Blind Bartimaeus - Sam Buehrer - Sylvania UCC - Oct282018
October 28, 2018
Sermon “Blind Bartimaeus” October 28, 2018
by Samuel Buehrer
46They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
35James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
41When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.
Sermon “Blind Bartimaeus” October 28, 2018
by Samuel Buehrer
In the text for today, a question is asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” It just so happens that in the prior text in Mark, the same question is asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” Only in that case it is not asked of the blind man, Bartimaeus, but it is asked of James and John, two key disciples. Jesus asked them this question because he heard them arguing along the way. As it turned out, they were arguing about who would sit in the place of honor once Jesus, who they knew to be the messiah, would be seated on the throne once he rose to his rightful place in the kingdom as they understood it.
This question that Jesus is asking is key to the understanding of the text not only for today but to understand the text immediately preceding it. Questions are key to understanding life. In his autobiography, Night, Jewish philosopher, Elie Wiesel, shared an insight about questions of faith. In his autobiography, he tells of growing up in a village in Hungary before being sent to a Nazi concentration camp. As a boy, he befriended Moshe, the poor man who cleaned his synagogue. One day Moshe saw Elie in the synagogue praying. Moshe asked him, “Why do you pray?” Moshe proceeded to tell Elie the way of questions. “Every question possesses a power that does not lie in the answer.” Moshe then said, “Humans raise themselves to God by the questions they ask.” Elie then asked, “And why do you pray, Moshe?” “I pray,” said Moshe, “that God will give me the strength to ask him (sic) the right questions.” Over the years, I have learned that the questions are far more critical to faith than any answer that I encounter. Moshe is right, every question possesses a power that does not lie in the answer.
In the text for today, there is power behind the question that Jesus raises. The power behind the question has everything to do with the strength that comes from living in the way of Jesus.
With a closer reading of the two stories, we discern that it is not only the question that binds these stories together, but the meaning of the name of Bartimaeus also binds these two texts together. The Gospel writer of Mark has chosen to use the name Bartimaeus to emphasize the gospel message that Jesus is teaching. The name Bartimaeus has two meanings from which to choose, either it means “son of honor” or it means the opposite, “son of poverty.” In this case, by placing Bartimaeus at the edge of town, the edge of town being a place of dishonor, Bartimaeus is best represented by the meaning, “son of poverty.” What is most interesting about these two stories is that it is not James and John who we might call “sons of honor” for they thought they deserved to be seated in the place of honor, that received the blessing, It is Bartimaeus, the son of suffering that receives the blessing and is essentially given a place of honor by Jesus. Bartimaeus received the very thing that James and John asked for but did not receive. Bartimaeus understood what James and John did not. That is why Jesus asked James and John, “Do you have any comprehension of what it is you are asking?” Just by asking the question it becomes clear that James and John did not have a clue about what it truly meant follow Jesus along the way that he was going.
In an effort to explain what it truly meant to follow Jesus along the way that he was going, Mark tells the story of Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus, the son of poverty, recognizes that to have life he must die to his old way of being so that he can live into the way of Jesus. It is most telling that when Jesus approached him that he threw off his cloak. By throwing off his cloak he was essentially throwing off anything that bound him to his previous life. By throwing off his cloak, he was choosing to let go of all of those things that bound him from living the life that God had intended for him. With his cloak gone, he receives sight and is invited to follow Jesus, which is to be placed in a position of honor. Bartimaeus essentially goes through a name change, no longer is he known as the son of poverty but now he is known as the son of honor. Bartimaeus understood what it meant to follow Jesus, which was entering the way of suffering for the others behalf. Only by suffering with those who are seen as the least of these can one truly enter into the place of honor.
Clarence Jordan, the founder of Koinonia Farm, an interracial commune outside Americus, Georgia, grew up in a prosperous family. He received a traditional theological education, and known for his brilliance as a writer, was in route to becoming a professor. Instead, he left seminary to establish an interracial community in segregated Georgia in the mid 1950’s. Opposition was not unexpected, but it was led by his own people, the Southern Baptist congregation that eventually excommunicated the whole Koinonia Community. The charges leveled against them read: “Said members…have persisted in holding services where both white and colored attend together.” (McClendon 1986, 96)
The excommunication was followed by vandalism, cross burning, legal pressures, beatings, bombings, a comprehensive economic boycott, and shootings by snipers who aimed at any available target on the commune. Clarence turned to his brother, attorney Robert Jordan, for legal counsel and asked him to become legal representative of the Koinonia Community.
Robert, who later served as a Georgia state senator and a justice of the Georgia State Supreme Court declined.
“Clarence, I can’t do that. You know my political aspirations. Why if I represented you, I might lose my job, my house, everything I’ve got.”
Clarence responded, “We might lose everything too, Bob.”
“It’s different for you.” His brother said.
“Why is it different? I remember, it seems to me, that you and I joined the church the same Sunday as boys. I expect when we came forward the preacher asked me about the same question he did you. He asked me, “Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?” and I said, ‘Yes.’ What did you say?”
“I follow Jesus, Clarence, up to a point,” Robert said.
“Could that point by any chance be—the cross?” Clarence said.
“That’s right. I follow him to the cross, but not on the cross. I’m not getting myself crucified,” said his brother.
Clarence responded, “Then I don’t believe you’re a disciple. You’re an admirer of Jesus, but not a disciple of his. I think you ought to go back to the church you belong to, and tell them you’re an admirer not a disciple.
His brother responded, “Well now, if everyone who felt like I do did that, we wouldn’t have a church, would we?”
“The question,” Clarence said, “Is do you have a church?”1
Like Bartimaeus, Clarence threw off his cloak. In Clarence’s case, the cloak that he threw off was that of privilege so that he could follow in the way of Jesus. Whereas Clarence’s brother, Robert, like James and John, was still clinging to that cloak that he thought would give him a place of honor in the current kingdom.
The good news for James and John, that although in this story they were stuck and unable to truly see the way of Jesus, eventually they got the message.
James came to know wat it meant to follow in the way of Jesus. In Acts, we read that when Herod wanted to strike at the church, he had James killed with the sword--the first of the faithful 11 to die. Herod would not have chosen to kill James if James was not an embodiment of what it meant to live in the way of Jesus.
John it turns out was the only one of the 11, according to tradition, that did not meet a violent death. He died a very old man in the city of Ephesus. But somewhere between that time on the road to Jerusalem when he and James sought prestige and honor, he had learned the true reason for living. He had finally got it. The historian, Jerome, keeps for us the tradition, that at the end, John could no longer walk in the church but had to be carried by others. He could only say a few words and seemed to always say, "Little children, love one another." Those around him pushed him for more, knowing his time seemed limited. But he replied, "It is the Lord's command, and if this alone be done, it is enough." John had learned the higher order that puts others above self, service above prestige, and love above honor.2 James had thrown off his cloak. May we find the courage and the strength to throw off our cloaks so that we can run to Jesus and begin living the abundant life to which he invites us.
1David Augsburger, Dissident Discipleship: A Spirituality of Self-Surrender, Love of God, and Love of Neighbor, Brazos Press, 2005, pp. 191-192.
2"Finding the Way to Joy," the Rev. Dr. Wiley Stephens, Day 1, 2003.