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.

Give Thanks and Praise (Luke 17:11-19)

Eastern Orthodox depiction of Jesus Christ healing the ten lepers

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (New International Version)

Today’s Gospel story is both joyous and sad. The healing of ten lepers is astonishing and elicits praise and thanks… from only one. Maybe it’s because they stood at a distance. After all, it’s a close connection to God which causes praise and gratitude to arise within us – and not some appreciation from afar. Therefore, methinks we ought to consider what the nature of our own connection is. 

“Thanksgiving” to most Americans is Thanksgiving Day – a holiday filled with food, football, and family, the trifecta of American celebration. I myself admit to liberally indulging in all three. Although Thanksgiving has become a form of secular liturgical worship, I believe that underneath all the gravy, naps at halftime, and the occasional obnoxious relative, we know why we celebrate: To praise God and give thanks for our abundant blessings. 

It seems that even those who do not readily acknowledge the Divine intuitively know there is a power and source of blessing well beyond themselves which makes all good things occur.

Celebrations are a spiritual activity. God invented parties. When Israel was preparing for a new national life in the Promised Land, God told them to celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the first fruits of the crops (Exodus 23:16). The Levitical law prescribed how to go about giving thanksgiving offerings and offering praise (Leviticus 7:11-34).

Gratitude and praise was commanded, expected, and an important dimension of Old Testament worship. King David established a group of 288 full-time musicians to do nothing but praise and give thanks before God day and night (1 Chronicles 25).

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

Psalm 95:2, NRSV

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise.
    Give thanks to him; bless his name.

For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever
    and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100:4-5, NRSV)

It ought to have been reflexive for all ten lepers healed by Jesus to offer their worship to Jesus. A Samaritan, considered by many of the time as the lowliest of the low, a “half-breed,” was the lone person who came and fell at Christ’s feet with effusive praise and heartfelt gratitude. While the other nine went about their lives, free from disease and glad for it, only one guy took the time to thank Jesus and give glory to God. 

The Samaritan leper alone gives thanks to Christ, by Unknown artist

Sometimes we need to be reminded that celebration is a spiritual practice. It’s important to celebrate Jesus and for the ways God has provided and blessed us. In Holy Scripture, it is often the homeless, the sick, the lowly, and the outsiders who lead the way and demonstrate what genuine praise and honest thanksgiving looks like.

We, the Church, who belong to God and possess the Spirit, are to always remember and be mindful of what we truly have in Jesus Christ:

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7, NIV)

We, like King David of old, are to establish continual worship of God:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV

Our sacrifice as Christians is not with the blood of animals but with our lips and our lives:

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. (Hebrews 13:15, NIV)

And the worship service is eternal; it will never end:

And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying:

“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
    the One who is and who was,
because you have taken your great power
    and have begun to reign.” (Revelation 11:16-17, NIV)

Praising God and giving thanks to the Lord go together like mashed potatoes and gravy. Since God created everything, and since Jesus has brought healing to us through the cross, every juicy morsel of goodness we have is to be received with the full cognizance that God is behind it all.

Our lives need to be punctuated with times of celebration, praise, gratitude, and even blowout parties. Otherwise, we become dull, boring, lifeless, and bereft of Christ’s lifeblood coursing through our spiritual veins. A joyous and raucous group of healed believers jabbering incessantly with thanksgiving of God’s goodness are winsome and peculiar (in a good way and not in the strange way of your weird uncle who wants the turkey neck to gnaw on at the Thanksgiving meal).

Seems to me that Christians really ought to be at the forefront of having maximum fun because we are forgiven people; we know and experience the presence of God; our lives are hidden with God in Christ; we are confident and can approach the throne of God with boldness; and we possess the power of the Spirit and the shepherding ministry of Jesus.

Remember to give thanks. Plan to praise – out loud and with others – for the God who stands behind every good gift of creation. Let thanksgiving (not complaint) shape your life. Be the person who comes back to Jesus and offers praise and gratitude – and see how such gratefulness and glory can change the world.

Gracious God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks for all your goodness and steadfast love to us and to all whom you have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all praise you for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.

Give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all the days of our lives, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages and forevermore. Hallelujah! Amen!

Jesus: Introvert or Extrovert? (Luke 5:12-16)

A 4th century mural of Jesus from the Catacomb of Commodilla, Rome, Italy

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.

Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”

Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (New International Version)

Occasionally, I ask fellow clergy colleagues this question: “Was Jesus an introvert, or an extrovert?”

Let me be clear that extroversion and introversion are neither sinful nor blessed – they both are personality traits that cannot be changed any more than tiger stripes. That’s important to state upfront because some clergy make it about personal choices instead of inherent brain wiring.

So, setting aside the anti-reality kooky answers to my question, I’ve found that extroverted pastors, almost without fail, tell me Jesus was an extrovert. And they make a solid case for it. 

Conversely, with solid consistency, introverted pastors tell me Jesus was an introvert. And they give compelling reasons for it, as well. 

