Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | October 28, 2012

2012.10.28 “What Can I Do For You?” – Mark 10: 46 – 52

Central United Methodist Church

“What Can I Do For You?”

Mark 10: 46 – 52

Pastor David L. Haley

October 28th, 2012

“They spent some time in Jericho. As Jesus was leaving town, trailed by his disciples and a parade of people, a blind beggar by the name of Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, was sitting alongside the road. When he heard that Jesus the Nazarene was passing by, he began to cry out, “Son of David, Jesus! Mercy, have mercy on me!” Many tried to hush him up, but he yelled all the louder, “Son of David! Mercy, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped in his tracks. “Call him over.” They called him. “It’s your lucky day! Get up! He’s calling you to come!” Throwing off his coat, he was on his feet at once and came to Jesus. Jesus said, “What can I do for you?” The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “On your way,” said Jesus. “Your faith has saved and healed you.” In that very instant he recovered his sight and followed Jesus down the road.” – Mark 10: 46 -52

It’s a good question Jesus asks of blind Bartimaeus – and of us, this morning – “What can I do for you?” How might we answer?

Can I tell you right now, that whatever answer you give, one of the best answers might be the same one Bartimaus gives: “I want to see!”  Let me explain.

For several weeks now, Jesus has been on the way to Jerusalem to meet his destiny, which will be to suffer, die on a cross, and be resurrected. Over and again, he has tried to teach his disciples what it means to follow him, but they don’t get it.

Just last week, after hearing James and John discussing something along the way, Jesus asked them the same question he asked Bartimaeus:  “What do you want me to do for you? (the only other time in Mark’s Gospel this question is asked.) Their answer? “Lord, when you come into your kingdom, grant it that we might sit on your right and left hand.”  After all Jesus had said and done, after all they had SEEN, they didn’t get it, just like we sometimes don’t get it.  They didn’t SEE!

In our Gospel today, trailed by his disciples and a parade of people, Jesus enters Jericho, about 17 miles from Jerusalem. I like to envision like a political campaign, which right now we know way too much about. There was the charismatic candidate, in this case Jesus, and everyone wants to get near him.

Have you ever participated in such an event?  Back in earlier days, when I had more time, I went to a few. I once saw Richard Nixon get off an elevator in New York City. He didn’t know it then, but that elevator was going down. I saw Pope John Paul II when he came to Chicago. I once saw Walter Mondale and Howard Dean. And I once saw President Gerald Ford on Michigan Ave.  Not so good, huh? Even so, all those events involved long waits, crushing crowds, and men in black suits talking into their sleeves.

So I can imagine what it was like when Jesus came through town, after all they’d heard about him. I’m sure it involved long waits, crushing mobs of people, but probably no one talking into their sleeves, unless they were demon possessed.

Way in the back sits this blind beggar, Bartimaeus. I’d say his chances of seeing Jesus were about zero, and not just because he was blind.

I think of Bartimaeus as the man nobody notices, like those homeless people you walk by when you go downtown. The first time you walk by you look at them, maybe even speak to them. The second day you walk by and look the other direction.  After a while you walk by without even seeing them, even though they are still there, in the same place.

I wonder if Bartimaeus wasn’t like that. Maybe he heard Jesus was coming to town, but he thought it was for someone else, not for him, not for the poor folks, the beggars. But as Jesus approached, maybe he realized it MIGHT be for him. And so he began to say, softly at first, before it became a shout: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” “JESUS, SON OF DAVID, HAVE MERCY ON ME.”

 The Rev. Susan Sparks, who preached on this text two years ago on Day 1, speculates that at this point several of Jesus’ disciples went to Bartimaeus and said, “Be quiet and wait your turn.  Can’t you see there’s a crowd waiting to see the Messiah?”  At the same time, another pushed a clipboard into his hands:

“Now,” said John, one of the bossier of the disciples, “fill out these thirteen forms. We need name, address, social security number, next of kin, and whether you have an HMO, PPO, or POS.  Please indicate whether you have additional vision and/or dental coverage. Check the box on   page five if this is a work related injury. Fill out the duplicate form if you have any secondary insurance, and read and sign the privacy statement at the end and return it to me with your insurance card.”

To which Bartimaeus said: “I can’t read…I’m blind.”

“Well then,” said John, “just give me your insurance card and  we’ll try to get you in the cue anyway.”

Bartimaeus shook his head in shame, mumbling under his breath.

“What’d you say?” John demanded.

“I’m uninsured,” said Bartimaeus quietly.

A gasp came from the disciples. “Uninsured?” they said, as the crowd began to back away in disgust.

