Sermon: Interrupted By Mercy
Scripture: Mark 10: 46-52
Date: August 6, 2017
The stories of Jesus healing the blind are some of the more familiar in scriptures. Because we find such great comfort in the idea that Jesus can restore sight to the blind. If he can do that then surely he can heal other things that ail us. And so the story of blind Bartimaeus has been a favorite for 2000 years because of its hope and comfort. All of the Gospel writers carry much the same story, though only Mark gives a name to the blind man. But let me suggest to you by focusing on Bartimaeus’ blindness, we might be missing some other essential truths that are just as hopeful, and just as comfort giving. And so this morning, we‘re going to think about Bartimaeus‘ story as we continue to think about all the times that Jesus was interrupted with miraculous results.
And so we need to travel back 2000 years ago to ancient Jericho. Mark simply says that “they came to Jericho.“ One other time in scripture we are told that “they came to Jericho.” Jericho was the first city that the Jews of the Exodus came to as they were beginning the conquest of the promised land. After the Jews entered the land after years of wandering in the desert, they came to Jericho. By many accounts it was the most heavily fortified city in the world. And it was in the miracle that happened at Jericho when God caused the walls to collapse allowing the Jews to capture the city that God opened the weary eyes of Israel to the wonders that awaited them in this promised land. In Old Testament times, Jericho was on the international highway, which connected the great empires of the Middle East like Babylon and Assyria with Egypt. It was a crossroads. An oasis in the Wilderness of Judea. An international market place. The land of milk and honey for Old Testament Jews. And so Mark tells us that it was to Jericho that Jesus came on His final journey to Jerusalem where He would finally open the eyes of the world to the truth that He indeed was the Messiah, the savior. So try to experience Jericho as Jesus would have experienced it. The smells of the market. The many languages that were spoken, loud voices bartering, competing for attention. Chaos and commotion. And the beggars at the gates trying to share in the wealth of Jericho, trying to be heard above the noise of the city. And try to experience Jericho this morning as a blind man sitting at the gate begging would have experienced it that day. Let it spring from the stories of scripture. Because something life-changing is about to happen. An interruption in the everyday existence that was Jericho. Mark tells us that on the way to the cross, “they came to Jericho.” Now Jesus’s intention, apparently, was to simply pass through. He had set his mind for Jerusalem. He had a more urgent destination, and nothing must deter Him from His destiny, from humanity‘s destiny. But as He was leaving the city with a large crowd following Him, something happened. An interruption. Because above all the noise, one voice could be heard: “Pardon the interruption, but Jesus, Son of David, won’t you have mercy on me?”
Now I think the key to understanding this interruption is in exactly what Bartimaeus said. Because there were other beggars at the gate who probably called out to Jesus as He passed. But it was for Bartimaeus that Jesus stopped. Something he said, caught the attention of Jesus and interrupted Him on His journey to the Cross.. So what did Bartimaeus say. First, He says: “Jesus, son of David”. Now we have said before that names were very important in 1st century Israel. And in scripture Jesus is given many names. Jesus of Nazareth. Son of Joseph the Carpenter. Rabbi. The blind man hears that Jesus of Nazareth is coming. This is the most popular way of referring to Jesus in scriptures. Bartimaeus, however, addresses him in a completely different way. “Jesus, Son of David” he calls. It’s a name that caused great concern among those around him. If the priests uttered the name, they would spit on the ground and call Jesus another name – Blasphemer. And so they order him to keep quiet. Because the phrase “Son of David” is a phrase reserved for only one, God‘s Messiah. And the scribes, and priests and Pharisees, leaders of the faith, even some of His own Disciples were blind to Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus refers to the priests as “blind guides or teachers” and “blind fools”. In fact it was ultimately because the priests could not see Jesus as the Messiah that they orchestrated his arrest and crucifixion. Out of their blindness they put Jesus to death. But this blind beggar, saw Him for who He was. This passage confronts us with the question of who was really blind here – Bartimaeus who could not see or the priests who refused to see. You see, the others knew about Jesus, were watching for Jesus to make a mistake, but Bartimaeus knew who He was. I wonder when Jesus went from being “Jesus of Nazareth” to “Jesus, Son of David” for Bartimaeus. Because that is the essential transition of faith for each one of us. When we move from knowing about Jesus, and begin to truly know Him. The others knew about Jesus. Knew that he had healed others and so they called on Him to work His magic in their lives. They knew Him for what He did. But Bartimaeus knew Him for who He was. “Jesus, my Savior, my Messiah, Son of David,” Bartimaeus called. And Jesus recognized his voice above all the others.
