Sunday, October 24, 2021

22nd Pentecost, 2021-B: A promise of wholeness


Lectionary:Job 42:1-6, 10-17; Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22); Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52


In our Collect today, we prayed, “increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command.” So, the first question is, what does God command? 

Jesus simplified the answer to that for us: We are to love God, and love neighbor as ourselves with all our heart, mind, and strength. When we do that, when we love like that, we will obtain all that God promises. The Collect isn’t offering a conditional but a description of outcomes. It might have been better said, when we love as Jesus commands, we will obtain the promises of God.

The next obvious question, then, is what does God promise? The simple answer is wholeness. God promises wholeness, unbrokenness, completeness, perfect harmony, balance, peace, and unity in our bodies, our relationships, and our eternal life.

Where we don’t experience wholeness there is healing left to do. Our gospel story from Mark is about healing, but it’s more than just physical healing. It’s about wholeness.

In Jesus’ day, blindness was considered punishment for sin, either the man’s or someone in his family. Bartimaeus, the blind man would have been ostracized by his community, so his only option for survival would be to sit by the side of the road and call out to passersby for mercy in the form of food and sometimes clothing needed to protect him from the elements.

When he hears Jesus and his followers approaching, the blind man does his thing, calling out for mercy. The gospel says, that when he heard it was Jesus of Nazareth coming near, he shouted out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Son of David, he shouted. Bartimaeus knows this is no ordinary passerby, and he shouts his proclamation of faith that Jesus is the Messiah of God.

Despite everyone’s attempt to shush him, Bartimaeus persists. In response, Jesus stopped and stood still. This would be like us stopping our morning commute to have a conversation with a beggar at a traffic light. People around us aren’t going to love that. But the community around Jesus called to Bartimaeus and told him “take heart, get up,” and come near.

The followers of Jesus (who are us today) offered hope to the hopeless and encouraged him to draw near to Jesus. Since he is blind, that wouldn’t be an easy task for Bartimaeus, but Mark tells us he threw off his cloak, jumped up, and went to Jesus.

Two things to notice about the cloak. First, it was probably one of the few things Bartimaeus had and he probably used it to hold and transport his handouts, so it would have been of great value to Bartimaeus. Second, in Mark, cloaks often represented the old order, so tossing off his cloak meant Bartimaeus let go of what was and ran toward what was possible in Christ.

By standing still, Jesus enters into relationship with Bartimaeus, something few others had probably done. He was, after all, just a beggar who most would just pass by. But Jesus doesn’t. He stops and asks Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” Isn’t that an interesting question?

Most people would assume they know what a beggar wants, but Jesus isn’t entering relationship with a beggar. He’s entering relationship with Bartimaeus, who is a beggar, and that’s a big difference.

Bartimaeus asks for healing, not food. What an amazing profession of faith – the second one from this poor beggar. Bartimaeus doesn’t ask for a handout. He asks Jesus for wholeness.

Reading this story today, Bartimaeus’ request makes sense to us. We know Jesus is God Incarnate. We know he has the power to heal, to forgive, to restore. But all Bartimaeus knew was what he over-heard passersby saying about Jesus as he sat by the road.

How did Bartimaeus know Jesus was the Messiah? Even his disciples didn’t understand this yet – and they’d been with him for almost three years now. How did Bartimaeus know Jesus could heal his blindness when only God could do that? What made him ask such an audacious request?

Faith. Bartimaeus had faith that in Jesus he could be made whole - restored in his body, restored to his
community, restored to relationship with God.

“Go,” Jesus says to him, “your faith has made you whole.” But Bartimaeus didn’t go, did he? Instead, he followed Jesus. This was the new order Bartimaeus took up in his life, leaving behind what was.

Bartimaeus’ actions teach us about healing in our time. God offers wholeness to us every time we ask, and sometimes even before we ask. Sadly, so many don’t get up, throw off what was and move toward what’s possible in Christ.

What if Bartimaeus had sat back down after Jesus healed him, picked up his cloak, and returned to begging by the roadside? It isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. He had no job skills, no community support, and no prospects for anything different.

This brings to my mind New Year’s resolutions. How many times do we make a plan to embark on a new path, a new, healthier way of being, only to find ourselves exactly where we were on December 31 just a couple of months later?

Change is hard. Life-altering change is even harder.

God won’t force anything on us - not even grace. But we have been encouraged by others before us in the church to draw near to Jesus. There our eyes are opened to see the value God has for us – all of us. There, in the presence of the love that created, reconciled, and heals us, we have the audacity to ask for what we need. There, we are made whole.

Healing, like love, is an exchange. Its source is always God. This exchange is free, freely given, freely moving between and among us. It changes us, our community, and the world, but like Bartimaeus, we must get up, toss off what was, and follow the way of Jesus into what is possible.

Let us pray: 

God of all, Loving Healer, we thank you for those persons who gave us hope that in you we could find healing and wholeness. We are ready to receive it. Open our eyes to see the love you have for us – all of us. Increase our faith that we may be audacious in our asking. Let our compassion for others be a reflection of your compassion for us, that we all may be made whole in our bodies, our relationships, and evermore in our eternal life in you. Amen.

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