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The Eye Test

 

Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Ps. 34:1-8, (19-22)
Mark 10:46-52

 

10:46 “They 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. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then 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.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.” (Mark 10:46-52, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: Loving God, creator of heaven and earth in whom all things are possible, have mercy on us and heal us.  We pray that you would sustain us by the power of your word so that we may draw near to you and follow in your way as faithful disciples. Amen.

 

Today’s gospel reading takes place in Jericho, which is described as the oldest city in the world.  The location is important to the story.   In the first century the ancient city of Jericho was destroyed.  This new city of Jericho, built by Herod the Great, was built three miles from the ancient site.  Everyone, in Jesus day, would have known this history.  So, the location of this story is no small matter.  Jericho was one of the lushest cities of the biblical world because of its magnificent water supply.[1]  Jericho was literally an oasis in the desolate wasteland between Jerusalem and the Jordan River.  It is about 15 miles east of Jerusalem, just on the other side of the hills between Jerusalem and the Jordan River.  It was an important commercial center and trading post on the principal road that connected Jerusalem with the Jordan Valley and points east.  But its religious significance was even more important.  Jericho was the point at which the Israelites had entered the Promised Land.  Jericho symbolized God’s fulfillment of the divine promise to Israel that they would enter and possess a land flowing with milk and honey.  So, Jesus’ decision to travel through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem was full of significance.  When Jesus entered this reborn city it was significant because rebirth or a new start is an important undertone of this miracle story.[2]

 

This is the backdrop as Jesus and his disciples come to Jericho. When, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, who was sitting by the roadside began to shout out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

 

Let’s imagine Bartimaeus’ world for a moment.   First of all, imagine what it means to be blind.  Just close your eyes for a minute and think.  Now, keeping your eyes closed, what if I were to ask you to get up and walk around?  Some of you would be able to, because you know the church well.   But, if I were to ask you to get up and walk home, it would be much more difficult.

 

Now, imagine how difficult it would be in Jesus’ day: poor roads, no straight streets, lots of rocks, not to mention thieves and bandits along the way.  Now how much more difficult it was for Bartimaeus because he had once had sight but had lost it.  He had had something precious and had lost it.  I imagine that Bartimaeus had had to struggle with bitterness because of his enormous loss.

 

In Jesus’ day, the blind, were people that society had no use for.  So, it is redundant to refer to Bartimaeus as a “blind beggar.”  He was blind, so of course, he was a beggar.  He had no alternative.  There was no welfare, no social system of support for those who can’t fend for themselves.  The blind were among the most destitute of all people, since they had no way of earning an income.  Unless you had a family to take care of you, the only thing that was possible for a blind person to do to survive was to beg.  So, in this culture it was thought that society would be better off without the blind, as well without lepers, or orphans, or widows, or anyone else who was an economic drain.   They had no value. So Bartimaeus had no choice but to sit beside the road and beg for spare change and or help.

And then along comes Jesus.

 

 

Rather than passively accept his fate, Bartimaeus refuses to be ignored.  He shouts.  He makes a scene.  He shouts Jesus’ name.  The crowd tries to quite him. But Mark tells us that Bartimaeus “cried out even more loudly” and shouted Jesus’ name again.

 

He catches Jesus attention. Jesus calls to him to come over.  Bartimaeus, stands throws off his cloak and goes to Jesus.  Bartimaeus would not have had many possessions, perhaps he had a begging bowl and a staff, but I doubt he would have much else.  That is all a beggar might have had to his name and Bartimaeus throws it off to go to Jesus. Hold this image in tension with another story from the tenth chapter of Mark’s gospel.  This too is one person’s encounter with Jesus.  Remember the story of the rich man who came to Jesus.  When Jesus told him to sell all that he had and give the money to the poor.  The rich man “went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”  What a contrast with Bartimaeus who, with joyful abandon throws away his cloak, perhaps his most expensive possession!

