Mark 10:32-34, 46-52 – The Irony of Following Jesus

Jesus healing blind Bartimaeus by Johann Heinrich Stöver, 1861. St John’s Church, Hesse, Germany

They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again, he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise….”

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “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 even 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. (NIV)

“Irony” and “ironic” are terms describing when an outcome of an event is contrary or different from what would be expected. Here are a few examples of irony: The firehouse burnt down. The police officer got arrested. When I was a kid, my family physician’s name was Dr. Fail (really!).

There is an overarching ironic lesson to our Gospel story today. The people following Jesus with 20/20 vision are spiritually blind. Their great need is the same as blind Bartimaeus: to have their eyes opened to Jesus and to what God was doing around them. Bartimaeus was marvelously and miraculously given sight by Jesus – the others, however, remained unchanged and in the dark. 

Irony #1: Many followed Jesus, but only a few were his followers.

All kinds of people physically followed Jesus around for all kinds of reasons while he was here on this earth.  Some wanted to bask in the latest celebrity buzz that Jesus generated. Others wanted to see all the cool stuff Jesus did, like healing people. Some were plain curious. And a few were interested in being like Jesus by showing selfless compassion. Jesus continually sought to press the crowd following him into authentic disciples who would follow his teaching.

Many people desire to conform and go with the flow. That’s great if the crowd is good, and not so good if the group is going in a bad direction. In the Old Testament, a few unruly complainers got the Israelites all stirred up with the result of making a golden calf and turning away from God. However, sometimes it is right and necessary to go against the crowd, which leads us to the next irony….

Irony #2: Out of all Christ’s followers, it is a blind man that sees Jesus for who he is, the Son of David.

Spiritual blindness afflicted many people, yet Bartimaeus discerned it was Messiah who was walking by him. So, he went against the crowd and shouted to Jesus. Blind Bartimaeus didn’t care how he looked to others, and it didn’t matter to him that he stuck out like a sore thumb. 

Sometimes we might forget that Jesus often avoided crowds, and that most of his life occurred away from the centers of power and influence. Jesus swam upstream of the prevailing notions of righteousness. Christ did not cow-tow to the crowd, but instead, paid attention to those in need and forgotten by others. Jesus did not “work the crowd” to get ahead and further his agenda. He did not cozy-up to the rich and powerful. And he deliberately avoided celebrity status. Jesus showed extraordinary love to an overlooked person. He used his immense power for one powerless person.

Irony #3: The ones following Jesus were the ones trying to keep a blind man from Jesus.

It seems to me one of the ironies about the church is that Christ’s own followers can be the greatest obstacle to others following him. I can imagine a group of gossipy church folk shushing Bartimaeus: “Don’t bother Jesus, he is such a busy man! He has important work to do!” I can also picture them standing next to blind Bartimaeus saying, “Just stop, man, you’re embarrassing yourself.” 

But Bartimaeus would not stop. He shouted all the louder. True and genuine faith is a needy person crying out in desperation for Jesus to help. Jesus asked a beautiful question: “What do you want me to do for you?”  “I want to see,” Bartimaeus responded. So, Jesus had compassion on him and gave him his sight. Here we have two men, Jesus and Bartimaeus, ignoring all the people around them, and having a divine encounter.

This all makes me wonder why it is so hard for us to simply say what we want. It could be that we don’t want to buck the crowd, or to look different. Maybe we don’t want to admit our need in front of others. So, we just stick to superficial conversations and insist that everything is okay, when it isn’t.

Jesus said, concerning the crowd, “Although they see, they don’t really see.” (Matthew 13:13) If we are concerned about how we will be seen by others, we will likely not be seen by God, and will miss Jesus when he walks right in front of us.

Conclusion

How might we raise our ability to see Jesus and truly follow him as he desires us to?

Listen to Jesus. Jesus was headed to Jerusalem and had a lot on his mind and heart with anticipating his passion and death. What made Christ attentive to Bartimaeus out of all the people around him was that he was listening. If we want to see Jesus and follow him, we must be listeners and attentive to compassion, like Jesus, to the needy and lowly among us. 

I recently read a story from a Christian who lived during Nazi Germany. He said, “I considered myself a Christian. We heard stories of what was happening to the Jews, but we tried to distance ourselves from it, because what could anyone do to stop it? A railroad track ran behind our small church, and each Sunday morning we could hear the whistle in the distance and then the wheels coming over the tracks. We became disturbed when we heard the cries coming from the train as it passed by. We realized it was carrying Jews like cattle in the cars! Week after week the whistle would blow. We dreaded to hear those wheels because we knew we would hear the cries of the Jews in route to a death camp. Their screams tormented us. So, when we heard the whistle blow, we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church, we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly, and soon we heard them no more. Years have passed, and no one talks about it anymore. But I still hear that train whistle in my sleep. God forgive me. Forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians yet did nothing to intervene.” 