Well,” snapped John, “then you’re just gonna have to find another messiah.”
But Bartimaeus cried out more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Rev. Susan Sparks, “The True Universal Health Care,”  Day, April 18, 2010)

Isn’t it remarkable in the Gospels, how often it is only Jesus who has eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to care, for those who are marginalized? The woman accused of adultery. Zaccheus, the tax collector, up a tree. The leper, no one else would touch. Today, blind Bartimaeus.

That’s why I think the real star of this story is not Bartimaeus, but Jesus, who consistently in the Gospels shows us the heart of God: compassion for those on the sidelines of life, a willingness to hear their cry, and to make them whole.  “Call him over,” Jesus said.

Now, those who tried to prevent Bartimaeus from seeing Jesus became his cheerleaders: “It’s your lucky day; he’s calling for you.” Bartimaeus goes for broke, throwing away his cloak, the only thing he owned, and the last thing that hindered him. He rose to his feet, and ran to Jesus.  I’m just glad there weren’t any lampposts in the way.

When he got there, Jesus greeted him with a question, the question: “What can I do for you?” Jesus didn’t tell the blind man what he needed, he asked him what he wanted. Now there’s an idea: what if, in our effort to reach people, we don’t tell them what we have to offer, but ask them what they need?

For blind Bartimaeus, there was no hesitation or doubt: “Rabbi, I want to see.”

Seeing – really seeing; that’s what Jesus was all about. His whole message and ministry revolved around the conviction that God’s kingdom is at hand, that it is here, right before our eyes, we just don’t see it.  One of the likely authentic sayings of Jesus recorded in the extra-Biblical Gospel of Thomas is this: “The kingdom of the father is spread out upon the earth, and people do not see it.” (Logion 113) Even Jesus’ disciples didn’t always see it, but on this day, Bartimaeus did.

What we might expect Jesus to say next to Bartimaeus might be, “Receive your sight,” or something like that, but what he says is, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” It’s like he’s saying, “Bartimaeus, I don’t have to give you your sight; your faith has done that. Your faith in me, enables you to see what I see.” And indeed, Bartimaeus did, because he did not go his own way, but Jesus’ way, on the way to Jerusalem, the way of discipleship, the way that leads to suffering, death, and resurrection. No wonder for generations of Christians, Bartimaeus has become the model disciple. “I once was blind, but now I see.”

What about us?  Do we see? How might we respond to Jesus’ question, “What can I do for you?”

For some of us, the first thoughts that come to mind might not be so noble.  “O Lord, won’t you buy me, a Mercedes Benz.” “Just to win the lottery, Lord.” Things, toys, prestige, power.  We’re still like Jesus’ disciples, squabbling over toys, prestige, and power. But Jesus is not Santa Claus, nor is this a birthday wish.

For others of us, our answer would be crystal clear, urgent and loud, as it was for Bartimaeus. I need forgiveness. I need healing, of this disease that afflicts me. I need the strength to go on, through the challenges that I face.I need a friend, a significant other, a spouse, for this loneliness that haunts me. If we are in need in this way, then Bartimaeus may be our model of faith, in his refusal to be quieted, in his persistence in seeking, knocking, and finding.

For others of us yet, there might be hesitation in our response to Jesus’ question, because the truth is, we don’t know what it is we most want or need. There is something missing in our lives that we cannot identify. Maybe those of us who feel this way need to make Jesus’ question our homework, such that when he asks, “What can I do for you?” we need to say, “Let me get back to you on that one, Jesus.” And then we need to pray for the ability to see our life with clarity, which may take time and reflection upon our part. For some of us, it might even become the question of our lives. And so we say with Bartimaeus, “Lord, I want to see.”

As I thought about all blind Bartimaeus, and who sees and who doesn’t, I was reminded of an experience I had in the early ‘80’s, when I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago. The late Joseph Sittler was a theologian, first there and then later at the Lutheran School of Theology, who influenced generations of students. A few years before his death in 1987, I attended a luncheon at the University of Chicago at which he was the speaker. By that time, he had lost his sight and was blind. After his presentation, and I don’t remember a thing he said, there was a time for questions. My mentor, Martin E. Marty, himself one of Sittler’s students, stood and asked him this:  “Joe, if you could see again for a day, what would you most like to see?”

Everyone held their breath, and Sittler said, looking into the air as though he were seeing, said, “If I could see again for one day, I would most like to see Chartres Cathedral again, because it represents just about everything I believe in.”

Sittler was blind, but he could still see. After what he said, so could we. Do you know that since then, and partially because of it, I have been to Chartres Cathedral three times, so far?

Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is spread upon the earth, and people do not see it.” Bartimaeus said: “I want to SEE.”  May this be our prayer.




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