SERMON: Healed, But Are We Cured?
SCRIPTURE: Mark 10: 46-52
DATE: March 15, 2015
We continue, as we move through this season of Lent, towards Holy Week and Easter, to think about what was going on in Mary’s mind and heart as she was at the foot of the Cross, watching Jesus suffer and die. And we have been using the song Mary, Did You Know and more specifically the questions that Mark Lowry asked when he wrote the song, as our outline. This morning I want to focus on the questions that relate to Jesus as the worker of miracles. Mary did you know that your Baby Boy will give sight to a blind man? And Mary did you know that because of Him the deaf will hear, the lame will leap, the dumb will speak? I wonder if, as Mary arrived at Calvary that day and watched as Jesus was placed on the cross, she expected Him to execute another miracle. That the nails would miraculously pop out of his wrists and ankles, and the wounds would heal, and that as everyone watched, Jesus would come down from the cross and walk away. One of the first times that the scripture writers show us Mary interacting with the adult Jesus, is around the expectation that He could act in a miraculous way. Remember they are at the wedding of a friend, and the wine gives out which is the ultimate insult that a host can give to his guests. And so Mary asks Jesus to help them save face and turn the barrels of water into wine. Now there are a couple of things that are implied in that story I think. First would be the assumption that Mary had witnessed at some point prior to the incident at the wedding, Jesus performing similar miracles. Otherwise why would Mary have even entertained the possibility that He would or could do what she asked. And secondly, because this is the first glimpse that we get of Jesus in the role of miracle worker, it is also the first indication that we have that Jesus did not really want to be known in that way. That salvation, not just restoration, was his primary concern. Curing the disease which had afflicted humanity since the Garden of Eden, rather than just healing the symptoms. And so, on those occasions when we see the miraculous side of Jesus, his actions are always in the context of the bigger picture. He assumes that when the blind and lame come to Him, they are not just seeking to be healed but rather they come to be changed – to be cured. Mary did you know that your baby boy came not just to heal humanity, but rather He came to cure humanity of it’s greatest ill? Because it’s only when she understands the difference, that she can begin to make sense of the cross. If Jesus had lived, had he miraculously overcome the cross and walked away from, He surely would have healed those who saw the miracle happen, some even forever, but He would not have provided the atonement, the cure, for all of humanity.
Let us pray
And so we come to this miracle story of the healing of the blind man Bartimaeus. Now I think it’s important to the understanding of this story to note that according to Mark, this was Jesus’s last act of His public ministry. Mark tells us that right after this interaction, Jesus enters into Jerusalem. And so there is obviously something about this encounter that according to Mark at least, Jesus wants us to remember.
And so Jesus begins with a question that I think was not just addressed just towards Bartimaeus, but all who would come seeking Jesus for all eternity. He asks: “What do you want me to do for you?” Doesn’t that seem like an odd question for Jesus to ask Bartimaeus? Such an obvious question, on the surface at least. After all, here is a blind man whose life has been relegated to sitting alongside the road, presumably every day of his life, waiting for some benevolent strangers to drop a coin in his cup. Every day he must have cursed the darkness of his life. What do you want me to do for you? Of course, Jesus I want to see. But it’s not really an unusual question for Jesus to ask. One day he comes upon a crippled man laying near the Pool of Bethsaida, which was not far from the Temple. Every day friends/family took him to the pool because it was believed that from time to time Angels came and stirred the water, and the first one in when that happened would be healed. This man had been coming for years, but had never been able to get into the pool first. And so when Jesus approaches him, he basically asked him the same question, “What do you want me to do for you?” as though it were not obvious to all what he was there for. What do you want me to do for you Bartimaeus? Isn’t it obvious Jesus. I’m blind. Help me to see. But, you see, I think this question is pointing us to an important truth and that is that when we approach Jesus, it is not as obvious as even we might think, what we want Jesus to do for us. Jesus knows our needs and the true desires of our hearts better than we do.
Fighting disease . . . What do you want me to do for you? Of course, I want to be healed. – – Marriage falling apart. What do you want me to do for you? Make us one again. – – Business failing. What do you want me to do for you? Make it right again. – – Children walking a path to despair and destruction. What do you want me to do for you? Bring them home. – – Wandering aimlessly. . . lost in this life. What do you want me to do for you? Show me the way. – – Life slipping into darkness. What do you want me to do for you? Light my path. What do you want me to do for you? Isn’t it obvious? We’ve heard about you Jesus. We heard that by your touch we can be healed. That’s what I want, Jesus. Isn’t it obvious? Well. . . . maybe not.
Because sometimes we pray to Jesus for things we don’t really want or need. Or we pray little prayers and leave the real needs of our lives unspoken. I used to get frustrated in group settings when it would come to prayer time and we would go around the group seeking prayer concerns and people would say “I have an unspoken request.” And I would want to say, “Well speak it so we can all pray for you.” And then I would think of this story. “What do you want me to do for you?” is a question that speaks to the unspoken, perhaps even unknown, concerns of our lives.
