23 Pentecost—Proper 25-B/October 28, 2018
Jeremiah 31:7-9, Psalm 126, Hebrews 7:23-28, Mark 10:46-52
Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, cries: “Jesus, Son of David, (which means Messiah) have mercy on me!” Many sternly order him to be quiet. Have you noticed, in yourself and others, the strong don’t like it very much when the weak make a scene? Protestors for justice around the world are told every day to shut-up: “you gay folks, be quiet”, “you transgender folks stay home”; “you immigrants, zip it, don’t think you can ever be one of us!”
Martin Luther King, Jr wrote in his 1963 “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”: “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed…. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!…This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never….We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights.”
I was certainly raised not to make a scene in public! Keep your nose clean and your voice down! But when is the time to cry out, if not now? In Boundless Compassion Joyce Rupp, quotes the Reverend Jim Wallis who said, “The richest 8 people in the world own more wealth between them than the poorest 50% of humanity-[which is] 3.6 billion people.” Page 103
The prophets of Israel cry out for justice: “how long, O Lord, how long?”, yet yesterday more Jews were slaughtered at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg. “How long, O Lord, how long?”
But the Powers that Be say, “Be quiet, trust us, wait till the next session of Congress.”
I know Christians, and have been one myself, who wouldn’t think of crying out to Jesus for help, or to anyone else for that matter. Like the ten year old who had never spoken a word. Finally, one day at breakfast he says, “This toast is burnt up bad.” His family is shocked and says, “why have you never spoken in ten years. He replies: “Everything been good up till now.”
To ask for help is to admit you have a problem you can’t handle yourself. Better to stay in pain than reveal this weakness.
But Bartimaeus shows us a better way: He takes the risk of faith and cries out in front of God and everyone, “Jesus, help me!” Faith is a combination of risk and trust.When we decide we’ve suffered long enough, we take the risk of faith and acknowledge to ourselves and others that we are not whole and that we need help becoming whole.
But what if you’re not 100% sure Jesus is actually there for you. Maybe he stayed dead. Or maybe you think your situation is hopeless. It doesn’t matter—it’s always okay to call out into the void and see who answers.
In spite of how embarrassing it is to the ego, we fall on our knees next to the bed or in the privacy of the heart and say, “Jesus, help me!”
Reminds me of that great soul classic by the Temptations: “Ain’t too proud to beg, sweet darling”. “Ain’t too proud to beg.”
But there’s more to this story, much more. When I was 10 my mother took me to the circus at the Atlanta Memorial Auditorium. I remember a man being shot out of a giant cannon, flying through the air, and landing in a net. This is a metaphor for how many think of their lives: We’re shot out into this world and sooner or later the energy we get from the cannon fades and we start to fall. We may have some control over our flight path, but not too much.
Someone may say, “Not me, I’m self-made!”
No—you were knit together in your mother’s womb, like everyone else, and if your mother had lost the cosmic lottery and was one of the 15 million people living at garbage dumps around the world, then today you would in all likelihood still be poor and despised, with a life-expectancy of 35 years.
Some do change their trajectory, but everyone’s ride finally slows down and we fall into the net we call the grave.
This is not a happy or energizing way to look at one’s life. But in the gospel today we’re given another image to consider: There is a miracle here: over the noise of the crowd Jesus hears this man’s cry and invites him into a relationship that can radically transform his life.
So far Bartimaeus’ past determines his present, but now Jesus comes to him from the future, just like Marty McFly, who came in Doc Brown’s DeLorean from the future back to 1955, and radically changes his parents’ lives, in the movie classic, “Back to the Future.”
Jesus comes to us from the future into our present, so he can lead us into a life we otherwise couldn’t imagine.
Jesus’ call floods Bartimaeus with energy as he sprints away from his cloak, which he used to collect the money thrown by strangers. Good luck for a blind man every finding that again. But unlike the rich man who refuses to let go of his money and follow Jesus, Bartimaeus leaves it all behind, because a new future is calling to him.
Jesus asks: “What do you want from me?” Bartimaeus goes big: “Rabbi, Let me see again!” and he receives enough sight to see that he is being offered a better future, a future living in a nurturing community that practices forgiveness and justice and that transcends the religious, ethnic, sexual, racial, and economic barriers that would have kept him begging forever.
Bartimaeus is called out of self into community; out of death into life. He is called Back to the Future—that God has for him!
The last time I would go to Memorial Auditorium would be 8 years later to see Jimi Hendrix in concert. When he came out on stage with his guitar screaming, we all rushed forward to be closer to this wild man who lived like he had been shot out of a cannon! He would be dead a year later at the age of 28.
I used to equate long life with success and early death with failure, but I know better now. After all, Jesus dies at 33. He could have lived into old age if he’d stayed in Galilee, just as Hendrix might still be playing concerts for geezers like me, if he had stayed away from barbiturates.
But it’s not about how many years we have in our life, but how much life we have in our years.Jesus is not interested in making us old, but rather he is interested in making us whole. Jesus is not interested in making us rich in getting, but rich in giving—something to remember when filling out our pledge cards. We don’t give to the church to get something—a nice experience, good music—but we give to make an offering of ourselves to Christ.
Jesus also is not interested in making us well-adjusted to the dysfunctions of this present age, but as southern writer Flannery O’Connor reminds us, “You shall know the truth, and it will make you odd.”
Our journey begins with Jesus walking down the streets of our lives. Look and Listen for him. Call his name, because he’s always there, ready to take us back to the future, the future we have in Christ with all those who know their need of God.