Last Sunday after Trinity
Readings: Jeremiah 31. 7-9; Psalm 126; Hebrews 7. 23-28; Mark 10. 46-52 (view all)
One of the wonders of modern technology is ‘call screening’ — you can now see who is phoning you before you take their call. I wonder whether, for whatever reason, you ever see who’s calling and decide to ignore it. Perhaps because you know it’s a marketing call, or because you’re busy, or don’t have time for that person. I know I’ve done it at least once this week.
In today’s gospel reading, even though the crowd try to discourage him, Bartimaeus, the blind man, calls and calls for Jesus, until Jesus hears him and responds with compassion and mercy. How might this life-changing encounter impact the way in which see our own faith, and help us to follow Jesus today?
In Mark’s gospel, between two encounters about glory, with last week’s request from James & John to be glorified immediately before, and the triumphal entry into Jerusalem immediately after, we find this staggering encounter with God’s compassion and mercy.
In illustrations of God’s kingdom these two — glory and mercy — are always found together, just as Jeremiah describes in his vision of the kingdom from our OT reading:
Gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labour, together… With weeping they will come, and with consolations I will lead them back.
However, many in the crowd are unhappy with the blind man Bartimaeus calling Jesus, and try to discourage him and silence him. Perhaps it’s because they had already seen so many beggars bothering Jesus, or perhaps because they simply didn’t think Bartimaeus was important enough to take up Jesus’ time.
If we’re honest with ourselves, the same can be true of us today sometimes. We can so easily marginalise and silence people who embarrass us, or who just aren’t ‘our kind of person’, or who require extra assistance and therefore make social situations complicated.
Thankfully, though, in our reading Bartimaeus is determined and will not be put off. He shouts and shouts and shouts until Jesus hears him. And Jesus’ response is to show compassion, empathy and mercy.
Bartimaeus is ushered forward, and Jesus asks him a really interesting question:
What do you want me to do for you?
You would have thought it would be obvious — a blind man calling for Jesus, surely he wants to be healed? But in asking, Jesus affords Bartimaeus two important things, which he may well have been used to being denied by others throughout his life. Jesus affords Bartimaeus dignity and agency.
He treats him as a human being, worthy of respect, but also gives Bartimaeus the opportunity to ask for what he wants. Sometimes when we are presented with people in need, or even those with a disability, we are in danger of denying them respect — speaking down to them, or ignoring them to speak to their carers — or of denying them agency over their own selves by assuming or forcing on them the help we think they need without asking first.
But Bartimaeus does want his sight restored, and Jesus announces that he is healed because of the faith he has shown — and a life is changed, transformed entirely by a single, simple encounter with Jesus. Just as the writer to the Hebrews describes him, Jesus acts as the Great High Priest who saves all ‘those who approach God though him’, who ‘always lives to make intercession for them’, drawing all people into his kingdom of compassion and mercy, through the giving of himself.
It is sometimes so easy for us, in the grind of life and faith, to lose sight of the way in which God can and does changes people’s lives — to talk about our faith as if it’s ‘alright’ news or ’not bad’ news, rather than good news or even great news!
Mark closes this whole encounter by telling us that, ‘Immediately he regained his sight and followed [Jesus] on the way.’ —the ultimate result is of this life-changing encounter with the compassion and mercy of God, is that Bartimaeus chooses to follow.
So, for us today: In church life and community life, will we welcome the voices of those who are have disabilities, those who are marginalised in our society, those who just aren’t like us? Will we choose to offer dignity and agency to others in the way in which we interact with them?
How can we be excited about our faith as a Church, expectant that God can and will change lives, presenting a faith which is alive, engaging and attractive to others?
In his recent book, Being Human, Rowan Williams writes this:
Jesus has gone before us into the darkest places of human reality. He has picked up the sounds that he hears… Jesus picks up the cry of the hungry and the forgotten. He hears the human beings that nobody else hears. And he calls to us to say, “You listen too.”
May we follow the call of Jesus, hearing the voice of those in need and those who are marginalised, affording them dignity and respect. And may we do all this, trusting in Jesus to transform lives and inviting him to plant the joy of his good news deep in our hearts.
who caused all holy scriptures
to be written for our learning:
help us so to hear them,
to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them
that, through patience and the comfort of your holy word,
we may embrace and for ever hold fast
the hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.