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.

Luke 6:1-5 – Lord of the Sabbath

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. Some of the Pharisees asked, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

Jesus answered them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (New International Version)

We Christians tend to be rather hard on the Pharisees. Yet, most of them, much like us, were just trying to uphold their understanding of God’s commands. They wanted to do God’s will. And so did Jesus.

The problem in the New Testament Gospels is that Jesus and some of the Pharisees (not all of them, e.g., Nicodemus) were at loggerheads about how to view and interpret the Law. Jesus wanted them to see the purpose of the law, the heart and spirit of the law, and who was the lord of the law. For Jesus, many of the Pharisees were spiritually blind. They either would not or could not discern who Jesus was and what he was all about.

So, when we refer to spiritual blindness, let’s have a bit of humility about it. Although for the Apostle Paul, a dramatic event happened in which the scales of blindness (both physically and spiritually) fell from his eyes, most folks have a gradual ability to see, an awakening which requires a process of time and growing awareness. This was true of Christ’s original disciples. They believed, yet their faith was an extended process over three years. It wasn’t until after Christ’s resurrection and Pentecost that their faith became complete.

Christ and the Pharisees by Belgian artist Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641)

Jesus didn’t like it that those who should know better, those persons for whom the light of God’s truth ought to be clear and present, were in darkness. When leaders are blind, then we have the blind leading the blind, and nobody finds the door of God’s kingdom.

Many of the Pharisees in the New Testament, most of the heretics in the early church, and some of the spiritual phonies of today are actually not charlatans, that is, they are not deliberately trying to deceive or lead others astray; they are not trying to keep people out of God’s kingdom – they think they are doing the right thing when they are actually leading others astray. 

One of the eye-opening realities I discovered, when I first began studying church history, is that the early heresies condemned at the church councils were doctrines promoted and put forth by men who were not evil bad people – they were just sincerely misguided. They thought they were helping the church better understand the nature of God and Christ, when in fact they were promoting unhealthy doctrine – unintentionally closing the door of God’s kingdom to some people. 

And later when I worked on my master’s thesis in nineteenth century American religious history, I read hundreds of sermons from southern preachers before the American Civil War. I learned that they had a biblical defense for the institution of black chattel slavery. Many of them were pastors of large churches and led many people to Christ, that is, white people. They were slamming the door of God’s kingdom in the faces of African-Americans, and teaching others to do the same.

We can unwittingly slam the door of God’s kingdom in the faces of people when we say God’s grace is for all and then turn around and avoid particular people; or whenever we have explicit written statements or rules that exclude people from serving or being served; or when we bind people to human traditions and practices instead of Holy Scripture. 

The seven deadly words of the Church, believing it is doing the Lord’s will, is, “We’ve-never-done-it-that-way-before… We cannot have somebody out in the field picking heads of grain and rubbing them in their hands. That’s reaping; it’s work; and you can’t do that on the Sabbath.”

Never mind that there are people trying to eat or attempting to enter the kingdom of God. So, we lose sight that the Law was meant to benefit people, to help them thrive and flourish, to lead them into the grace and knowledge of God. The Law gets turned on its head by becoming a heavy burden to carry instead of an easy yolk which brings freedom.

No matter the issue, the last word to everything is grace, God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  

Just as the priest in David’s day was gracious in giving him and his men the consecrated bread meant only for the priests, so Jesus was gracious in giving himself, the Bread of Life, for the benefit of the whole world.

For the Christian, the Law points to Christ, who is the Law’s fulfillment. Now, we carry one another’s burdens, and in doing so, we fulfill the Law of Christ.

O God the Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the faithful: Make us holy through your abiding divine presence. Enlighten the minds of your people more and more with the light of the everlasting Gospel. Bring erring souls to the knowledge of our Savior Jesus Christ; and those who are walking in the way of life, keep them steadfast in faith to the end.

Give patience to the sick and afflicted and renew them in body and soul. Guard those who are strong and prosperous from forgetting you. Increase in us your many gifts of grace and make us all fruitful in good works. This we ask, O blessed Spirit, whom with the Father and the Son we worship and glorify, one God, world without end. Amen.

Matthew 20:29-34 – The Irony of the Gospel

As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

“Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.”

Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him. (New International Version)

“Irony” is a term used to describe when an outcome of an event is contrary or different from what is expected.  Here are a few examples: The firehouse burnt down. The police officer got arrested. When I was a little kid, my family doctor’s name was (and I’m not kidding) Dr. Fail. And he smoked like a chimney in his doctor office.

There is an ironic lesson in today’s Gospel lesson: A crowd of people with 20/20 vision are spiritually blind. 

