Lord, Have Mercy (Mark 10:46-52)

“Christ Healing the Blind Man” by Robert Hodgell

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus, his disciples, and many people were leaving Jericho, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, was sitting by the road. When he heard that Jesus from Nazareth was passing by, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

The people told him to be quiet. But he shouted even louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him!” They called the blind man and told him, “Cheer up! Get up! He’s calling you.” The blind man threw off his coat, jumped up, and went to Jesus.

Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

The blind man said, “Teacher, I want to see again.”

Jesus told him, “Go, your faith has made you well.”

At once he could see again, and he followed Jesus on the road. (God’s Word Translation)

“I’d like to live my life so close to the bottom that when the system collapses I don’t have far to fall.” Dorothy Day

This is one of my very favorite stories in the entirety of Holy Scripture. And I will tell you why….

Because Jesus listens with ears of mercy

Jesus was headed to Jerusalem and had a lot on his mind and his heart. He knew what was coming, that his passion and death awaited him. No one would fault Jesus for not hearing a blind man shouting. But Jesus was listening so that he might hear someone just like the needy blind man. Rather than being distracted and lost in his head, Jesus was just the opposite – being attentive and aware of the humble folk right in front of him.

The Lord is always and continually listening for honesty and vulnerability. His ears of mercy are specially tuned, even today, for those who cry out to him from a place of genuine openness and humility.

Because Jesus speaks with words of mercy

Once Jesus listened, he responded by asking a question. I am impressed with Jesus throughout the Gospels. Christ gave people the gift of choice. He acknowledged people and respected them by not simply and indiscriminately healing, as if he were some fix-it guy. Jesus Christ bestowed on the lowliest of people the human dignity of choice by empowering them to answer a question.

Whereas everyone around Bartimaeus was looking down on him, both literally and figuratively, Jesus granted him the gift of dignity and basic human kindness – which are gifts we can all bestow on one another.

Because Jesus pays attention with a divine appointment of mercy

Our Lord took the time to heal blind Bartimaeus. Jesus could have simply healed him without even stopping his journey. He could have just waved his hand and the man would be healed. What’s more, Jesus could have even started a healing factory where everyone with a need got healed: bring ‘em in, move ‘em out, and keep the line moving!

Jesus was doing more than giving sight; he was giving a man the blessing of time and personal attention. The Gospel is never impersonal, which is why we ought to resist being non-relational in ministry to others. Christian ministry isn’t simply about meeting a need; it’s about blessing other people with the gift of relationship.

Coptic Church icon of Christ healing the blind man

Because Jesus reaches out with the touch of mercy

Jesus touched the man’s eyes (included in Matthew 20:29-34). He didn’t have to do that. The Lord of all most certainly could have healed without touching. In fact, it most likely may have been downright gross. A lot of people had eye diseases with runny pussy eyes in the ancient world.

Because the blind man didn’t listen to the crowd

I really love that! Maybe it’s the rebel in me. I just believe it is such a beautiful thing whenever someone refuses to be shamed by another and embraces their need. That is exactly what the blind man did. He not only refused to give-in to peer pressure, but he also responded to them by shouting all the louder. May his tribe increase!

Blind Bartimaeus teaches us that, when we know Love is there, we can freely acknowledge our needs, our wants, and our pain. With Jesus, who is Love incarnate, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks around us; there is no pretense, no propping up a false self to present for others to see. The true self is able to express what is really on the inside.

Because the blind man could actually see

In truth, Bartimaeus already had sight – not physical sight but spiritual eyes which could see better than anyone else in the crowd. One of the great ironies throughout the Gospels is that the sighted crowd seems to never see who Jesus really is, while blind folk see Christ clearly for who he is: the Son of David, the rightful king, the Savior of all.

It matters not how much faith one possesses; but it very much matters in whom that faith is placed. A thimble-full of faith is enough to move mountains, whereas a water tower full of misplaced faith in someone else cannot even provide a single glass of refreshment.