I read this week a heart wrenching illustration of this, written by someone who had suffered from polio as a child. She wrote:
(Every night, when I was a child, my Mom would come in and tuck me into bed and hear my prayers. And it was always the same ) “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep, If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. God bless daddy and mommy, my dog Penny, my teacher, my aunts, uncles and cousins, friend and my neighbors. Amen.” My mom would kiss me good night and turn out the light and when I had heard her go down the hall and the stairs. I would slip out of bed and crawl to the window. Leaning on the windowsill, I would offer the other prayers of my heart. “Jesus, please, make me like I was before I had polio. Please Jesus I want to walk and dance. I want to go back to ballet lessons. Please Jesus, please, I’ll be good, I promise.” In a couple of years my prayers diminished in intensity because I doubted that Jesus heard me and I changed my emphasis. “God, if nothing else, please let me become invisible. God it would be much better if I could hide. Then no one would trip me on the playground or call me cripple or gimp or polio. Please God, just let me be invisible.” Down in Sunday School I heard the stories of Jesus. Jesus rebuking the disciples to allow the children to come to Him. Jesus healing the paralytic lowered down through the roof by his friends. Jesus’ disciples healing the lame man in His name. Jesus healing. Well I thought, where are you now Jesus? Why don’t you heal me? I believe in miracles. I do. Did God make me sick, was I being punished, didn’t God love me? (But) I found that it was never safe to ask the big question, and in my child’s mind I collapsed God and Jesus and the church. And. . I forgot about God. I would use my mind, only value my reason and intellect – Work hard but not hard enough so anyone would notice me. And I did learn to be invisible most of the time.
What do you want me to do for you? It’s such an obvious question. Or is it? We want our bodies restored to wholeness. And we want our relationships to be strong again. And we want our Spirits to soar once more. That’s why we’re here, Jesus.. What do you want me to do for you? Isn’t it obvious? Or is it? Jesus healed others. But sometimes Jesus does not conjure up a miracle for us. Sometimes Jesus doesn’t heal us. And there’s the rub. Blind men, crippled men, lepers, chronically ill, a child for whom the mourners wailed, one who was four days in the grave. And he never asked any of those what they wanted him to do for them. But what about the ones who aren’t healed? Jesus was surrounded by the needy everywhere He went. Those who like Bartimaeus, sat at the gate of the city. The blind and lame. What about the other lepers in the colony? The child mortality rate in that day was nearly 50%. What about the other children for whom the mourners wailed? Why didn’t Jesus wake them? Didn’t He care about them? Weren’t they His children, too? And what about that Cross Mary? Why don’t you come down Jesus, heal yourself? Is that what you want me to do for YOU Mary?
These are the roots of the most difficult questions that we face as Christians. How many of us have sat in a hospital room, watching a loved one fight a losing battle against death. And asked, Why are they suffering? Why doesn’t Jesus heal them? Or in the aftermath of a crippling disease, we wonder “why me?” Or standing next to a child’s casket. Why did they die so young? But these are all really the same question. And we come to Jesus for the answers to those questions in our lives. And we think the answers are obvious. But sometimes there aren’t ANY answers, just more questions. Because we don’t always know what it is that we are truly seeking.
There are times when all of us struggle with these kinds of questions because there are those times when all of us confront our own mortality. You may have come with these kinds of questions this morning. And we come to church to claim Christ’s promises and to seek His will. And sometimes we come seeking miracles. What do you want me to do for you, Bartimaeus? He wants to see, of course. To be healed of his blindness. But Jesus’ question says that there’s more to Bartimaeus’ blindness then not being able to see, and that while he may be healed if his sight is restored, that doesn’t mean he will be cured in his soul. Jesus perceived that there was a lot more to Bartimaeus’s misery then the fact that he couldn’t see. Healing his eyes might give him sight, but would that truly enable him to see? Illness and tragedy can plunge our whole life into darkness, can’t it? To most, Bartimaeus was just some anonymous beggar, sitting by the side of the road, and people would toss their coins into his cup and as they went on their way, he would hear them comment about the “poor creature”. Every day was lived in darkness, wrapped in the cloak of inhumanity that had become his existence. Bartimaeus needed more than to be able to see. What he really needed was to be seen. His blindness had in essence made him invisible. And day after day he wrapped himself in his cloak of invisibility and made his way to his spot on the road, and cried out for people to notice him. But few did. Oh, maybe they tossed a coin in his cup, hoping to silence him as well as their own conscience. And to whisper a silent prayer that a similar fate does not await them. But then Jesus came along. And heard his cries. And He stopped to notice. And not only did He notice, but He called him to come with Him. Let me suggest that the real miracle was not that Bartimaeus saw Jesus, but that Jesus saw Bartimaeus. The first healed his blindness, but the second cured his soul. We read the story of Bartimaeus and make the mistake of thinking that the miracle took place when Bartimaeus could see. But the truth is that the real miracle happened when Bartimaeus heard the call of Jesus and threw off his cloak of darkness and inhumanity for all the world to see – and followed Him. And, at that moment, it didn’t matter whether or not Bartimaeus was healed of his blindness because he had been cured of his hopelessness. He found the true peace of Christ, which transcends the frailty of our humanity. In fact, sometimes I find myself wishing that it would have happened a different way. That the still blind Bartimaeus would have followed Jesus on the way. Because sometimes it happens that way for us, doesn’t? Sometimes illness and tragedy overwhelms us, and we think, if I can just get beyond this then I can get on with life, I can be happy again. And so we pray for healing, wait for healing, because that’s what we think we need. And while Bartimaeus waited, all of life was passing him by. But Jesus did not pass him by. “What do you want me to do for you?” is a question for all of us who from time to time get so lost in our problems and illnesses that we become invisible and life just seems to pass us by, if only temporarily.
