Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sermon; 22 Pentecost, Proper 25; Mark 10:46-52

Two weeks ago we heard the story of the rich man asking Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life.  After a little give and take, Jesus said, “Go, sell all you have, give the money to the poor, and come and follow me.”  There ensued a discussion about wealth, blessings, camels and needles.  That gospel ended with this:  But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.

Before I get into today's gospel, I want to give you a frame of reference and context in which to put today's story.

Jesus and his entourage have arrived at Jericho.  Mark doesn't tell us what he did there, and it may not have been important.  What's important to the overall story is what happens next – the event that we have come to call Palm Sunday.

A while back I said that we had reached a turning point in Mark's gospel where the focus moves from Jesus' public ministry to focusing on Jerusalem, Holy Week and his Passion.  Because Mark doesn't record what happened in Jericho, some scholars think that it was simply a way station, a place to relax, rest, pray and prepare to face the days to come.  That makes sense if you see the Jericho stop as the calm before the storm.

In today's gospel, all of the action takes place as Jesus and company were leaving the city.  This passage is the end of Chapter 10.  What immediately follows is Chapter 11 and Jesus sending two disciples to bring him a colt that he will ride into Jerusalem to shouts of, “Hosanna!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

So Jesus and his followers are leaving Jericho and heading toward Jerusalem.  As they are leaving town, blind Bartimaeus hears the commotion and calls out to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

After spending three years with Jesus, after listening to him preach, after hearing him talk of the kingdom of God and the wideness of God's mercy to Jews and Gentiles alike, many of his followers did the appropriate thing and tried to keep Bartimaeus from joining them.  Not much has changed since then, as many followers of Christ today still try to keep those from the outside who want in on the outside.  Many still try to keep the outsiders silenced.  But Bartimaeus was having none of it and he shouted more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

When Jesus heard this, he said, “Call him here.”  Isn't it funny, in a not-so-funny way, how when Jesus said, “Call him here,” that all those people who were trying their hardest to keep him on the outside were now pro-inclusion and excitedly bringing him to Jesus?  Why weren't those people pro-inclusion to begin with?  Why weren't those people like the friends of the paralytic who didn't wait for Jesus to say, “Call him here,” but proactively tore a hole in the roof and lowered their friend down to Jesus?

Bartimaeus appears before Jesus and is ultimately healed, regaining his sight.  This is the last healing Jesus will perform in Mark's gospel.  It is also the last miracle.  He doesn't change water to wine for the Last Supper.  He doesn't heal the slave whose ear was cut off by a disciple.  He doesn't walk across Herod's swimming pool.  Bartimaeus is the last person to receive Jesus's healing touch.

And after healing him, Jesus says, “Go, your faith has made you well.”

But notice something interesting here:  Bartimaeus doesn't go.  He stays.  He stays and follows Jesus on the way.

That is an important point.  First, because Jesus is on the way to his Passion.  Bartimaeus is following Jesus on the way to Jerusalem, his arrest, execution, burial and, hopefully, resurrection.  He will, like all of the others, scatter and hide, but for now, and hopefully in the future, he is on the way.

The second important point about this is that early disciples of Jesus called themselves followers of the Way before they took the name “Christian.”  Jesus said he was the way, the truth and the life.  He told his disciples they knew the way.  And in Acts 9, Saul was chasing down and persecuting any who belonged to the Way.  Bartimaeus is now included as a person of the Way.  After regaining his sight, Bartimaeus becomes a disciple of Christ and follows him on the Way.

Bartimaeus has become the last of Jesus' disciples.  No one else will be healed from here on out.  No one else will be called to follow Jesus.  No one else will be said to have followed Jesus on the way.  The people of Chapter 11 welcomed Jesus with shouts of, “Hosanna!” but they didn't follow.  Bartimaeus does.

Much earlier in Mark we heard the stories of Jesus calling his disciples.  He called Simon, Andrew, James and John while walking by the Sea of Galilee.  He called Levi from his tax booth.  And in Chapter 3 he called twelve to be his apostles.  These were the ones who followed Jesus from their calling through his arrest.

Reading back through Mark, there are 15 times by my count that those first disciples did not understand what Jesus was saying, or did not see his point.  Among other things, they were blind to his assertion that he would need to go to Jerusalem, be handed over and crucified.

Now, here toward the end of the gospel, a blind man understands who Jesus is and follows him on the way.  Here at the end, a blind man understands that Jesus is on the way to the cross.  Here at the end, a blind man sees and understands where Jesus is going.  This story fulfills what was said two weeks ago:  The first shall be the last, and the last shall be first.

A couple of questions for us to ponder are these:  1) how do we treat people who are on the outside and who want to follow Jesus?  And, 2) how do we treat people who we think are johnny-come-latelies within a congregation of people who have been following for years?

Let us not be blind to welcoming others because they are outsiders.  Let us not be blind to the Gospel of Christ because we have been following along since the beginning.  And let us remember that those who come to follow Christ last have something valuable to offer those who have been following since the first.



Lady Anne | 10:18 AM, October 26, 2015  

I always, always enjoy your sermons so much. You wouldn't consider a call to Maryland, would you?

Reverend Ref + | 4:15 PM, October 26, 2015  

Thanks for the vote of confidence; but I have to say no.

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