Because the blind man followed Jesus

Throughout the healing ministry of Jesus, there were plenty of persons who simply walked away and went about their lives after receiving what they desired. Yet, Bartimaeus, now given the gift of physical sight, immediately started following Jesus on the road.

This account feels a lot like my own testimony of experiencing the love of God in Christ and not ever wanting to leave it. So, I’ve been following Jesus for over forty years, still profoundly grateful in my heart for the One who loves and heals.

Because one lowly non-descript blind man made a difference

I don’t think Bartimaeus ever set out to change the world. And yet, he did. Here we are reading his testimony all these millennia later. One person, becoming a simple follower of Jesus and living a life of discipleship, changes a crowd from being a group of shushing church ladies to a robust throng of worshipers.

One individual makes a difference. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of David, heal me, a broken person.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of Man, help me, a lost and lonely individual.

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on my love-starved soul and grant me your peace.

Amen.

Be Generous (Mark 12:41-44)

The Widow’s Mite by James Christensen

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you; this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (New International Version)

Money. Can’t live without it; can’t live with it. *Sigh*

If there’s a litmus test of one’s true benevolence and spirituality, it’s how money is handled and/or mishandled. And it isn’t as cut-and-dried as giving large sums of it away.

In today’s short Gospel lesson, the offerings of rich people were unimpressive to Jesus. To him, their big donations are insignificant.

On the other hand, a poor widow’s measly offering is validated as a rich contribution. In giving everything, Jesus holds up the widow as an example for us to follow.

This raises a natural and interesting question: Does this mean everyone should give everything they have? Maybe. Maybe not. Yet perhaps the very question betrays how we tend to think about money – that it’s ours, we earned it, and we can do whatever we want with it.

But the fact of the matter is that we really own nothing. We are merely stewards, entrusted with using that which has been graciously given to us by God. The Lord is the owner of it all. It was never really ours to begin with.

Taken from this perspective, anything we hold onto and refuse to let go, no matter how large or small, is a form of theft. We have taken something that doesn’t belong to us. We aren’t satisfied with being stewards; we want to be owners and masters.

What you do with your money shows your allegiance to the true Owner of it. If it belongs to Caesar, well then, go ahead and give it to him. And if it belongs to God, then there isn’t an issue in distributing money in ways which benefit humanity and uplift the poor.

The widow knew that her money, what little of it she had, belonged to God. She seemed to understand that God’s values are very different from earthly values. The kingdom of heaven expects us to hold all things, money included, with open hands. Whereas the kingdoms of this world fully expect that people will hold their money with tight fists – which is why we have so many layers of cybersecurity around our assets.

Money is a means to an end and not the end itself. It is the means to ensure the welfare of the common good of all persons. It’s a tool to shape a better society, built not on the backs of the poor, but for the benefit of the needy so that everyone can participate fully in the community.

To build a petty kingdom and become master of a small world is nothing more than stealing from God and withholding resources where they are needed.

And to make things more complicated and challenging, in today’s world, time is money. It’s easy to write a check, transfer some funds, or allocate some resources for others. However, it is never easy to grace people with the gift of time. Relational connection takes time and effort – the kind of time many people believe they do not have. Yet, time also belongs to God, and it is to be stewarded with care, just like our money.

The Poor Widow’s Offering by Unknown artist

Let’s come back to the poor widow. After all, she is our example of true generosity.

In ancient Israel, those in poverty were not required to give. So, whenever the poor did so, they simply gave because they believed in the need to maintain all it took for the worship of God to happen. The widow was under no compulsion to give anything, let alone everything she had. She seemed to understand what the Apostle Paul discovered later:

The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously. Each one of you should give just as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, because God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace overflow to you so that because you have enough of everything in every way at all times, you will overflow in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:6-8, NET)

A spirit of generosity is to be ubiquitous throughout Christianity. It is a spirit that doesn’t let the left hand know what the right hand is giving (Matthew 6:3). A generous spirit rightly discerns that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21).

And the guide of altruistic giving is savvy to the reality that the accumulation of money often leads to the love of money. So, the generous person keeps temptation at bay by withholding love toward things so that love can be lavishly given to people. For some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:10)

Like the poor widow, we are to put our hope in God, who richly provides everything for our enjoyment.