Respond to Jesus. Once Jesus listened, he responded by asking a question. Christ took the time to heal Bartimaeus. Jesus could have simply healed him without even stopping. He could have even started a healing factory where everyone with a need just moved through a line and got healed. Jesus was doing more than giving sight; he was giving a blessing – the blessing of time and relationship.

The gospel is personal, which is why we ought to resist being non-relational in ministry to others. It’s about more than meeting a physical need. It is about blessing other people with the gift of relationship. It begins with recognizing self as the one who needs Jesus. It starts with having our own eyes opened to see our own need and then the great need of people around us.

God of all compassion, I confess that it is natural for me to do things my way. I recognize that I am limited, but that you know all things. I yield my spiritual eyesight to you so that my spiritual vision will be clear. Jesus Christ came to give sight to the blind and to open our eyes. I commit my ways to you so that I can see your ways and not my own. Amen.

Matthew 9:2-13 – Why Jesus Came

Healing by Russian painter Ivan Filichev

Some men brought to Jesus a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When he saw their faith, Jesus said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”

At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So, he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Then the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (NIV)

The late Abigail Van Buren, better known as the newspaper columnist, “Dear Abby,” was the person who made famous the phrase: “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum of saints.” That quote is an accurate reflection of what Jesus was doing and saying. We occasionally need words like Dear Abby’s to remind and reorient us toward why the church exists.  

The church of the Lord Jesus does not remain on this earth solely for our benefit, any more than a hospital exists for the benefit of the doctors or insurance companies! Rather, the church lives to extend the mission of Jesus through proclamation of good news with the restorative touch of grace. The church’s calling is not to find others who can help them with their tithing and keep warm seats in the pew. Instead, the church is the community of the redeemed, gathered and sent to be the continuing presence of Jesus on this earth.

Some who are reading this are not healthy. Some are sick with sin; others are heart-sick; yet others are plain sick-and-tired of being sick-and-tired. Jesus came neither to condemn nor heap a pile of unrealistic expectations on us. Christ points us to the source of healing and change and invites us to admit our need and come to him. 

Conversely, many others today are healthy, spiritually alive, and well. It is our job to roll up our sleeves and serve, participating fully in the mission of Jesus to the world. The question I want us to grapple with is this: Why did Jesus come to this earth? The answer to that question is to also answer the question of our own purpose and existence as followers of Christ.

Jesus came to forgive sin and transform sinners.In today’s Gospel healing, it was a case where the person’s sin was connected to his paralysis – and the paralytic found in Jesus not only physical healing, but new spiritual life.

The religious insiders observed the healing. Yet there was no rejoicing by them about the transformation. Instead, they became hung up on Jesus claiming to be God. Granted, this was a hard truth for them to get a hold of. But Jesus labeled such thinking as evil – the inability to see and perceive the situation as a divine intervention, and that Jesus really is the Lord who graciously did it. Because they wrongly discerned who Jesus is, they wrongly interpreted the situation. 

Therefore, it is important to see Jesus as the Human One who extends compassion and forgiveness. If we fail to see this about Christ, we will get caught up in all kinds of silly matters of personal preference and ridiculous power plays, based in how we think things should go, rather than the gospel.

Jesus came to forgive sin. Healing the body is good but not enough. Just focusing on the physical well-being of individuals was not why Christ came. At the heart of the human condition is spiritual brokenness, and Jesus is all about taking away guilt and shame, creating a new person and a new community. It is a radical vision which seeks to encompass all persons – which means Jesus touched many people overlooked by others.

Jesus came to call the despised people of society, the “sinners.” He called Matthew, a tax collector. Tax collectors were hated. They were corrupt characters who extorted money from innocent people. Jesus not only called the despised Matthew but had dinner with him and all his unsavory buddies. This kind of behavior by Jesus was deeply offensive to upstanding citizens.

However, Jesus did not back down. He responded by saying that it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. And he backed up his social actions with Scripture by encouraging offended folks to meditate on what this biblical phrase means: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” (Hosea 6:6)

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

hosea 6:6, niv

It is possible to engage in outward rituals of worship, do all the right things, fulfill our duty, yet still miss the heart of God wants for humanity. Mercy is what God wants. Jesus knew this. So, Christ entangled himself with sinners to bring spiritual healing and restoration.

