A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr B ~ Pentecost 23 ~ Mark 10:46-52
Faith. The final frontier. This is the journey of the church ship Faith United. Its 21 year mission, to explore God’s world, to seek out renewed life, and new interpretations. To boldly grow where deep disciples have grown before. [sing theme]
In case you’re not a fan, that was from the opening of the original Star Trek tv series.
If you are a fan you’ll appreciate today’s sermon on another level, and if not, I hope you’ll be happy to come along for the ride.
It’s a tv show about space travel, and one of the alien cultures our heroes encounter have developed a technology called cloaking.
They can make their ships invisible, and then, when you least expect it, they decloak and try to blow you up.
Of course, because you can now see them when they’re decloaked they’re vulnerable too!
Decloaking carries risk, and maybe reward.
Now, nobody gets blown up in today’s scripture reading, but someone does become decloaked, and it’s a pretty big revelation!
So with that in the back of your mind’s eye I’d like us to look at this reading from Mark 10 and see what we can see.
And if you noticed that that last sentence had several references to vision then you get a bonus point!
As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving Jericho, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus” – which means “highly prized”), was sitting by the roadside begging.”
Couple things right off the hop.
At this point Jesus is travelling with a large crowd.
It’s not just his 12 disciples.
He’s attracted an entourage.
He’s becoming known.
That matters because Bartimaeus hears that Jesus is coming.
That means the people along the road are aware of who is at the centre of this crowd coming down the road.
It’s not “Jesus who?”
It’s, “Hey! It’s that Jesus guy everybody’s talking about!”
When Bartimaeus 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 all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Bartimaeus calls out for mercy.
In their day a person with a disability or an illness probably would have been thought to have done something to deserve it.
I know, it sounds horrid to us, but if he was blind it was thought to be because he sinned greatly.
So he doesn’t ask for healing, he asks for mercy.
Then there’s this wonderful and weird detail put in.
Many rebuked or silenced him.
One translation says they said “Shut up!”
What’s not clear is whether it’s the entourage with Jesus that’s shushing him or the other bystanders along the road.
Either way, our boy Bart ignores the naysayers and yells louder.
It works! He gets Jesus’ attention.
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
(Notice that Jesus doesn’t go to him. He calls. He invites. The response is up to those called.)
So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.”
And now, here it comes.
THE most important moment in the story.
What does Bartimaeus do?
When Jesus calls him how does he respond?
Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
Here’s why I think this is so important.
For a street beggar their cloak is probably the only thing keeping them alive.
Picture a homeless person today with a blanket.
It protects them, warms them, keeps them at least a little bit safe in an unsafe and very vulnerable place.
So the throwing off of one’s cloak symbolizes letting go of everything you have, and everything you are, and risking a new way of being.
It’s shedding the old to embrace the new.
It’s dying to what was to be reborn into what can be.
It’s the cross. It’s resurrection.
This cast off from society, this forgotten nobody, encounters Jesus and changes his life – and in doing so teaches the world about what discipleship really looks like.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
I hope you noticed that this is the same question we heard last week, but instead of responding to duh-sciples who didn’t get it it comes in response to a genuine and courageous leap of faith.
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has made you well.”
Healed you, saved you – literally the word means to take you from a place of danger and negativity and floundering, and move you to place of safety and positivity and flourishing.
And immediately the son of the highly prized received his sight and followed Jesus along the way.
What’s the immediate response from the encounter with Jesus?
Once Bartimaeus could see he immediately followed Jesus on the Way.
The Greek word is hodos which means both road and path, as in way.
We are absolutely meant to hear both meanings.
He became a follower of Jesus – a person of the Way of Jesus.
For me, this isn’t really a story about healing a blind person.
It’s Jesus teaching us what real discipleship looks like.
Most of you didn’t hear my sermon two weeks ago at Sunday Night Worship (every Sunday night at 7:15pm!).
I preached from earlier in Mark 10 about the rich young ruler who came to Jesus in the street and asked him for eternal life but he couldn’t let go of his possessions so he went away sad.
Then last week the disciples James and John came to Jesus in the street and asked for the keys to the kingdom but they couldn’t let go of their power-lust and they went away sad.
And this week we get “spiritually” blind Bartimaeus who hears Jesus is near (hears the Word) and is so moved by the encounter that he throws off his cloak – symbolically throwing off and letting go of everything he owns and leaving his old life behind in order to embrace the Way of Jesus – and he can suddenly “see”!