Eternal God, we pray that stewardship will be our way of life. We acknowledge You as the source of all we have and all we are.

Loving Creator, help us to place You first in our lives by being prayerful, loving, and caring for our families neighbors in need, and by becoming less preoccupied with material things.

Sovereign Lord, help us to hear your call to be good stewards, caretakers, and managers of all your gifts by sharing them for your purposes. May Your priorities be our priorities. May we have an active and generous faith.

Blessed God, help us to serve the Church, our communities, and our world with Your good and gracious gifts; and with joyful and grateful heart, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Mark 10:17-22 – Jesus Intervenes

Eastern Orthodox mural of Jesus and the rich man

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad because he had great wealth. (New International Version)

We are all addicts. 

We all have our own sin addictions which keep us stuck in guilt and shame.

We may not all struggle with the same sin. Yet we all have some besetting sin(s) that we must be weaned off of. The most pervasive addiction found in Holy Scripture is neither substance abuse nor alcohol – it is the addiction to wealth and money.

Maybe your initial response was of someone else, besides yourself: “I don’t have as much money as____” or, “So-and-so has a real problem with that!” Those statements are what we call, in terms of addiction, denial. 

In truth, all of us are in some sort of denial about how much we really trust in paychecks, bank accounts, investments, and owning material stuff. I’m no exception. I own more books than I’ll be able to read in a lifetime, and yet, I tend to believe I don’t have enough of them.

Even the poor can have an addiction wealth and money by thinking about it and wishing for it to an unhealthy degree, as if wealth is the thing that will ultimately make them happy.

People in denial rarely have any idea how much they are hurting others, themselves, and God.  In fact, the consistent witness of the early church fathers is that the sheer accumulation of stuff is the same as stealing from the poor. 

Because of denial, people need an intervention. They need to be jolted back to their senses. Intervention is a gift. Someone cares enough about the person to intervene. Yet, interventions don’t always work. The person can choose to walk away and refuse to change.

Jesus did a gracious intervention with a rich young man. The man was addicted to wealth and money, but he didn’t see it. In fact, he thought he was quite godly and spiritual. It’s a sad story because the man walks away untransformed by his encounter with Jesus and did not accept the gracious invitation to follow the Lord. 

Chinese depiction of Jesus and the rich man, 1879

The man simply did not see himself as hopeless and desperately needing to change. He held to his denial.

The man approached Jesus with a question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Whereas I would probably get all excited about being asked a question like this and launch into some long-winded gospel answer, Jesus immediately picked up on the attitude and the need behind the question. 

What must I do to get? It’s almost as if the man wants to acquire eternal life like he would acquire wealth. “I am a successful businessman with plenty of money, and a respected citizen with lots of wealth – now I want to be a success with God, as well.” 

The question may have been sincere, yet it was misguided. Eternal life is not spiritual real estate for an upwardly mobile person to acquire and possess. The man seems to believe he can purchase eternal life, as if everyone has their price, even God. “After all,” he may have been reasoning, “I have gotten everything else in life, so why not obtain eternal life?”

Jesus questioned the question. He went after the underlying assumption of doing something good to obtain eternal life. The fact of the matter is that the man cannot do anything. He can’t because only God is good. Jesus points him to God by changing the action from getting to entering. And he changed the language from a market acquisition to entering into a journey.

Jesus was inviting the man to walk with him.

Eternal life is a journey of faith in the God who is good, and not a transaction to get it. And, we too, must be careful not to treat eternal life as if it were a transaction, as if we must get a person to sign on the dotted line through a “sinner’s prayer” or some other formula that will seal the deal for eternal life. 

Instead, eternal life is a walk of obedience with God and his commands.

Jesus responded to the rich man with the Ten Commandments, specifically the ones which focus on human relationships. Jesus wanted him to realize that the path into the kingdom of God and eternal life goes through and not around how we treat our fellow human beings.