 

So, who can blame Bartimaeus for leaving everything and going to Jesus?

 

He is free.  He can see.  He is overjoyed.  He responds with gratitude for what Jesus has done for him.

 

This what this story means to us today.  What is our response to all that God has done for us?  Now, we may not be cured of blindness or any other aliment but we are set free.  Friends, it is Good News!  It is the good news of what God has done in Christ for us and all the world.  We are free![3]

 

No matter what we may have done, no matter what may have been done to us.  None of these things define us.  We are free and the future is bright.   Now, I know that it is really, really hard to believe, in light of what is going on in our lives and in the world around us.  Yes, what is happening in our world such as war, the refugee crisis, hunger, homelessness, violence and drugs in our city, not to mention what affects us even more personally?  All of that seems so huge, so important, so all-encompassing, but ultimately it’s not.  Not to say that these things don’t matter.  They do.  Illness, disappointment, hurt, grief, and loss.  They matter and they affect us deeply.   But they do not define us.  Nothing we have done or has been done to us describes who we are completely.  Only one thing can do that: God, the creator, redeemer and sustainer of all, can do that.  And God has chosen to call us beloved children, holy and precious in God’s sight.  That’s what defines us.

 

And so we are free. Free to risk and serve and help and care and try and struggle and laugh and live.  We are free, to love, just as God loves us. We are free, free to give with the same sense of gratitude that Bartimaeus shows as he throws of his cloak and followed Jesus on the way.  So, friends let us respond to all of God’s blessings by giving back to God through the church with joy filled and grateful hearts.

 

Let us pray:

[1] The Reverend Cannon John L. Peterson, Washington National Cathedral, Sermon for Pentecost XXI, October 26, 2006.

[2] Source unknown. “Seeing Jesus Again for the Very First Time,” Text: Mark 10:46-52

[3] Reverend Dr. David Lose, Mark 10:46-52 Reformation Sunday/Pentecost 22 B: Freedom! http://www.davidlose.net/2015/10/reformationpen-22-freedom

 

The Importance of Questions

Psalm 17:1-8,
Job 19:23-27,
Luke 20:27-38

Reverend Stephen Caine

 

20: 27Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 28 and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30 then the second 31and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32 Finally the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” 34 Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35 but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36 Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” (Luke 20:27-38, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: God of faithful surprises, throughout the ages you have made known your love and power in unexpected ways and places. May we daily perceive the joy and wonder of your abiding presence and offer our lives in gratitude. For it is in Jesus Name we pray. Amen.

 

As a father, I have fielded countless questions from my children; why is the sky blue?  Why is the ocean water salty?  Why are their fifty states?  Children ask wonderful questions.  I have been asked those types of questions and have often been frustrated when I could not answer them.  Thank goodness for Google— where I can search for anything and any question.

 

As young people we are asked – What do you want to be when you grow up?  Where do you want to go to college? What do you want to study?  Where do you want to live?

 

Google won’t help answer these questions.

 

As a Pastor, I have heard many questions from parishioners; especially youth.  For example, Can God create a rock too heavy for God to move?  Then really tough ones – Why did God allow that to happen?  How can I survive this grief?  Will God see me through this chemotherapy?

 

Ah the questions…

 

You have questions about me, who is this guy?  What does he believe?  Will he be there for me when I need him?  Will he like me?  Will I like him?  Can he play golf?  Will he be a good fit for our church?

 

I also have questions for you?  How does this whole Episcopal Presbyterian marriage work?  Will you love my family and help them get assimilated?  Will you laugh at my humor?  Will you have grits and sweet tea when we share a meal?

 

Ah the questions…

 

The Sadducees had questions for Jesus.

 

Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem and ultimately the cross, when the Sadducees asked him a number of questions.  The Sadducees weren’t really looking for answers.  They are looking for a fight.  Their questions were a game of “Gotcha.” They asked Jesus about a hypothetical widow of a man with seven brothers.  When he dies she marries a brother.  When he dies she marries another brother and on and on.  The clincher of their game was whose wife will she be in the heaven?