When Corrie Ten Boom sought to bring deliverance of the Jews from the Nazis during World War II, she had to entangle herself with Jewish refugees. When Christian missionaries seek to be the light of Jesus to people, they must entangle themselves with the people’s culture. If we want to see God deliver people from their situations, we must entangle ourselves with them, into complicated lives that are not pretty, with persons who have been tainted by sin. 

Lots of people are in awful predicaments. Christians, like their Lord, will need to get their hands dirty and their feet wet to extend Christ’s ministry of mercy and forgiveness. The gospel was never intended to be proclaimed from afar, but up close and personal through entanglement in people’s lives. If the merciful mission of Jesus is to occur, it requires the following three activities:

  1. Intimacy with Jesus. Engaging in the spiritual disciplines of prayer, giving, fasting, reading, and meditating on Scripture are the activities which help us to know Christ better and know and how to respond with mercy.
  2. Intimacy with fellow believers. We are hard-wired by God for community. Superficial relationships can only provide superficial community. Christians need to help one another with spiritual growth. They must hold one another accountable for the mission of Christ.
  3. Intimacy with “sinners.” This world is filled with sick, needy, hurting, lonely, unhealthy people who are locked in unhealthy patterns of living. They need a merciful change of life that comes from the merciful Jesus acting through merciful Christians. 

Mercy, not judgment, is at the heart of all change. If we desire others to be different, we will need to be acquainted with the mercy of God.

Most merciful God, we confess we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, and by neglect. We have not held fast to your commandments and have strayed from your teachings. We turn from our self-centered actions and pride. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us so that we are released from anything that seeks to keep us from delighting in your presence. Empower us with your wisdom, revelation, and discernment so that we might be your merciful hands, feet, and words to one another and those who do not yet know you. Amen.

Mark 1:29-39 – The Rhythms of Jesus

Welcome, friends! On this bitterly cold day, may the gracious warmth of Jesus infuse your spirit with peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Click the videos below and let us discover the spiritual health and life of Christ our Lord…

Mark 1:29-39
Words by Edward Mote, Music by William B. Bradbury, A Cappella Arrangement by David Wesley

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.

The Rhythms of Jesus

The Solitude of Christ by French painter Alphonse Osbert, 1897

As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her.So, he went to her, took her hand, and helped her up. The fever left her, and she began to wait on them.

That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

Incredibly early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So, he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues, and driving out demons.

A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed.

Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” Instead, he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere. (Mark 1:29-39, NIV)

Solitude by Russian painter Tatiana Yushmanova

We need rhythm.  Everything in life is rhythmic. Each new year moves with the rhythm of the four seasons. Our hearts beat in rhythm. When we walk, our gait is in a distinct rhythm. When talking, we speak with a rhythmic cadence. We sing and make music because of rhythm. We need healthy rhythms of waking and sleeping.

When our rhythm is off, we are off. Busy or unhealthy lifestyles can insidiously drag us away from the spiritual rhythms we need for healthy living. Over time, it may go unnoticed that our rhythm is off.  For many folks, normal is getting dressed in clothes bought for work, driving through traffic in a car still being paid for, to go to a job to pay for the clothes, car, house, and other stuff that is left empty of life all day to afford to live in it. Many people are oriented more by the rhythms of work, school, and sports than by a connection to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Our 24/7 world demands more time and resources, convincing us we can never slow down or take a break. Some people know their rhythm is off and out of sync with God’s ways but feel powerless to change it. So, how do we restore the unforced rhythms of God’s grace to the center of our stressed and chaotic lives without being overwhelmed by a new set of time commitments? To have healthy rhythms of life, we must look to Jesus.

Jesus was continually filled with the life of God the Father and therefore was always overflowing with that life to others. Christ had a rhythm of life which was oriented around times of inner solitude with his heavenly Father, and times of outward spiritual care to people.  Jesus needed regular, dedicated time for solitude and prayer for the rigors of ministry. So then, how much more do we!

There are two distinct sections in today’s Gospel lesson: Christ’s outward healing ministry; and his inward attention to solitude and prayer. By examining Jesus and following his rhythms of life, we can find the way to living healthy fulfilled spiritual lives as Christians.

The outward healing ministry of Jesus was powerful and effective.

Jesus was committed to helping and healing people with the authority given him. Peter’s mother-in-law was sick. Every sickness in the ancient world was serious and could easily result in either permanent physical damage or death. In a clear demonstration of power, Jesus simply took her by the hand and raised her up to new life. As soon the fever left her, the woman immediately began serving the people in the house. The proper response to being healed by Christ is to become a servant of others. 