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler by Heinrich Hofmann, 1889

The Lord sought to expose the impossibility of continuing in life on the rich man’s terms. The guy just could not imagine what he might be lacking. So, Jesus helped him out. Christ gave him some major interventional language…. Sell. Give. Follow.

Sell everything. Give to the poor. Come, follow me.

One cannot simply add Jesus to their life, like adding a new car or a new fishing rod. Rather, one’s heart must change in order to accommodate real, genuine eternal life. 

Jesus offered the rich man someone to be, rather than something to get

It’s one thing to give from what you have; it’s another thing to surrender your life and all you have. 

In the New Testament Gospels, there are no easy conversations with Jesus. He gets personal in every encounter and gets under everybody’s skin. Christ doesn’t settle with superficial small talk when there are people whose hearts are little more than idol factories. 

Jesus never leaves us alone, because there is always the invitation to “Come, follow me.”

Christ exposed the wealthy man’s divided loyalties – he was trying to serve both God and money. But he would have to choose between the two. 

And that is our choice, as well. 

The question for us is not, “Am I completely devoted to money?” Instead, the question from our Gospel story today is, “Am I trying to serve God while maintaining a moonlighting job with the world?” 

God wants from us an undivided heart; the Lord desires absolute allegiance.

Jesus is looking for those who are poor in spirit, who recognize their great need for God – instead of believing that they are okay and just need to add a little Jesus to their lives. 

God is looking for spiritual beggars who understand their desperate situation and don’t practice denial by sugar-coating their actual spiritual state.

Like a drunkard who won’t give up his vodka; like a sex addict who won’t give up strip clubs or emotional affairs; or like a workaholic who just can’t come home; the rich man would not give up his disordered love for money and possessions. 

So, Jesus did an intervention. 

The Lord Jesus didn’t ask everybody to do exactly as he called the rich man to do. He didn’t ask the very wealthy Zacchaeus to do it, and he didn’t tell Peter to sell his fishing business. 

But Jesus does tell us to do something which seems impossible. Yet, where the impossible exists, so exists grace.

Blessed Lord, you have taught us that all our doings without loving generosity are worth nothing. Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your gift of love, the true bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whoever lives is counted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Mark 11:12-14, 20-24 – Believing Prayer

The next day, after leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. From far away, he noticed a fig tree in leaf, so he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing except leaves, since it wasn’t the season for figs. So, he said to it, “No one will ever again eat your fruit!” His disciples heard this.

Early in the morning, as Jesus and his disciples were walking along, they saw the fig tree withered from the root up. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look how the fig tree you cursed has dried up.”

Jesus responded to them, “Have faith in God!I assure you that whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea’—and doesn’t waver but believes that what is said will really happen—it will happen. Therefore, I say to you, whatever you pray and ask for, believe that you will receive it, and it will be so for you. (Common English Bible)

A pastor once had a kitten stuck up in a tree, and it would not come down. The tree was not sturdy enough to climb, so the pastor decided that if he tied a rope to his car and drove until the tree bent down, he could then reach up and get the kitten. As he moved just a little too far, the rope broke. The tree snapped upright, and the kitten instantly sailed through the air and out of sight.

He felt just terrible and walked all over the neighborhood asking people if they had seen a little kitten. Nobody had and finally he prayed, “Lord, I commit this kitten to your keeping,” and then went about his business.

A few days later, he was at the grocery store and met one of his parishioners. In her shopping cart he was amazed to see cat food. The pastor knew the parishioner did not like cats, so he asked her why she was buying cat food.

She replied, “For years I have been refusing to buy my little girl a cat even though she has been begging for one. Finally, I told her that if God gives you a cat, I’ll let you keep it.  I watched my child go out into the yard, get on her knees and ask God for a cat. Then, a kitten suddenly came flying out of the blue sky with its paws spread out and landed right in front of her. Of course, I had to let her keep the kitten because it came from God!”

God wants us to pray! Yet, prayer does not happen apart from faith because to pray is to believe God is good and answers prayer. Prayerlessness is a sign of faithlessness. A person of little faith prays only a little. A person full of faith is always praying.