But that was not the only thing that Bartimaeus said that caused Jesus to hear him. “Jesus Son of David. Have mercy on me.” The others said, Jesus heal me and Jesus rid me of my demons. Jesus touch me. Make me walk. Make me see. But Bartimaeus makes no such statement. He says, “have mercy on me.” Now to understand that we have to understand what mercy meant in 1st century Jericho. The word that Bartimaeus used which we translate mercy literally means to enter into someone‘s skin and give them what they need, not what they deserve. You see, this was, in essence, Bartimaeus‘ confession that he needed that which he did not deserve. Think what a world this would be if each one of us were willing to offer that kind of mercy to each other- to enter into the skin of our neighbors and friends and coworkers and students and teachers and yes, even our enemies and strive to give them what they need, and not what they deserve. I wonder if the health insurance debate would be so contentious if our President and elected leaders would enter into the skin of someone facing a cancer diagnosis who has no health insurance, no way to pay for the treatment to save their life. Have mercy on me. And I wonder if we could solve the problem of nearly 50 million Americans without adequate food and 600,000 homeless, if our leaders would enter into their skin, experience their pain and hopelessness, and then give them what they need rather than what we think they deserve. Because when we enter another’s skin, then all labels we place on one another go away. All of our prejudices disappear. We are no longer defined by skin color or political persuasion or gender, or anything else that blinds us to the image of God in one another. A world without mercy is a place of darkness, blindness. As long as we continue to deal with people based on what they deserve rather than what they need, then many will continue to be left out. The disciples tried to turn Bartimaeus away from Jesus because they could not enter into his skin and give him what he needed rather than what he deserved. I believe it is only through Christ’s mercy by which we approach this table. Through this sacrament Jesus enters into our skin and gives us what we need, not what any one of us deserve. We have been talking for the last several weeks about how Jesus often interrupts our lives, and the truth is that those interruptions are what we need, not what we deserve. None of us deserve the sacrifice that Jesus made for us which we celebrate in Holy Communion, but every one of us need it. We need mercy, we need His love and grace, but we don’t deserve it. Bartimaeus sought conversion, not healing. And because He knew Jesus, not just knew about Him, Bartimaeus believed that Jesus had the power to change his life. Not just restore his sight, as the others sought, but to restore his soul. Give him new life. It was a bold request. Just as coming to this table is a bold act on our part. But Jesus heard. You see, most of us do not approach Jesus with such boldness, do we? We may come seeking a part of life, whatever it is that is on our mind at that particular time, but we fail to seek the abundant life that Jesus has promised. And so we call out to Jesus for healing in hospital rooms. And compassion in the church. And strength in the moments of crisis. But in our everyday life, we often choose to be blind to His presence. He said that He came so that we might have life, and have it abundantly. But most of us settle for far less. Moments of clear sight at best. Is that because we don‘t believe that Jesus can grant us mercy or because we don‘t deserve it? You see the point of Holy Communion is that even though mankind didn‘t deserve it, God was willing to enter into our skin and give us what we need, not what we deserved. While the others cried out “heal me”, Bartimaeus cried out “even though I don‘t deserve it, give me mercy, give me life.“ And Jesus heard him, the same way He will hear us when we call out. And so Jesus stopped. Perhaps the real miracle in this story was not that Bartimaeus’ sight was restored, but that in the midst of the crowd, on His way to His date with destiny, Jesus stopped. He allowed Bartimaeus to interrupt Him. The miracle of this story and really all the stories that we have studied this summer, is not in the healing, the restoration of sight – it is that we have a God who is ready to put aside all else and stop, be interrupted, for you and me.
So Jesus stopped to spend time with Bartimaeus. And then Mark tells us He called him to come. Jesus interrupts Bartimaeus’ everyday existence and calls Him to come. The call to follow Jesus always interrupts our lives. And Mark says Bartimaeus threw off his cloak and came to Jesus in response. Now don’t miss this. In a sense this is the heart of this story. You see, when a Jewish boy turns 13, he has his Bar Mitzvah, which even today is a rite of spiritual passage when a boy becomes a man. And on that occasion, he is presented with a Tallit. A Tallit was a prayer cloak that is hand woven using 613 threads. Why 613 exactly? Because that is the number of laws given by God in the Old Testament that a boy learns in preparation for his Bar Mitzvah. Each thread represents one of those laws. The Tallit was the most prized possession of the Jewish man. At the time of Bar Mitzvah it is placed on his head and it is said that from that time forward he is “under the law.” The Tallit carries the essence of the man. The cloak that Bartimaeus throws off is his Tallit. This man, raised under the law, throws it off so that he can approach Jesus. He sheds the law in hopes of replacing it with the grace and mercy of the Christ. And Mark tells us, that having shed the burden of the law, Bartimaeus “sprang up and came to Jesus.” Every time I reflect on how this man reacted here, I can’t help but think about all the burdens that I let keep me from springing up and coming to Jesus. And so unburdened, Bartimaeus came.
And when he comes, Jesus asks a most curious question. He says: “What do you want me to do for you?” If Bartimaeus could see again, his whole life would change. But most of us want our circumstances to change, we want Jesus to take away our burdens and infirmities, but we don’t necessarily want our whole life to change. you see, the call and touch of Christ doesn’t just fix a part of our life, it changes our whole life, makes all things new.
Do you really want to change Bartimaeus? Is that what you want? And Bartimaeus says “My teacher, let me see again.” I think that word again implies that Bartimaeus has seen Jesus before but had become blinded by sin. By the things of the world. Let me see “again”, Bartimaeus says. And not just with his eyes, but with his whole being. And look at what Jesus says. “Go; your faith has made you well.” The word that Jesus uses, that speaks of being well, is best translated whole. The first century Jew did not talk about “wellness”, they talked about wholeness. It is our faith that makes us whole. God’s mercy doesn’t just make us well, it makes us whole. We become one with Christ.
Jesus confronts us twenty first century blind beggars with the same question, What do you want me to do for you?
And, Mark says, immediately he regained his sight and followed Him on the way.
This morning what do we want Jesus to do for us. Oh Lord, make us whole through your mercy, through your grace, through your love.