The poet Alfred Souza, in describing his own life, once wrote:
For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time to be served, or debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life. And out of that realization came this poem.
So stop waiting
until you finish school,
until you go back to school,
until you lose ten pounds,
until you have kids,
until your kids leave the house,
until you start work,
until you retire,
until you get married,
until you get divorced,
until Friday night,
until Sunday morning,
until you get a new car or home,
until your car or home is paid off,
until you are off welfare,
until the first or the fifteenth,
until your song comes on,
until you’ve had a drink,
until you’ve sobered up,
until you die,
until you are born again,
to decide that there is no better time than right now to be happy . . .
Happiness is a journey, not a destination.
Now certainly the Scriptures are full of persons who were touched by Jesus, but not everyone who came into Jesus’s presence were healed from the illnesses and afflictions of this earthly life. But all who were touched by Jesus were cured. Because His will for us is perfect. Sometimes beyond our understanding. But never beyond our grasp. When Jesus touches us, He does not do it with today or tomorrow in mind, He does so with eternity in His plan. And, so, He is much more concerned with curing the soul, rather than healing the body. He knew, at best the body is temporary, but that the soul that follows Him, no matter what, is eternal. And so we know that good people get sick. And that disciples have strokes and heart attacks and suffer from cancers and alzheimers. And we know that sometimes relationships break down. And, we know, that sometimes innocent children suffer and even die. And we know, Bartimaeus, that sometimes we are blinded by life. Following Christ does not always protect us from those things, but following Him does cure us of the hopelessness that illness brings and lifts us from the darkness of despair. The miracle for Bartimaeus and for us, is that Christ loves us so much that He sees us and He chooses to spend eternity with us. That He gives each of us the opportunity to throw off our cloak, our invisibility, our isolation, our hopelessness, and live forever with Him.
And so, what do we want Jesus to do for us? Well, perhaps we have gathered here today to bring Him our blindness (both physical and spiritual) and our cancers, and our chronic illnesses, and our broken hearts, and our wayward spirits. We ultimately come because we want Him to touch us and make us whole again. We want Him to heal us. Sometimes we come seeking a miracle. But most of all we come to be in His Will. Trusting that His Will is perfect. Surely that was the only way that Mary could make any sense of the cross. There must have come that moment at the foot of the cross for Mary when she stopped praying that He miraculously come down and instead she released Him and her own Spirit, so that His love could encompass all, even those who were so confused about what they really wanted the Messiah to be and to do, that they put Him on the cross to die. There must have been that moment for Mary when she saw that the abundant life that He offered transcends our physical selves, transcends our blindness, transcends our grief, transcends whatever might afflict us on this earth, even transcends the horrible cross. The abundant life that He gives is for all time, no matter what may come to us in these days. Is that what you want me to do for you Bartimaeus? If so, it doesn’t really matter if you are blind or can see, just come and follow me. Mary did you know that your son would give true sight to the blind? That those who can not hear, will hear Him? That those who cannot walk will leap for joy with Him in eternity? And the hopeless will receive hope, and that He will see those who are invisible in this world. And that He will die, so that all of us might live forever? Mary did you know the kind of miracles that Jesus would offer to each one of us beggars by the road? What do you want Jesus to do for you?
Christine Fontaine, the woman who prayed to be relieved of the effects of polio until she sank into invisibility, concludes the story of her journey this way (and this could be Bartimaeus’s witness too)
I’ve lived an up and down life. There came a time Jesus interrupted it and reached down and raised me up. He didn’t care that I was not physically perfect…He heard me all along. (And so)… I get up, I walk, I fall down, and I just keep on dancing. I will give thanks to the Lord, my God forever and there is nothing, no nothing that can separate us from the love of God.
Mary, did you know? That the true miracle of the Cross was not that Jesus survived, came down and walked away. The true miracle was that your son chose to stay and die there, so that you, so that all humanity could live forever. So, what do you want Jesus to do for you today?