“God desires of us nothing more ardently than that we ask many and great things of him, and he is displeased of we do not confidently ask and entreat.”

Martin Luther

For Jesus, simply exhorting the disciples to pray was insufficient; they needed a deep change of heart. 

God calls us to transformation. Deep and lasting change must take place below the surface of our lives. Real change comes from the inside-out. It is the root of a person’s life, the heart, that must change – and not just the outward behavior.

In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus got up early and was on his way to Jerusalem. He was hungry and wanted some breakfast, so he approached a fig tree. Figs were known back in Christ’s day as the poor man’s food. Fig trees were everywhere. Approaching a certain fig tree, Jesus found one that appeared leafy and well, yet had no figs. 

Jesus chose to use this tree as a teachable moment for his disciples. He cursed the tree and immediately the whole tree withered. So, why did Jesus curse the tree? Because it looked good on the outside but was really already dead on the inside. 

The tree had everything a tree needed: branches, leaves, and a trunk. Everything, that is, except fruit. The tree was to serve as an illustration for the disciples of believing prayer. The tree looked fine, and had the promise of fruit, but none was to be found. Jesus is looking for faith in his followers. 

In the prophet Jeremiah’s day, the nation of Judah had enjoyed a long stretch of prosperity and good circumstances. By all outward appearances they were doing fine. Temple attendance was at its peak and everyone was offering their sacrifices. Yet, something wasn’t right.

“I will take away their harvest,
declares the Lord.
    There will be no grapes on the vine.
There will be no figs on the tree,
    and their leaves will wither.
What I have given them
    will be taken from them.” (Jeremiah 8:13, NIV)

God pronounced a curse on Judah because, although conditions seemed fine on the outside, the people were trusting in their own abilities. But God was looking for fruit, not nice leaves. The Lord wants believing prayer, born of a faith that is confident in the goodness of God. 

God is looking for faith in us, as well. A faith not in paychecks, bank accounts, or the market economy, and not religiously in lots of outward forms of success, but a faith in God alone.

Jesus didn’t use the withering tree as an illustration of judgment but of believing prayer. Our words and prayers can have the immediate effect of changing the world. We can even speak to a mountain, and it will have to move, if we tell it to. 

Nobody probably goes around talking to mountains. Yet, all of us go around talking to ourselves about mountain-like problems. The power that levels mountains is prayer and words that speak confidence and boldness.  If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.

“Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is too small to be made into a burden.”

Corrie Ten Boom

Doubt typically stands in the way of prayer – not doubt in yourself, because you don’t answer your own prayers. Doubt as an obstacles to faith is the questioning of God’s inherent goodness. We are not to have faith in faith itself, but in the actual person of God. (James 1:5-8) 

Everyone has made a difficult prayer request, mustering-up all the faith they can, and then are disappointed when it doesn’t happen. The unstable person vacillates when this happens, doubting whether God is really good or not. However, the person of faith believes God answers prayer, and if the prayer is not answered, we trust God knows the score and will answer according to gracious timing and good purposes.

Maybe you have even talked to yourself as a Job-like friend saying that you didn’t have enough faith and that is why your prayer was not answered. Yet, Christian faith isn’t a matter of being optimistic or of sending $19.95 to some hack preacher who promises to give you the secret of answered prayer, along with a free gold cross. 

We simply don’t know what God’s will is in every situation. However, we do know what God’s will is for a lot of things. For example, God is not willing that any should perish but all be brought to eternal life. So, we can pray with confidence for someone’s deliverance. And we can be bold about trusting in God’s promises.

We have every right, based in our union with Jesus Christ as redeemed persons, to ask God confidently and boldly for the removal of mountains. We possess authority in Christ to do so. Therefore, we do not need to offer tepid, milquetoast, mumbling prayers with sighs and hunched shoulders. 

Who knows? Maybe a kitten will show up.

Almighty and everlasting God, you made the universe with all its marvelous order, its atoms, worlds, and galaxies, and the infinite complexity of living creatures: Grant that, as we probe the mysteries of your creation, we may come to know you more truly, and more surely fulfill our role in your eternal purpose; in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.