Sermon preached by The Reverend Charles Royden
Ordinary 30 Year B 2009
Mark 10: 46-52 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stopped and said, "Call him." So they called to the blind man, "Cheer up! On your feet! He's calling you." Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. "What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asked him. The blind man said, "Rabbi, I want to see." "Go," said Jesus, "your faith has healed you." Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
I want us to think about the Gospel reading this morning, the healing of blind Bartimaeus, which takes place in Chapter 10 of the Gospel
We have just read in the same chapter two stories which help us to understand this passage
Remember the rich man who refused to leave his wealth to follow Jesus
Also the incident in which James and John asked Jesus to give to them positions of power, seated on his left and right hand.
Remember these two stories because Mark has deliberately placed them just before this healing of the blind man.
So we come to consider Bartimaeus
He is physically blind we are told, but he displays a spiritual vision which enables him to see who Jesus is much better than the disciples with perfect physical vision.
He wants to have mercy from Jesus and calls Jesus using a messianic title ‘Son of David.’. Those around him try to silence him but he will have nothing of it and continues to call to Jesus. Eventually Jesus calls for Bartimaeus and he leaves behind his cloak and he is healed and follows Jesus.
Think then of this man who simply wishes to follow Jesus above all things. The cloak was considered an essential item, but he will leave even this behind for the opportunity to follow Jesus. Contrast this to the rich man who wants to keep all his wealth and puts that before following Jesus.
The story is told to show us a man who got his priorities right. Many people will not do this!
This is a timeless message, faith is the serious stuff in our life, all of that other stuff is a side issue.
My mother is interesting. When I was young she always told me that I had to work hard and keep try hard. Now whenever she sees me she tells me that I am working too hard and I have to take life more slowly.
What has happened is that she has grown wiser and she has changed her priorities.
For so many people, in spite of the ability to gain many material things in life, life is still very empty. I have always wondered why it is so often the case that people who have a great deal of things seem the least satisfied. I wonder whether it is to do with some kind of motivation. Those who aspire to wealth, fame and riches have something to keep them motivated, - the hope that one day they will possess something which will give them fulfilment. However those who have got fame and wealth realise that these things are truly are illusory and cannot bring happiness.
It is a strange paradox that the more possessions we have the less we find fulfilment in them.
Bartimaeus knows this, he has his priorities set right, leave all, follow Jesus.
The really important things in life cannot be seen with physical sight.
So Mark asks us to consider a question, what are we prepared to leave behind to follow Jesus. What is it which keeps us back?
There is a cautionary message here for all of us Church people.
The disciples are in the inner circle of Jesus followers and here is one who is blind who sees more clearly than them. So often it is that we Christians find those beyond the church teaching us the ways of Jesus. We as a church throughout history have been slow to understand the grace and mercy of God. We have been slow to understand the value of human life, equality of people in God’s eyes. Support for slavery, the practice of racial discrimination and sexual discrimination these are just some of our wickedness. It is those outside the church who have led us into the light.
Bartimaeus was one who would have been looked down upon by society at the time of Jesus. Religious people would have thought that Batimaeus was blind because of sin, his blindness was considered a judgement of God. Do you remember John 9:2? The disciples saw a blind man and asked Jesus who committed the sin which caused the man to be blind.
Why do we do this? Why do religious people take satisfaction in looking down their noses and being judgemental?
We do this in spite of being able to see in the life of Jesus somebody who went out of his way to give precedence to those who were judged and who was at his most critical when he was with people who were judgemental and though themselves better than others.
We spend a great deal of time as a worldwide Christian church arguing and debating about great spiritual truths. We argue about how salvation works, about all manner of complex truths, but we just don’t seem to be able to get the very basics right. We still judge others more strongly than we judge ourselves, we forgive our own failings and want those of others to be punished.
The Church and Christians create situations where people like Bartimaeus feel unwanted and unloved
Let me introduce you to a can, it is dented can
I think that once, not long ago, these kinds of tins would have been sold off, cheap. I can remember going into supermarkets and there would be large bins with these tins in for people to buy. And there would be sign on the bin that read, "Damaged Goods”. People would buy these things because they were cheap rejects from the shelves.
Apparently sometimes at Tesco, if one tin is damaged they chuck the whole tray of tins out. The whole tray is rejected as damaged goods.
It seems to me that a lot of people, more than you might think, feel like this tin. Whatever the reason, things they've done, things life has done to them, things beyond their control, have made them feel like damaged goods...bent out of shape, crushed, of little value to themselves or anyone else
Bartimaeus somehow found the strength to bypass the followers of Jesus, and to shout out direct to Jesus, it was when he did this that he found Jesus a lot more sympathetic than his disciples. Bartimaeus was a damaged person and yet by the grace of Jesus he found out how much he was valued and loved by God. Other people disregard him but to Jesus he was of utter value.
Desmond Tutu said,
"Christ, when he was lifted up, did not say 'I draw some people to myself.'
He said 'I draw all, all, ALL!' John 12:32
We are not nearly as welcoming as Jesus and we seem to take delight in excluding the very ones Jesus would have draw near.
This man met with Jesus and saw in him the presence of God and knew that he was forgiven. From rock bottom he realised that he was of great value to God. In some miraculous way Jesus had shown him that she was not damaged at all.
God wants us to know that we are valuable. No matter how much we think that the beauty of God in us has been disfigured or destroyed—we are precious to him. There are no damaged goods in a bin going cheap in God’s creation. We can look at people and see the image of God marred, disfigured and broken, but we have to get past the appearance of the tin and look at the goods inside which are made by God.
God wants us to know is that it is not just us who are special to him. We have brothers and sisters, in God’s family we are not an only child. Just because people are different, does not mean that they are wrong.
The Pharisees represented a "sick religion" one that excludes people. Jesus' religion is one of grace....includes everyone. When Jesus looks at us, he does not see damaged goods. He represents a healthy religion that is redemptive and life-changing, not one that labels and condemns. Jesus spent most of his time hanging out with people at the edges of society, people who were considered damaged goods, that should give us a clue.
There is much that I rejoice in about the history of our Christian faith. However when Christians start loosing tolerance and respect for people who are different, then things have always got nasty. When Christians start to feel that they are better than others then we are just about as bad as religious people can get. The lesson today is a note of caution, the reject is the one that Jesus is really interested in.
So look at the story and the characters in it and try and see who you are like, how you would treat Bartimaeus, the one who had brought punishment upon himself through his sinful life. Are you a judgemental person who magnifies the sins of your family, your friends, people at work, people who have different points of view?
When we recognise this in ourselves there is held out the chance to change and become different, just like the man in the story. Nobody who comes to Jesus is rejected, everybody is offered the opportunity to go away a changed person.