I believe the answer to my own question is that both are correct. Jesus, as the perfect human, displays the best of both extroversion and introversion. And Christ’s personality comes through wonderfully in today’s Gospel lesson.

This short story of healing begins with Jesus fully engaged in walking the city, a man of the people, interacting with the crowd, attentive to even the most marginal of them. Christ’s extroverted nature is on full display. Jesus, as the superb Son of God, is willing and ready; he fully heals the man from his leprosy. 

Jesus healing the leper, 12th century mosaic, Monreale Cathedral, Sicily, Italy

As the news of this people-centered Healer spread, more and more people flock to Jesus. An extroverted person would bask in the situation of having more people to connect with. 

However, the story ends with the note that, instead of engaging the mass of people and gaining energy from the crowd, Jesus would withdraw to quiet and deserted places in order to pray. I can think of no better description of an introvert that could be said.

Jesus lived on this earth in a way that modeled and demonstrated how humanity was truly meant to live. 

Christ had consistent rhythms of both human and divine engagement. He spent time with people – lots of them. The Lord talked and taught, healed and moved, from one person to next with all the seeming random activity of the extrovert. 

Yet, the Lord Jesus also consistently withdrew from all the people to be in solitude. He spent healthy amounts of extended time alone with his heavenly Father, deeply connected with him. 

We, too, need good healthy rhythms of being with others in effective and prolonged interaction, as well as extended time alone with God in silence and solitude.

Extroverts must understand that nowhere in Holy Scripture will you find that we have been called by God to be talkers. But instead, you will find a lot of biblical references on being called to servanthood. The Lord does not accept us because of our many words; God approves of us because of divine grace and the state of our hearts. 

My children, we should love people not only with words and talk, but by our actions and true caring. (1 John 3:18, NCV)

Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut. (Proverbs 10:19, NLT)

And introverts need to appreciate that the spoken word, not just the written word, is important and powerful. The world was created through divine speech. Jesus healed with words that people heard. And conversations with others are the effective means of restoring this fallen planet to Paradise.

By speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ. (Ephesians 4:15, CEB)

Encourage each other every day while you have the opportunity. If you do this, none of you will be deceived by sin and become stubborn. (Hebrews 3:13, GW)

Perhaps we might encounter more of the miraculous in our lives if we emulated the healthy rhythms of Jesus. The Spirit works in us and through us so that the words and ways of Jesus on this earth may impact a mass of humanity that desperately needs Christ’s healing from a heart that is deeply connected to God.

Loving Lord Jesus, I am in awe of your capacity to engage all kinds of people, as well as your close relationship to the heavenly Father. Let me be like you in the ability to move freely and effectively between human interaction and divine prayer so that the church is edified, and the world is blessed. Amen.

Luke 13:10-17 – Healing on the Sabbath

Jesus Healing the Bent-Over Woman by Glenda Skinner-Noble

On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing. (New International Version)

The way in which we interpret events says a lot about who we are and what we need. The story sounds different, depending upon which person(s) are viewing it….

The Crippled Woman

She had gotten used to looking at people out of the corner of her eye, by looking up and sideways.

After eighteen years, she could hardly remember any other way of seeing the world. On this particular Sabbath, there was a special excitement at the synagogue, where she regularly went to worship. A Galilean preacher and prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, had arrived in town and would be teaching there.

She and the others in town had heard reports about Jesus–how he talked about God’s reign arriving soon and how he healed sick people. She was not sure how many of the rumors to believe, but she was trying not to get her hopes up. Her life already had too many disappointments to count.

When she entered the synagogue, the place was abuzz. As Jesus began to teach, however, the room was hushed. Moments later, his words turned from teaching to invitation. He had caught her eye–no mean feat, given that he had to lean over and incline his head to do so. “Come here,” he said to her. She slowly made her way to the front of the assembly.

Jesus and the Bent-Over Woman by Marg Mowczko

What happened next amazed the whole congregation. “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When this man, Jesus, spoke those words and put his hands on her broken, bent body, she felt power surge through her. Without hesitation, she straightened her once crooked back. She stood tall and praised her God . . .

The Synagogue Leader

He has come to the synagogue every Saturday. Each Sabbath day the synagogue leader stands and faithfully reads the Torah. On this particular Sabbath, a Galilean preacher is coming. Some say his is a prophet, even Messiah. The leader has seen his share of would-be messiahs come and go, claiming to speak for God. He doubts anything will come of this. Just another man.

But what is this? A synagogue full of people! And just as the leader thought this may just be good for the people, getting them to pay attention to the law and the prophets, this preacher calls a woman forward, and of all things, heals her!? This is not good. This is not how things are to be done!

In the Torah, the seventh day was set aside by God for Israel’s rest. Work is prohibited. Non-life-threatening illnesses and conditions can be treated on the other six days. The synagogue leader is not opposed to healing. In fact, he welcomes it. But at an appropriate time, on the right day. He says to himself, “This all must be done decently and in order. Who does Jesus think he is? We cannot have such insubordination amongst the people, and in the synagogue, of all places!”

