October 26, 2003   Shirley Macemon
  Interruptions in OUR plans
Mark 10:46-52


They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stood still and said, "Call him here." And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart; get up, he is calling you." So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man said to him, "My teacher, let me see again." Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Bartimaeus the beggar, the persistent, probably the annoying. Many didn't want to hear it--again. Jesus, however, heard him through the crowd. Asked him what he wanted him to do for him. "Let me see again."

"Your faith has made you well".

Jesus and the disciples are on their way up to Jerusalem. Mark doesn't spare any words on setting or sights: Jericho site of Joshua's initial entry into the Promised Land, and something of a gateway city from the West for those going up to Jerusalem. From Jericho, you wind up the Jericho road--a steep and dangerous road--but the only one that connects the west bank city of Jericho--now about 10 miles north of the Dead sea, with Jerusalem, 20 or so miles to its south west and over the mountains. Some speculate that it is the Jericho road that Jesus thought of when he told the story of the Good Samaritan, and that same place the writer of the 23 Psalm pictured with the image of "walking through the valley of the shadow of death." Mark, however, is spare with words. And with those few words conveys a keen sense of urgency.

They came to Jericho. They were leaving Jericho. Bartimaeus--son of Timaeus--was sitting by the roadside.

Unlike the blind man at Bethsaida, Bartimaeus' friends didn't lead him to Jesus. Unlike the paralyzed man with friends who tore open the roof to lower him down, Bartimaeus sat alone. Mark moves us directly to the heart of the matter, frankly, with no build up or warning.

Bartimaeus heard it was Jesus on the road. He shouted, he cried more loudly, perhaps he screamed, bellowed, yelled at the top of his lungs. He jumped up--this blind man, he threw off his cloak, he decisively stated his deepest desire, he followed Jesus. Just like that. In the time it takes you or I to order coffee at Starbucks, Bartimaeus is off to follow this Jesus all the way to Jerusalem. All the way to the cross.

Bartimaeus makes me nervous. How can one change one's entire life in an instant just like that? Even though Bartimaeus was a blind beggar and now as sighted disciple, leaving behind his home and family without even a by-your-leave? Did he have an inkling what he was in for? How could he plunge headlong into a new life? Frankly, how could he not?

Bartimaeus had no image of self-sufficiency. Unlike the rich man of just a few verses ago, there was nothing to distance him from Jesus no wealth to get in the way, no possessions to give to the poor. Bartimaeus came to Jesus aggressively, assertively, eagerly, with his need. No secrets here. No dark, secret places hidden and kept secret. "What do you want me to do for you?" "Let me see again." And in that sight, Bartimaeus found new life and purpose.

As I read and meditate with Bible stories, especially stories from Mark, I place myself somewhere in the story. Looking on as one of the crowd, as a disciple trying to understand what Jesus is teaching, sometimes as one of the Jewish leaders keeping the law for the laws sake. Bartimaeus stopped the crowd. He interrupted the discussion and our plans. More than that, as this story wrapped its way through my being, I moved from an observer and stood with Bartimaeus. Talk about a show stopper that question from Jesus: "What do you want me to do for you?" When Jesus asks, the answer is not an easy one.

Listen to Jesus, Jesus who loves us unconditionally, who calls us persistently. This Jesus who forces us to clarify our priorities.

Only a few verses earlier, Jesus asked James and John the same question: "What do you want me to do for you." They wanted to sit at his right and left in the kingdom to come. AWK! Wrong answer! Or at least, not an answer that reflects the teachings of their time with Jesus.

"Let me see again." And all that comes with that responsibility.

Jesus asks us as he asks Bartimaeus, "What do you want me to do for you?" In the simple brilliance of that question, I--we--are forced to decide what is really important in our lives. Bartimaeus' answer is the answer of mature faith.

"I want to see," he says. "I want to see the way things really are so that I can follow you, Jesus, wherever you may lead me."

I wonder how often we take for granted all the hymns that use the "blind but now I see" language of conversion. To see with the healing power of Jesus' touch is not only to see who Jesus is, and who we are in Jesus, but also to see a real world as it is: a world in pain and a world with hope, a world of damaged creation and promise of new creation, a world where evil is done in the name of Christianity and a world where the healing power of Jesus touches people's lives.

To see with the healing power of Jesus' touch is to strip the scales from our own eyes and hearts to see not only the approximately 260 young American men and women killed in the Iraq, but the thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians killed by American bombs. It is not only to see the 3,000 victims slaughtered by the terrorist attacks of September 11th, but also to see the 35,000 children of the world who were slaughtered by the terrorism of hunger on that same September 11th. [1]

To see with the healing power of Jesus' touch is not only to see the joy and healthy acceptance of the 120 young people who attended the dance in this place, enjoying who they are in safety and supervision last Friday evening, but also to see that these same young people and others like them are demonized, stigmatized, and damaged because of their sexuality in the guise of Christian counseling, supposedly in God's holy name.

To see with the new eyes of Bartimaeus is to see all the beauty and all the wonder and all the grace of God's brilliant and breathtaking creation. And, it is to see the cruelty and the greed and the prejudice that God's children have produced supposedly in God's holy name.

Jesus asks us as he asks Bartimaeus, "What do you want me to do for you?"

In the simplicity of that question, we answer what is really important in our lives. The Good News is that Jesus asks us that question persistently, lovingly, and continuously.

When we have seen with the healing power of Jesus' touch, our own plans are interrupted and our lives are not our own.

How can we not throw aside our cloaks and follow?


[1] Thanks to The Rev. Dr. Susan Andrews, http://www.protestanthour.com/10.26.2003.html for these illustrations.