Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sermon, Proper 25B, Mark 10:46-52

Here’s a dangerous question to ask a bunch of Episcopalians:  How many of you read or study your Bible on a regular basis?  And of those, how many of you make notes or otherwise write in your Bible?

It probably comes as no surprise that I’ve got all kinds of notes in my Bible – or Bibles.  I say this not to exalt my own biblical diligence or study habits, or to show how much better I am than you at studying the Bible.  I say this and ask this to get at a different question.  And that question is, “Why?”  Why do you make notes or otherwise write in your Bible?  For me, it appears the number one reason is as a cross-reference; in other words, it helps me avoid the, “It’s in there somewhere,” statement.  The second reason I do this is to compare separate versions of the same story.  How does what Mark say about the Transfiguration or the Last Supper differ from what the other gospels say about those events?

I have a Lectionary book on my desk that I generally use when working on sermons.  The good part is that all of the readings are in one spot, so I don’t have to continually flip between books.  The bad news is that it only contains the selected readings, which doesn’t allow me to see the passage in context.  So I will also go to my Bible to see what surrounds the text of the day to get a bigger picture of what we are hearing on a particular Sunday.  As I was preparing this week’s sermon, I opened my Bible up to Mark 10:46-52 and was met with a note that said, “Compare to Luke 10:29-37.”

Fabulous!  I turned to Luke wondering what he had to say about Blind Bartimaeus.  Well . . . nothing actually; or rather, nothing at 10:29-37, because that’s the parable of the Good Samaritan.  This was one of those, “What in the world was I thinking?” moments.  At first I thought maybe I had referenced the wrong chapter and verse, but if that were the case, I was WAY off track.  Why would I make a note to compare the story of Blind Bartimaeus in Mark to the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke? 

In today’s gospel, Jesus and his followers are going through Jericho on their way up to Jerusalem.  As a side note, this is the last miracle story in Mark before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem that we celebrate on Palm Sunday.  So anyway, the crowd is heading out of Jericho when Blind Bart hears the commotion.  When he hears that it is Jesus who is passing by, he begins calling out, “Jesus!  Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Mark says that many in the crowd “sternly ordered him to be quiet.”  But he cries out even louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Finally Jesus says, “Call him here.”  The mood in the crowd changes, they become friendly, and they joyfully fetch Blind Bart to see Jesus.  A verbal exchange ensues and that is exactly what happened – he saw Jesus.

My note says to compare that story to Luke 10:29-37.  In that passage Jesus tells the parable of a man going from Jerusalem to Jericho who gets attacked and left for dead on the side of the road.

Three people run across the half-dead man: a priest, a Levite and an unclean Samaritan.  The priest and Levite pass on by, not wanting to get involved or defile themselves or something, and leave the man alone.  It is the unclean Samaritan who eventually cares for the man and brings him to a place of healing.

How do these two stories possibly compare to each other?  Well, as the king in Alice in Wonderland said, “Begin at the beginning.” 

We have two stories that take place between Jerusalem and Jericho.  We have two men at the side of the road.  We have one blind man who must beg to survive, and we have one injured man who might be begging for survival.  The status of each might lead one to classify both of them as half-dead.  We have two men who are ignored by religious people.  And we have two men who are eventually cared for and healed by a man driven by compassion rather than by rules, regulations and the status quo.

The crowd in today’s gospel is happy to shun this blind beggar, to keep this outsider outside, to keep him in his place, to keep him separated from the other followers.  They are happy to do so up until Jesus tells them otherwise.  They are happy to maintain the status quo until they hear Jesus speak explicitly in favor of allowing the blind man to be part of the group.

In Luke’s parable, two men shun the man on the side of the road for a variety of religious reasons.  While not actively working to keep him in his place of being separated from the holy people of God, their silence speaks volumes.

The difference is that while today’s crowd waited for an explicit word of inclusion from Jesus, the Samaritan had no problem touching, caring for, or showing God’s love without being explicitly told to do so.  The priest didn’t tell him.  The Levite didn’t tell him.  On his own he reached out to one who was ignored and left half-dead by the religious people.

As we follow Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, who are the people in our society who get left by the side of the road?  Who are the people in our society calling out to be included among the followers of Christ, but who get shouted down because they are different or outcasts?  Who are the people Christians label unclean and refuse to touch or associate with?

As we continue to follow Jesus on this road to Jerusalem and the cross, are we waiting for an explicit word from him to tell us, “It’s okay, bring them to me?”  Or can we bring ourselves to reach out on our own to those others who have been ignored and hurt by religious people?

This is the real point of comparing these two stories.  We can follow the religious crowd and try to keep outsiders outside until hearing the explicit voice of Christ, or we can reach out to those other people and help heal them with God’s love simply because it’s the right thing to do.



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