And so, the synagogue leader is beside himself with both anger and fear that the Law will not be properly upheld, and that God will be displeased and take away their place of worship.

Coptic Church depiction of Jesus healing the crippled woman, 12th century

Jesus

Jesus comes, looking forward to being with the people in the synagogue on the Sabbath. He understands that since the Sabbath law commemorates and celebrates Israel’s liberation, it ought to be a day for enacting — not inhibiting — the present-day liberation of Israelites. Yes, it is a good day for a healing. Every day is a good day for healing.

As Jesus enters the synagogue, it is full of people, charged with the atmosphere of anticipation. During the service, Jesus sees a woman. Although he rightly discerns that the synagogue leader and some of the congregants will not be happy about this, he calls her forward, intent on freeing her from her satanic bondage. And also knowing that placing his hands upon this woman will appear scandalous, he does it anyway.

Sure enough, the synagogue leader is livid. The leader feels the need to correct Jesus. Yet, Jesus unmoved by this, calmly retorts, without budging an inch, that given the custom of providing water for thirsty livestock on the Sabbath, it is surely appropriate to heal a long-suffering Israelite on the Sabbath.

In none of this does Jesus abolish the Sabbath commandment. Rather he follows it faithfully. Jesus enters an ongoing Jewish debate about how to interpret the Sabbath law, locating himself at the less stringent end of the opinion spectrum.

Jesus is determined to uphold the spirit of the Law, to practice compassion, to do what leads to human betterment. He is doing God’s will. He is allowing the Sabbath to serve this old woman, rather than letting the woman serve the Sabbath as a bent over crippled person.

The People

They come, as they do each Sabbath, to gather and listen to Torah read, to pray to God, and to strengthen one another in their common faith. Yes, the synagogue leader can be a bit tedious. The synagogue service can be a bit boring. But he is a good man doing good work.

Today, however, is different. Jesus, the one they have heard so much about, is there. And what a synagogue service it is! Jesus teaches us, and with authority! But, to our astonishment, he calls one of our women forward. And he touches her! Then heals her! This is the woman who has been tortured with such crippling pain and bent over all the time!

Oh, my, the synagogue leader is upset! We are so full of joy for our healed sister, yet also confused. This is a good thing that Jesus did – God’s kingdom breaking into this world. Yet, here is the synagogue leader and Jesus debating Torah. Does freedom from Satan only come on six days, not seven? Surely, God is especially honored on such a holy day as the Sabbath to do such important work. But work, it is. And Jesus did it. Is this really a good thing, or not?

Syrian Church depiction of Jesus and the crippled woman, 6th century

Conclusion

This is a story about the role and function of our religious traditions, our claims about what could and should be practiced, when and where it ought to take place, and who is allowed within the walls of our faith communities. Special religious practices may become hindrances to including folks. We must be diligent to recognize what theological ideas we hold dear that disallow full participation from others.

Jesus was no Sabbath breaker. He operated well within Jewish tradition of the day. At the same time Christ is also not one to allow the tradition to exclude people from access to the community and the potential for their healing. Even though the synagogue leader and some others disagreed, many in the crowd agreed.

Today’s story is about the community and addresses questions such as, “What kind of community do we want to be?” “Do our religious traditions help us to become that kind of community or do they hinder it?” “If we want to be a healing community, how can we make that happen?”

O God the Father, whose will for us and for all your people is health and salvation, O God the Son, who came that we might have life and have it in abundance, O God the Holy Spirit, whose indwelling makes our bodies the temples of your presence, have mercy on us.

O Triune God, we pray you to hear us, and that you will grant your grace to all who stand in need of healing of both of body and spirit, and lead them to look with confidence in you;

That you will grant patience and perseverance to all who are disabled by injury or illness, and increase their courage;

That you will grant peace to all who are troubled by confusion or pain, and set their minds at rest;

That you will grant relief from suffering to all sick children, and give them a sure sense of your tender love and care;

That you will grant rest to all whose increasing years bring weariness, distress, or loneliness, and give them the abiding comfort of your presence;

That you will grant confidence to all about to undergo surgery or difficult procedures, and keep them free from fear;

That you will grant purpose to the church as it seeks to carry on Christ’s ministry of healing to suffering humanity, and keep it always true to the gospel of Christ;

That you will grant skill and compassion to doctors, nurses, technicians, aides, and all who are called to  practice medical arts, and make strong their dedication to help others;

That you will grant to all people the peace of quiet sleep and the joy of resting in your everlasting arms, that we may rejoice in your care while we are on earth, and in the world to come, have eternal life.

O God, who in Jesus Christ called us out of darkness into your marvelous light; enable us always to declare your wonderful deeds, thank you for your steadfast love, and praise your with heart, soul, mind, and strength, now and forever. Amen.