The great need of the crowd is the same need of the two physically blind men: They both needed their eyes opened to Jesus and to what God was doing around them.

Just so you know, Matthew tends not to use the term “crowd” in a favorable way. He views the crowd as a mass of people who are mostly lost, but the crowd themselves tend to think they are just fine. 

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, anticipating his passion and death. And we know that it is the crowd that will be the ones who eventually cry to have him crucified. 

Two blind men are marvelously and miraculously healed by Jesus. Ironically, the crowd remained unchanged and in the dark.

First Irony: A large crowd follows Jesus to Jerusalem, but only a few (2, in fact) are actually his followers. 

Throughout Christ’s earthly ministry, all kinds of people followed Jesus for all kinds of reasons. Some wanted to bask in the latest celebrity buzz that Jesus generated. Others wanted to see all the cool stuff he does, like healing people. Some were just plain curious. And a few were interested in being like Jesus by showing selfless compassion. 

Jesus wants genuine, authentic, real disciples who will follow his teaching, and not follow the crowd.

Many people desire to conform, to not stand out, and go with the flow. That’s great if the crowd is godly. Yet many, if not most, crowds of people are not godly. In the Old Testament, a few unruly complainers got the Israelites all stirred up and the result was the making of a golden calf with a complete turning away from the God of Israel. (Exodus 32:1-35)

Second Irony: Out of the massive crowd, it is two blind men that actually see Jesus for who he is, the Son of David.

Spiritual blindness afflicted the crowd. The blind men, however, discern it is Messiah Jesus coming near them. That’s why they go against the crowd by shouting out to him. They don’t care how they look. It doesn’t matter to them that they stick out like a sore thumb. 

Jesus often avoided big crowds. Most of his earthly life occurred away from the centers of power and influence.  Christ constantly swam upstream of the prevailing notions of righteousness. Jesus didn’t cow-tow to the crowd, but paid attention to the powerless and those without influence. 

The Lord Jesus didn’t “work the crowd” as the means of establishing God’s kingdom. He didn’t cozy-up to the rich and powerful. He wanted to avoid celebrity status. Jesus showed extraordinary love to two lowly overlooked people. He used his immense power for the powerless.

Third Irony 3: The ones following Jesus were the ones trying to keep the two needy blind men from Jesus.

One of the most ironic things about church is that sometimes Christ’s own followers are the greatest obstacle to others following Jesus. 

I can just picture a group of ladies shushing the two blind men: “Don’t bother Jesus, he is such a busy man. He has important work to do.” And I can imagine some men standing next to the two blind men and nudging them for shouting at Jesus saying, “Just stop, man, you’re embarrassing yourselves.” 

But the two men won’t stop. They shout all the louder. True and genuine faith is two blind men crying out in desperation for Jesus to help them. 

And Jesus asks a beautiful question: “What do you want me to do for you?” They answered, “We want our sight.” So, Jesus showed compassion and gave them their sight. It’s all rather simple and straightforward. Not only do the two men not listen to the crowd – Jesus doesn’t either. Christ mercifully heals despite what the crowd is saying.

I wonder: Why is it so hard for us to simply ask for what we want?… 

Maybe because we don’t want to buck the crowd, don’t want to look different, or don’t want to admit our need in front of others, we just stick to superficial conversations and insist everything is okey-dokey when it isn’t. 

A crowd of people may not be able to see others because they don’t even see themselves and their place in this world. Perhaps there is a plank in our own eye hindering us from seeing a speck in another’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

It is the pure in heart who will see God (Matthew 5:8). As for the crowd, though seeing, they do not see (Matthew 13:13). If we are concerned about how we will be seen by others, it is likely we will not be seen by God. And we will miss Jesus when he walks by, right in front of us.

Jesus was attentive to the two blind men out of all the people in the crowd because he was listening for them.

Once Jesus listened, he took the time to heal the two men. Jesus could have simply healed them without even stopping. He could have started a healing factory where everyone with a need just got healed, as if they were on some divine conveyor belt to be fixed.

However, Jesus was doing more than giving sight; he was giving the blessing of time and personal response. The gospel is never impersonal, which is why we ought to resist being non-relational in ministry to others. It isn’t about simply meeting a need; it is about blessing other people. And that takes the time of relating to a person.

Jesus, furthermore, touched the men’s eyes. He didn’t have to do that. Christ could have healed without touching. In fact, it may have been gross. Many people had eye diseases with runny pussy eyes in the ancient world. 

Listening, taking time to be personal, and physically touching is how Jesus blessed people. So, we have the dual privilege and opportunity of receiving blessing from Jesus and giving that same blessing to others.

May the God of hope fill you with joy as you seek to bless others in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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.