He “gets it”.
He was the epitome of discipleship amid a bevy of bad examples.
Rich young man? Missed the point.
James and John? Missed the point.
Bartimaeus? Gets it!
I’d like you to imagine something with me.
I’d like you to take this story and imagine it’s much more than a story about a guy whose dodgy eyeballs regained function.
That’s a great and desirable thing, but that’s not a pressing concern for most of us.
So if we leave it as just a physical healing it can remain a story about someone else.
I’d like to challenge you to see it as a story about you. And instead of it being about your eyeballs imagine it’s a story about your heart, your consciousness, your perception.
It’s not physical blindness that concerns most of us, it’s spiritual blindness.
And if that doesn’t concern you, it oughta!
This is one of our fundamental, archetypal faith stories.
It’s the story of how we all are blind until we learn to cast off the old cloaks that blind us and trade them for a new vision.
The kingdom of God is all around us, but most of the world can’t see it – because we’re blind to it.
Or maybe it’s that we have glimpses of it but we’re not brave enough to jump up, throw off our cloaks, and embrace it.
This is definitely our story!
A person – maybe your neighbour, or your kid, or your sibling, or maybe even you – is going about their business and hears something about this Jesus guy and is intrigued.
For whatever reason the Jesus story (or a spiritual something or other) impacts the person and they perceive that there’s Something More that they want to connect with somehow.
They tell their friends or family and those people try to discourage the inkling and shut them up.
They laugh off (or laugh at) that religious silliness.
But the person persists and makes some sort of effort to connect.
Maybe they open a conversation with someone they see as spiritual?
Maybe they even dare to go to a church?
But they have to make the effort.
The church usually doesn’t knock on doors.
And when that initial encounter leads to another, and another, eventually they’re going to have to make a choice.
Will they throw off the cloak of their old life and embrace this new paradigm?
Because just like in Star Trek once you’ve become decloaked you become vulnerable.
I’m not going to kid you, decloaking is hard!
And the cloaks that cover us, and blind us, may be so familiar that we don’t even realize we’re wearing them.
This scripture passage is not teaching us to sell everything we have, or to completely disassociate ourselves from the life we know.
It’s deeper and more subtle than that.
It’s a really hard question to answer, and you’re going to need to sit with it and pray about it for quite a while – and your answers will be different from mine, or the person in the next pew, because we’re all different.
The deep question is ‘what are the cloaks we need to shed’?
What is holding you back from noticing and embracing and embodying the kingdom of God?
What shape is your cloak?
Maybe it’s materialism? Or egotism?
Maybe it’s greed? Or self-importance?
Maybe it’s lack of confidence? Or lack of empathy?
Maybe it’s something deeply embedded that you don’t even realize you’re wearing? Like racism, or ableism, or classism, or any other ism that treats others as lessers.
The rich young ruler’s cloak was his possessions and wealth.
James and John’s cloak was their desire for political power.
Maybe the hardest part of being spiritually blind is realizing that you’re spiritually blind!
Maybe the hardest part of decloaking is to realize that the cloak is wearing you!
And then, after we dig deep and find the courage to get honest enough, and vulnerable enough to identify our cloak and fling it off and follow Jesus, inevitably it seems, after a while, mwhen we aren’t really paying attention, another cloak slips itself onto our shoulders and we find ourselves sitting blind at the side of the road again wondering where we lost our way.
What I mean is, decloaking doesn’t just happen once and you’re forever on the straight and narrow Jesus Way.
Decloaking is a constant, lifetime discipline for real disciples – like Bartimaeus, like us!
The most famous hymn in the world says “I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”
I guarantee you it has never just been once that anyone of us has been lost and blind!
But I’m hoping we can acknowledge that part and then think through the burden and get to the blessing.
And the blessing is that as you’re freed of your blinding cloak you’ll be able to see!
Even if it’s just for a season, you’ll be able to see.
To see light, and beauty, and joy, and love.
To see the face of Christ in all you meet.
To see God’s presence in every place and everyone.
Because you see, what happens is as you become decloaked the kingdom of God becomes decloaked too!
And you realize that you’ve been in it all along – you just didn’t have eyes to see.
And Jesus said, “Your decloaking has taken you from a place of floundering to a place of flourishing.”
And immediately you receive your sight and follow Jesus along the way.
That is the blessing of decloaking.
And in the words of the captain from the next generation, “Make it so!”