip to the eye doctor, an uncomfortable exam, and glasses. So I found excuses to sit closer to the front of the room and I kept quiet.
That didn’t last very long, though. In fact, I’m pretty sure my parents and teacher were on to me right from the beginning. When I began having trouble on my spelling tests ~ I was not able to copy the words correctly from the board ~ there was no getting around it. I learned two things from that experience. It’s best to speak up and tell the truth and glasses really aren’t that bad.
These days I switch between contact lenses and glasses and I make yearly visits to the eye-doctor. But Bartimaues ~ from our Gospel story ~ had no such help for his seeing difficulties. No eye doctors, no glasses….just the kindness of strangers to help him get by from day to day.
We don’t know much about Bartimaues besides the fact that he begged at the side of the road. The gospel writer dropped a hint that Bartimaues might not have always been blind. But whatever his story, there he sat. His name literally means son of Timaues, bar-Timaues, the honored one. Yet his place was not one of much honor. I imagine he was just one among many beggars on the streets of Jericho.
Perhaps Bartimaues chose Jericho road because it was known as a rather wealthy place. An attractive place for beggars. I can imagine Bart sitting on the sideline with his cloak spread around him. His cloak, which most likely held all his possession ~ his sole source of shelter and warmth ~ was also used to gather up the coins that people tossed his way.
So that day, as Jesus set off from Jericho toward Jerusalem, the crowd along the road was probably buzzing with the news. Bartimaues apparently heard that Jesus was approaching. And we learn right away that he was not one to hold his tongue. He called out, shouting, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Others around him ~ either embarrassed or ashamed or just annoyed ~ responded by shushing him and telling him to be quiet. But persistent Bartimaeus did not relent, “Son of David, have mercy on me.”
I have a lot of respect for Bartimaeus. For one thing, he didn’t care what anyone else thought. Hearing that Jesus was leaving Jericho, he knew this was his only chance. It was now or never, and he chose now. And not only that, he didn’t mince words. He named Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of David. It was the sightless one among them who seemed to see the best.
So it’s probably no surprise to us that Jesus stopped. We know Jesus had compassion for the least of society. He didn’t leave people on the sideline. Yet the crowd who gathered around was probably incredibly shocked that Jesus would ‘waste’ his time on one such as Bartimaues. Beggars were not ‘contributing members of society’, so they were seen as less-than…. almost nobodies. Yet Jesus, “… allowed himself to be distracted from the journey for the sake of another.” (Seasons of the Spirit)
And he didn’t just assume that he knew what Bartimaues wanted from him either. After calling him over, Jesus asked him a question. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus invited Bartimaeus to speak up, to name his need. And Bartimaeus responded, “My teacher, let me see again.” Immediately, we are told, he regained his sight and followed Jesus on the way.
“What do you want me to do for you?” It’s a powerful question. How would you respond? As Rev. Susan Andrews points out, Jesus’ question forces us to decide what is most important in our lives. “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaues ~ the son of honor ~ simply sought the ability to follow on the way.
In our Old Testament lesson we have no question what Job wanted God to do for him. As we talked about a couple of weeks ago, Job complained to God for 37 chapters. Job was angry with God for taking away his livelihood, his family, his wealth, his health. He lost everything, including his close relationship with God. Job was unhappy with his life and didn’t make any bones about it. Job, who had once been a powerful member of his community, basically found himself begging on the side of the road, scraping his boils with pottery shards.
So today’s reading may come as a bit of surprise. In it we don’t hear Job’s anger or disappointment. We hear Job’s gratitude to God, “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” Job then concedes, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you…” The story of Job ends with the restoration of his health and wealth and the birth of ten more children. Still, it is important to remember that Job opened his eyes to God before any of that happened. Another blind beggar sitting at the side of the road received his sight.
We when think about it aren’t we all really blind beggars? Don’t we all scrape our boils sometimes? Whether we have 20/20 vision, or need corrective lenses like I do, don’t we all see dimly when it comes to matters of faith? As the great reformer Martin Luther put it, “I am just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”
How many of us, I wonder, are just sitting beside the road? Silenced by fear or embarrassment or shame? How would you respond to Jesus’ question? What is it that Jesus needs to heal in you so you can follow along the way? What do you need to hear from God to open yourself to the truth of God’s love? It’s not always easy to give voice to our deepest need. It can be frightening to speak the truth aloud. And even when we do, there are often those ready to shush us and tell us to be quiet.
Yet like Bartimaeus and Job, we are invited to open our eyes to God’s glory. When we truly open our eyes, we might be surprised by what we see. As Susan Andrew’s preached, “…when we ask for a new sight, we must be prepared for changed vision, for letting go of the prejudice, the fears, the myths that have narrowed our living for so long.” If we, like Bartimaeus, allow Jesus to open our eyes we may see a path laid out before us that we never considered. Like Job, we may begin to see beauty in the midst of pain. We may find ourselves with a new focus and follow Jesus all the way to the cross. Our response is up to us.
I am not prepared to cast aside my glasses. If I did, I probably wouldn’t make it to the Narthex for fellowship time. Still, I know God can change my vision. I know that God can change your vision. Jesus asks all of us, “What do you want me to do for you?” Be careful with your response. It’s a dangerous question. Instead of near-sighted or far-sighted, we may become God-sighted. For when we open our eyes in faith, we begin to see God all around us. Amen!