The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

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“The Way of Fear, The Way of Joy”

Mark 10:46-52

 In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

            “What do you want Me to do for you?” Jesus asked the blind beggar, Bartimaeus (Mark 10:51; cf. 10:36).  What do you want Jesus to do for you?  Do you want Him to heal you of some affliction?  Do you want Him to give you some benefit or blessing?  Will you follow Him whether or not this life brings either healing or blessing?  Will you follow Him with fear?  Will you follow Him with joy?  Will you try to hold onto earthly wealth on the way we are walking?  Will you try to hold onto anything on this way?  Will you walk like little children holding their Father’s hand?  Will you ask the Lord for the positions of glory, in which others might serve you?  Will you beg from the Lord simply the sight by which you can see the way in front of you, even if it leads to the cross?  These are the questions that Jesus puts to each one of us and all of us through St. Mark.  And all these questions come to a single point through the prism of Jesus’ question, “What do you want Me to do for you?”  James and John are two of Jesus’ hand-picked Twelve, following Him on the way to Jerusalem.  They answer one way: “Give to us that we may sit one at Your right and one at Your left in Your glory” (Mark 10:37).  Bartimaeus is a blind beggar sitting beside the way (10:46).  He answers differently: “Rabboni, that I might regain sight” (Mark 10:51).  Jesus calls the Twelve, “Come after Me, and I will make you to become fishers of people.  And immediately, leaving the nets, they followed Him” (Mark 1:17).    Jesus tells Bartimaeus, “‘Go, your faith has healed you.’  And immediately, he regained sight and followed Him on the way” (10:52).  But again and again it is the disciples who are blind to the way of God, and they find themselves opposing Jesus.  Bartimaeus may not know that the way will lead to death, but he does not care.  All he can see is Jesus; all he knows is that he is following the Son of David to Jerusalem where he will bless the coming of David’s eternal Reign (Mark 11:10).  Throughout the Gospel of Mark, it is the disciples who oppose Jesus and His work.  And yet, Jesus drags them along the way and teaches them again and again: “[M]any who are first will be last, and the last first” (10:31); the Kingdom of God consists of little children and blind beggars and the servants of all. 

The Word of Jesus calling sinners to repentance will remain until the stars fall from the sky and this world is remade by fire, because sin and its consequences remain.  Bartimaeus asked Jesus to give him sight, and Jesus removed not only sin’s collateral damage of blindness, but sin itself.  That is what the Word of Jesus does.  When Jesus calls the disciples, they leave everything immediately.  When Jesus heals Bartimaeus, Bartimaeus follows Him immediately.  But the disciples, who had seen Jesus for who He is, still stumbled along the way.  They forgot, and denied, and misunderstood, and interrupted, and interfered.  What, though, do we know about Bartimaeus?  Did his faith, which sprang up so readily from the seed of the Word, grow strong with the nourishment of the Holy Spirit?  Or was it planted in shallow, rocky soil, so that it died soon after in the heat of crucifixion and persecution?  Perhaps the fact that Mark records his name suggests he was known to the early Church, and so his faith was commended for the benefit of all Christians.  Whatever the case, there is no Christian who does not experience the lapses into blindness that the disciples had.  There is no Christian who does not, at times, follow the Lord with fear and trembling, as the disciples did (10: 32).  But there is also no Christian who does not experience the joy of Bartimaeus, the light of Christ shining brightly on the way, even through death into the resurrection. 

            The Gospel of Mark sets out the way of the Christian in this world.  We are very often like the Twelve in their stumbling, fumbling blindness as they struggle to follow Jesus on the way.  We deny, and forget, and misunderstand, and interrupt, and interfere.  But Jesus is the patience of God.  He does not leave us to ourselves, or to the world and its wolves.  He continues to stop and call us through His Word.  He continues to stop when we are hungry and thirsty and tired.  He stops so that we, like blind men, can follow the sound of His voice.  He stops so that we, like little children, can catch up, and He puts His nail-scarred hands on our heads and blesses us beyond what we deserve, or could even ask.  He calls us to His Supper, and we are refreshed on the way with His Body and Blood—His inexhaustible life.  He calls us to rest in Him, in grace that will not let us go.  Beloved, “The commandment of the Lord shines clearly, enlightening the eyes.  Receive Christ, receive power to see, receive your light, that you may plainly recognize both God and man.  More delightful than gold and precious stones, more desirable than honey and the honeycomb is the Word that has enlightened us.  How could he not be desirable, who illumined minds buried in darkness, and endowed with clear vision ‘the light-bearing eyes’ of the soul? …  Sing his praises, then, Lord, and make known to me your Father, who is God.  Your Word will save me, your song instruct me.  I have gone astray in my search for God; but now that you light my path, Lord, I find God through you, and receive the Father from you, I become co-heir with you, since you were not ashamed to own me as your brother.  Let us, then, shake off forgetfulness of truth, shake off the mist of ignorance and darkness that dims our eyes, and contemplate the true God, after first raising this song of praise to him: ‘All hail, O light!’  For upon us buried in darkness, imprisoned in the shadow of death, a heavenly light has shone, a light of clarity surpassing the sun’s, and of a sweetness exceeding any this earthly life can offer” (St. Clement of Alexandria, Mark, ACCS, 145).

            So follow Jesus on the way, like St. Bartimaeus.  You cannot know where He leads you in this life, whether over rough road or smooth.  You can only know this: Jesus’ way leads to the cross, to death, but it leads inevitably and without a doubt to resurrection.  So it does for you.  In the midst of your joy and your fear, take heart, because Jesus calls you again and again to Himself.  And, hearing His voice, go on your way after Him; your faith, placed firmly in His life, death, resurrection, and ascension for you, will not only save you, but it will heal your body completely and finally.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).  Amen.

                      — Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 10/21/09

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