 

The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection because it is not talked about in the Pentateuch, (the first five books of the bible, the “Books of Moses”).  The Sadducees question also play on the levirate marriage law from Deuteronomy 25.  That law sought to insure the preservation of the man’s family name by stipulating that a childless widow must marry her brother-in-law.

 

So, their hypothetical question is meant to take an ancient practice to the extreme in order to show the whole idea of resurrection was foolish. Their purpose was to embarrass Jesus and to trap him by saying something heretical.

 

Jesus reflects for a moment before he answers.  Then he says to the Sadducees, God is God of the living, not the dead.  Jesus is basically saying “Our concern should be with the living.”

 

Questions are important; I believe they can be more important than the answers.  It is interesting to me that as a pastor I am supposed to have the answer(s) but I find that what I really do is help people ask questions.  There is a funny story about a child in a children’s sermon.  The pastor is describing a small furry animal that climbs trees and stores nuts.  The child says, “it sounds like you are describing a squirrel but I know that the answer has to be Jesus!”  In questions of faith we often think that the answer is Jesus even it doesn’t fit our questions. The questions of our lives.  Can I trust God?  Can God heal my illness?  Can God fix my broken relationship?  Can God bring peace to the earth?

 

The questions we ask tell a great deal about us. Jesus knew the Sadducees weren’t really looking for an answer.

 

It’s clear in the gospels that Jesus wants us to love God and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  It is clear that Jesus believes that the Sadducees, the overseers of the Law spend too much time on the minutia of the Law instead of the two basic commandments: Love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Who cares who will be married to whom in heaven — it is about living — loving God and loving neighbor.

 

Jesus seems to like questions because he responded to questions throughout the Bible.  Jesus stops and he listens.

  • Remember Jairus when he fell at Jesus feet and asked Can you heal my daughter child?

 

  • Remember the Leper who asked Jesus, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.”

 

  • I have a demon that torments me and I can find no rest. Can you help me?

 

  • No one will come near me–because they say I am unclean. Do you love someone like me?

 

When people ask these questions to Jesus, the answer he gives is not a slogan or a sound bite.  The answer he gives is himself, he gives his life.

 

When the Sadducees or the Pharisees ask Jesus their trick questions, they usually get parables: stories that will puzzle their minds and invite them to look at the world in a new way. But when women and men bring Jesus their deepest yearnings, he doesn’t talk to them; he engages them. When genuine people come to him with genuine questions, he often doesn’t say anything, but he touches, he encounters, he relates.  He invites people to journey with him on the Way.

 

The root of the word “question” means “to seek.” It’s where we get the word “quest.”  To ask a real question is to enter on a journey; it’s to begin traveling on The Way.  Jesus seems exasperated with the Sadducees because they just want to play games. They aren’t right or wrong; they are just wasting their life.

 

Ultimately Jesus doesn’t answer their questions: because there is no answer. Resurrection is not something we can define in human terms or apply human laws too.

 

But what Jesus does is…

 

What Jesus does is invite us on a journey with him, to see what life with him is like, to see how resurrection hope changes how they live.  Jesus invites us on that same journey with him.  I imagine that we will still have many questions.  And that is a good thing because it means we are alive.  It means we are invested in this journey of faith.

 

I am so excited and look forward to the next step in the journey in my life and faith.  It is a journey with you and the Indian Hill Church.  I look forward to listening to your questions and asking many of my own.  I look forward to discerning / seeing how God leads. So may we keep seeking, keep searching, continue on this quest together to live into who God created us to be as a community of faith.

 

Let us pray: Ever giving and ever generous God pour out your Holy Spirit upon us so that we might follow you. In the Name of Jesus, your Son and our Savior we pray. Amen.