a sermon on Mark 10:46-52 for Ordinary 30B
preached on October 28, 2012, at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
Bartimaeus knew all about Jesus. He had been on the scene for quite a while around Galilee, at first just another in the long line of teachers and wise men, yet eventually everyone, including Bartimaeus, had heard of him because of his surprising words, his confrontation of the authorities of the day, and his amazing healings all around Palestine.
But he had been around just long enough that some people had already stopped following him and moved on to some other teaching and teacher, for Jesus’ words were not easy for anyone. While his small group of loyal disciples did not abandon him, almost no one really understood what he was all about, and many people had started to give up on him.
But when Jesus came to Jericho Bartimaeus was still looking for Jesus. Even though Jesus hadn’t healed anyone in quite a while and wouldn’t heal anyone else, at least according to Mark’s gospel, this blind beggar heard that Jesus was in town and began to shift from his usual cries for assistance to something more specific. He knew that there was something special about Jesus that gave him a unique chance to be healed, and so he began to cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Everyone journeying with Jesus told him to be quiet, assuming that Jesus wanted nothing to do with him, ignoring him like they so often did so many others who cried out as he did. But Bartimaeus would not be silent. He was looking for Jesus, and even though he could not see the object of his cries, he would not be satisfied until he was certain that Jesus had heard his plea for mercy.
These days, it doesn’t feel like all that many people are looking for Jesus at all, let alone with Bartimaeus’ excitement and fervor. The church seems to be more empty than ever, and polls back it up—a recent survey suggests that some twenty percent of Americans identify with no religious group whatsoever. At one level this is quite surprising news—in a day and age where it seems that more and more people are reflecting about spiritual things, it seems a bit strange that some twenty percent of our population would find no connection to religious practice.
But at another level, this should be no surprise to us. It has been a long time since new residents (in this part of the country at least) made the search for a house of worship a regular part of moving to a new neighborhood. And even many of the children that we have lovingly raised and encouraged in their exploration of faith have not maintained their connection to our community. The church just doesn’t seem to be offering what people are looking for. Are people these days looking for the trappings of religion and church? Do they want another meeting to go to after a long day of work and meetings in an office? Are they seeking a simple, one-size-fits-all solution to all their problems? Or are they maybe more like Bartimaeus, looking for the kind of experience that they have only heard about, seeking something that they can’t see until they actually find it? Are they looking for institutions like we see all around us or for something new and different, for love that reaches out beyond all boundaries, community that embodies that love, and transformation that comes when you least expect it?
The transformation that Bartimaeus wanted so desperately came right when he thought it was most unlikely. After the crowd kept silencing him and he kept crying out more and more loudly, Jesus finally heard him and stopped. Jesus asked Bartimaeus to come to him, so he sprang up from where he was and left everything behind and hurried over to Jesus. He even left his cloak behind—no small matter in that day, for his cloak would have been his most valuable possession and his best protection from anything that might harm him. When Bartimaeus got over to Jesus, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus responded simply: “My teacher, let me see again.” With no further ado, with no touch on his eyes or his head, with no special medicine, with no magical prayer, Bartimaeus was healed. Jesus said it, and it was so:
Go; your faith has made you well.
But then comes perhaps the most surprising moment the story. Unlike everyone else Jesus had healed in Mark’s gospel, Bartimaeus did not go away on his own—instead, he joined the band of disciples journeying with Jesus along the way.
Just as we join Bartimaeus in looking for Jesus along the way, I think we join Bartimaeus in looking for healing. These days, everyone seems to have some sort of illness that needs healing of one sort or another, whether it be something as manageable as high blood pressure or high cholesterol or something as life-threatening as cancer or dementia. Then there are all the other areas of our lives that can so often use healing—the grief and pain of death, the challenge of broken relationships, the depression and anxiety of the modern age—all that things that keep us apart from one another and from God. It seems almost certain that everyone has something for which they cry out to God for healing.
Even in these days, when we know a lot more about the pathways of healing and can point to so many chemical and physical prescriptions for what ails us, we still turn to God in hope and prayer that God will work in these and other ways to heal us and make us whole. In this time when we increasingly understand that disease and illness do not come from a lack of faith or an imbalance of humors, we can nonetheless have faith to look to God to restore us to fullness of life. In our modern world where we can learn the science of how hurricanes and illness come into being, we can turn to God to get us through these difficult moments.
Today we embody this expectation and this prayer as we gather after worship for a service of healing and wholeness. In this strange but wonderful service, we acknowledge that healing is not just physical wellness accomplished through medical practices but emerges also through the pathway to wholeness that can only come from God. When we surround those who step into the circle to seek for touch of healing, we embody the presence of God surrounding us and transforming us. And when we pray to God for healing of whatever kind, whether in this circle or in some other place, we can trust that God will give us healing, maybe not in the ways we most expect it, but certainly in whatever way we most need it.
Unfortunately, we may not always find healing here. The change that comes about may not look like we want it to. The transformation may not come on the timetable we desire. It may even seem that our prayers aren’t being heard. And death still remains a part of our human experience of life and living. But the promise of God is not for healing on our timetable or on our terms or even in the way that we expect—no, God’s healing always comes in God’s own time and often in ways beyond our understanding because it is not just healing but wholeness too.
God’s healing is not just a solution to our physical ailments but an openness to a new and different way of life, not just a transformation of disease but a transformation of our very hearts. This healing and wholeness from God is so deep and so real that it brings a joyous response. Just as Bartimaeus rose with his sight and followed Jesus, so those of us who know this healing are also called to walk in a new and different way, to embody the love that reaches out beyond all boundaries, the community that emerges from that love, and transformation that comes when you least expect it.
So as we journey into this place and time of healing and into the uncertainty of the coming days, may we know God’s presence with us as we watch and wait for the possibilities of transformation, as we hope and pray for the fullness of life to be ours, and as we look for the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord to heal all our brokenness and make all things new. Amen.