13th Century Byzantine Church mosaic of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law

Jesus and the disciples were in the little village of Capernaum, and being a small town, the news spread quickly of what happened with Peter’s mother-in-law. As a result, by evening, every sick and demonized person in the village showed up to see Jesus. Christ healed them all and confronted the demonic among them. Jesus wanted to avoid creating a circus and desired to move about freely, so he commanded the demons not to speak, because they knew who he was and what he was up to.

Healing is wonderful. Talking about it, not so much. Discussing healing is difficult because seeing one person healed and restored while another person is not, defies simple answers. So, I offer a few biblical observations about this human conundrum we all have likely experienced.

  • Healing narratives in the Gospels say much more about Jesus than about us. 

Jesus has the power and authority to overthrow demons, cure the incurable, and restore people to health. It is all a sign that the kingdom of God is near, and when the kingdom comes in all its fullness, there will be no more sickness, pain, or demonic influence.

  • Good health, security, and safety are not necessarily a sign of God’s presence any more than pain and suffering are signs of God’s punishment, or a lack of personal faith. 

We have enough stories in the Bible to let us know we are not privy to the big picture of what God is doing. We will not always see what the Lord is up to and very well may never have an answer to our questions, this side of heaven.

  • Every person who is healed today will eventually get sick again and someday die. 

Even Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, died again. The ultimate meaning of any person’s healing is more than the physical – it affects the entire person – body, mind, emotions, soul, and spirit. For example, forgiveness is many times the needed miracle before any kind of physical healing can occur.

Sometimes the greatest miracle of all is our response to sickness and suffering.  A surgeon, Richard Selzer, describes one such miracle:  “I stood by the bed where a young woman lies in post-op after surgery, her mouth twisted looking clownish.  A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed to remove a tumor in her cheek.  Her young husband is in the room.  He stood on the opposite side of the bed as if I were not really in the room, his full attention on her.  She asked me, ‘Will my mouth always be like this?’  ‘Yes, it will, because the nerve has been cut,’ I say.  She nodded somberly.  But the young husband began to smile.  He said, ‘I like it; it is kind of cute.’  He bent down to kiss her crooked mouth and I was close enough to see how he twisted his own lips to accommodate hers, to show her that their kiss still works.”

Perhaps the kind of healing we all need is the ability to receive God’s love in the person of Jesus who has accommodated himself to us.

Christ did not spend every waking moment with people, teaching and healing. Jesus knew that working without prayer, rest, and solitude is not realistic and rarely ends well.

The inward prayer and solitude of Jesus caused him to be powerful and effective.

Early the next morning after a day of healing ministry, Jesus got up and went to be alone with the Father. The fact that Peter and the disciples hunted him down when they could not find him, shows they did not quite see the same value of solitude that Jesus did. In Christ’s healthy rhythm of life, he included significant doses of solitude with his Father.

It is important for believers to spend generous portions of time with God. If we fail to do this, God has ways of getting our attention. We must slow down and calm our racing thoughts enough to listen. Human suffering is a great way to meet Jesus!  We cannot rush from task to task and expect to live a healthy spiritual life.  We need time with Jesus.

“Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.”

Pablo Picasso

Only through a healthy rhythm of life that includes solitude and prayer will we have clear direction for our daily lives, and wisdom for sound decision-making.  Jesus came away from his time of solitude having re-connected with his purpose for being on earth.  It was his clear conviction that he must travel and not just stay in one place.

Traveling is important to the Christian life.  I am not talking about moving from state to state like I have done in my life; I mean that we must keep moving, like walking across the room to engage others we do not know. Our lives become stagnant when we only ever interact in our small circle of friends and family. 

So, Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, convinced to do so through his time of solitude and prayer, to spread the good news of God’s benevolent kingdom and drive out demons wherever he went.  Even in this we are to imitate our Lord.

Driving out demons is, yes, a literal reference. The demons were driven out so that people could be liberated and experience freedom and connection in community, since most demonized people were always in solitude. They were freed so that they could have healthy rhythms of life of not just solitude but of ministry, service, and community. Hell is a separation from God and others.  Jesus came to bring relational health and wholeness through relational connection.

Conclusion

Both continual work and prolonged withdrawal from others is unhealthy.  To always be working and serving eventually leads to bitterness, exhaustion, and burn-out.  To always be alone (even in a crowd) and not serving leads to spiritual sickness.  It may be counter-intuitive for us to break away from work, but solitude and prayer will help us more productive.

If we are constantly on the go, there is healing available through solitude. If we are continually withdrawn from others, then the healing we need will come through engaging with others and moving past passivity.

To attach and detach, to connect and let go, to engage and desist, are spiritual rhythms of life that we must hone and practice so that we will be healthy persons for ourselves and for others.