Proper 25, Year B, 2012, All Saints’
You probably don’t know this about me but in 1994 I suffered a career ending football injury while playing for the San Francisco 49ers pee-wee football team. I remember that fall quite well. I remember thinking practice was a waste of time. My idea of fun had nothing to do with doing drills over and over again. But I loved game day. I loved the feeling of actually getting to do what I had prepared to do all week. I loved seeing all the fans cheering on the sidelines.
But one fall afternoon, I went after a loose ball and during the scramble I broke my elbow. After that, I didn’t like game day that much either so I decided to retire/quit. Even then, I remember practice being more painful than a broken elbow.
Over the last several weeks in Mark’s Gospel Jesus has been holding practice for his disciples. Jesus has been coaching them up on what it means to be a follower of Christ. He has been teaching them that in God’s kingdom greatness is achieved when one lays down their life for another, greatness is found through selfless service to others.
It doesn’t seem like the disciples like practice either because they keep on wanting to talk about the big game. They can’t wait to run through the Jerusalem tunnel to the sound of thousands of screaming fans. The disciples can hardly contain themselves and are anxious to see Jesus sack the Roman authorities. (bear with me; I’ve been known to take a metaphor too far).
Jesus tries to warn his followers that the big game won’t be quite like what they envision. He knows that the disciples will never execute his game plan unless they see everything at game speed, unless they see the ministry of Christ lived out through his death and resurrection, unless they see that with God all things really are possible and that means with God victory over suffering and death is even possible.
On the way to the big game, Jesus and his disciples are stopped by a blind man named Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus shouts, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” However, the disciples try to hush the man and tell him to keep quiet. In the disciples’ defense, on the first day of discipleship camp Jesus tells Peter not to tell anyone that he is the Messiah. So when the disciples hear Bartimaeus yelling, “Jesus, Son of David! (Son of David is the equivalent of saying Messiah), they tell him to be quiet too.
Jesus doesn’t rebuke this blind man, this outsider, in the same way he rebukes Peter several chapters ago for saying Messiah. Instead Jesus stands still and says, “Call him here.” It is interesting to note how differently Jesus treats his disciples, the insiders, over and against new believers, the outsiders. It seems that Jesus is reminding the disciples again of how dangerous it is to put stumbling blocks in the way of new believers.
Jesus doesn’t care that this man’s theology is off. Jesus doesn’t care that this man doesn’t fully understand that for Jesus, Messiah also means suffering servant. Bartimaeus comes before Jesus like a little child, completely helpless and vulnerable in front of everybody. Jesus cares because Bartimaeus trusts that only God can heal him.
After Bartimaeus is brought to Jesus, Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” This is the same question that Jesus asked James and John last week. However, Bartimaeus gives a different type of answer. While James and John’s answer seeks personal ambition (they want to sit at Jesus left and right hand in glory), Bartimaeus’ answer seeks healing. He just wants to see again. Jesus says, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
At first glance, it appears that Jesus is taking a break from teaching about discipleship. It seems that Jesus is back to doing what he is best known for—his deeds of power and miracles. However, Jesus is teaching his disciples a lesson at the same time. This healing is meant to teach his followers the connection between healing and discipleship.
It is as if Jesus is telling the disciples that in order to truly follow him they must be healed from their own spiritual blindness, from their inability to see the needs of others. The disciples are blind to what it means to be true followers. Jesus teaches them that discipleship has nothing to do with climbing the company ladder. Discipleship isn’t the magic ticket for eternal life. Discipleship isn’t about personal gain. In order to be a disciple, one must be healed from their inability to see past one’s own desires and find peace in God’s way through Christ, a way of humility and service. I was reminded of this great Gospel paradox on Monday by an unsuspecting person.
On Monday night, I was stopped in the hallway by Rosemary, one of our overnight BHN guests. Birmingham Hospitality Network (BHN) is supported by a network of churches in the community that supports families who are homeless and need help getting back on their feet. All Saints’ is blessed to be a part of such a wonderful ministry and it is a blessing to see so many in the congregation who are passionate about this good work.
Rosemary stopped me and said, “I need to ask you something, it is important. She then asked me for my business card.” At this point I started getting a little nervous. What would she possibly ask me for? I wasn’t sure there was much I could do. I didn’t want to disappoint her. I had already disappointed enough people that day.
I said, “What can I do?” She replied, “I want you to pray for me.” I let out a little sigh of relief and said, “Absolutely, I’ll keep you in my prayers Rosemary.” I asked her about her prayer life and she went on to tell me all the things that have been in her prayers lately. She said she was grateful for All Saints’ and for BHN and for all the wonderful people who have loved her and supported her during this difficult time.
She also talked about another prayer that had been on her mind, and quite frankly I was surprised at what she said next. I expected her to say something like, “I also pray that God will give me a nice home and a good job.” But Rosemary said something else, something that revealed a lot about her faith. She said that she had prayed for a long time for God to give her a ministry where she can love people in the same way that she has been loved. I thought, “Wow! What a wonderful prayer!”
I am reminded of a passage from Matthew’s Gospel that says, “Do not worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’...indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Rosemary concluded by saying, “My prayer has been answered. God gave me BHN. God healed me. After I go through the program, I am going to serve.”
Rosemary’s prayer had nothing to do with asking God for special treatment or personal gain or recognition. Instead her prayer was a prayer of thanksgiving; for all that she does have, for BHN, for people who love her and support her, and for God’s goodness. Her prayer also echoed the St. Francis prayer, “grant that I may not so much seek to be loved as to love.” Rosemary found what she needed through a prayer that was more concerned with the needs of others.
If we want to take discipleship seriously, we need to be healed from our blindness. We must be healed from the illusion that being a Christian is the path to personal gain and recognition. Perhaps, more importantly to those of you sitting in the pews this morning, Jesus is calling us to see that healing comes from God alone and not from the things of this world. Better jobs, bigger houses, and sorry to say it, caffeine will not heal us; only Christ can truly heal and only Christ can show us a life of true peace. The passage for this morning states that Bartimaeus knows the truth that healing comes from Christ alone.
When Bartimaeus sees Jesus, he throws off his cloak. He throws off the one thing in this world that provided him with comfort and security. He throws off his cloak and trusts that Jesus will give him something much better, something more permanent. He has faith that Jesus is the only one who can save him from his blindness. After he is healed, Bartimaeus does not go back to get his cloak. Instead he immediately follows Jesus on the way.
Bartimaeus exhibits the type of faith that Jesus hopes for his followers. A faith that says, “I need to be healed from my blindness, my inability to see the needs of others, so that I can truly follow the way of the cross, the way of humility and service.” In your own prayers concerning discipleship, I invite you to ask, “What do I need Jesus to do for me?” “What kind of blindness do I need to be healed from?” “What cloaks do I need to throw off so that I can put my whole trust in the way of God?” Amen.