Monday, December 7, 2015

Seeing Before Receiving Sight

How do you know someone is telling the truth?

We live in an age of spin.  You’ve all seen it take place.  The President of the U.S. gives a speech, and less than a minute later, the media pundits start in, “Well, what the President REALLY just said was...”fill in the blank.  And if the President said something that was actually good, those on the opposing side of the fence will spin the words into something horrible.  If the President said something controversial, those who are on the same side of the fence offer any interpretation which will soften the words.  The speeches and spin leave your head reeling wondering if anyone heard the same thing you heard to begin with.

But this is not simply relegated to politics.  The quest for truth goes even further.  You are gathered here this morning listening to my sermon.  You will hear me interpret scripture in just a few moments.  There may be a few things that I say that will leave you scratching your head, so you may wonder where I am getting these things.  You could go home and do a search on Youtube for pastors who have preached on this same text.  You will find them saying some quite different things.  Which of us is right?  Which of us is telling the truth?  How can you judge?  Are we all right?  Are we all wrong?  Just for your information, as part of my sermon preparation, I will generally listen to around 10 sermons per week on a given biblical text.  I know how different these interpretations can be.  I know how well meaning most of us pastors are.  How do I discern what is true and what is not?  We’ll get there in a little while because I want to continue down this rabbit hole a little more.

In politics; in religion there is quite a bit of spin and difference given, but surely this doesn’t apply to real life.  Surely, the facts are the facts and there is no spinning them.  Right?  Wrong.  We just witnessed another horrendous shooting in California this past week.  Facts are being gathered.  Motives are being examined.  We know that one of the shooters spent a month in Syria, came back changed, and began growing his beard out.  We know he and his wife were Muslim.  Terrorist attack?  Workplace violence?  We’ve heard both–again depending upon how one wants to spin the event. Who is telling the truth?

I want to walk through this short text today from the book of Mark which recounts the healing of Bartamaeus, but I want to begin by putting it into the larger context of the book of Mark.  We have been walking through this book for some time now, and we’ve still got a ways to go.  We are actually completing a section on Mark that has focused on discipleship, and this section began with the healing of another blind person.  Several months ago, I preached a sermon about a blind man that Jesus had to “heal” twice.  This story began in Mark chapter 8, verse 22.  The first time Jesus touched him, the man responded that he could see people, but they looked like trees.  When Jesus looked at him intently and spoke, then the man was completely healed.

I talked about how this healing was not only historical, but it was also metaphorical.  It was also to help us see how oftentimes the disciples–and we–understand Jesus to be the Messiah, but we don’t see Him clearly.  Then, from Mark chapter 8:22 until today, we have seen example after example of disciples who understand that Jesus is the Messiah, that He is from God, that He is of great power and might, but they don’t understand ultimately what Jesus is all about.  The disciples and others around get caught up in power struggles; in hunger for prestige; in thinking that Jesus is too important for children; in their love of wealth; in a desire for status and privilege when Jesus comes into power.  Time and again, the disciples don’t see clearly, but today, we see someone who does.  Today we see someone who comes to a knowledge of the Truth.  Perhaps what Bartimaeus sees will help us see and come to know who speaks the Truth.

Jesus and his disciples are on the way to Jerusalem, and as they travel, they go by the city of Jericho.  Outside this city, on the side of the road is a man by the name of Bartimaeus.  He is blind, and he is begging.  If we take a moment to remember how this story is playing out, we know that the Jewish holiday of Passover is only days away.  Pilgrims from throughout Israel would travel to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, and many would pass by Jericho.  Bartimaeus knew this, so he situated himself where there would be deeply religious people passing him by–deeply religious
people who hopefully would have compassion on him.  But, as we see, there are many who don’t.

Bartimaeus hears that Jesus is passing by, and without hesitation or thought for embarrassment, Bartimaeus cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Now, what Bartimaeus says is important.  He does not simply cry out, Jesus, have mercy on me.  No.  He says, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  You see, Son of David was a Messianic title.  Bartimaeus has no doubt heard about the things that Jesus has said and done.  Bartimaeus has come to realize something as he reflected on what Jesus had accomplished.  One of the best lines I heard this past week was this: what Bartimaeus lacked in eyesight, he made up for in insight.  He knew that Jesus was the Messiah.  He knew that Jesus was God’s anointed, and Bartimaeus addressed Jesus with this title; loudly; unabashedly; without reservation.

And the crowd tried to shut him up.  Now, granted, we don’t exactly know why the crowd tried to shut Bartimaeus up.  There could be several reasons.  The crowd could have been scared.  After all, if someone was addressing Jesus as, “Son of Man” or “Messiah” this could have been seen as seditious.  The Roman guards would have been extra cautious during Passover fearing an uprising with the gathering of so many Jews.  They would have been on alert for those who might be trying to start a revolt.  If someone was using Messianic language in such a case, the Roman guard could start arresting people just on pretense.  This is actually a pretty positive spin on why the crowd would have tried to silence Bartimaeus, but there is a negative possibility as well.

You see, as I have said before, in that day and age, there was a strong belief that if you had a physical ailment, then God had wrought that ailment upon you.  If you were blind, God was punishing you for your sin or your parents’ sin.  You were generally held in contempt by others.  You were seen as lower than low.  So, it is also a possibility that those in the crowd would have thought, “This blind, begging, sinner has no right to call upon Jesus in such a fashion.  He is being punished by God and should not be trying to get the attention of a holy man.”  Given what Mark has shown us in the previous two chapters, I think the odds are better that the crowd was not being kind to Bartimaeus.  My guess is they thought he had no business calling out to Jesus.  They tried to shut him up.

But Bartimaeus was undaunted.  Bartimaeus did not give in to the crowd’s attempts to shut him up.  This was too important.  The Son of David was at hand.  The Messiah was here.  And if Bartimaeus knew anything of Scripture, he knew that the Messiah had promised to bring about healing and restoration.  In the words of the prophet Isaiah, the Messiah “bring good news to the proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  To bring recovery of sight to the blind.  Bartimaeus knew this, and he believed it.  Is it any wonder he was clamoring for Jesus’ attention?  Is it any wonder he was raising his voice when others tried to shout him down?  Bartimaeus trusted the promise!  Bartimaeus trusted that Jesus was the promised Messiah who would do what Isaiah said.  “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”

And Jesus stood still.  Mark Edwards, in his commentary says this, “How remarkable that the Son of Man allows the cries of a poor and powerless person to stop him in his tracks.”  Some people have said to me and asked me whether or not God cares about ones as insignificant as us.  Why would God hear our cries and our prayers when we are so small and insignificant compared to Him.  And yet, the Son of David, God incarnate, stops in His tracks because of the cries of a poor and powerless man.  This is the God revealed to us here–a God who deeply cares about the least and the lost.  Jesus says, “Call him here.”

How quickly the crowd changes its tune.  How quickly they discard their cries for quiet.  How quickly they suddenly accept Bartimaeus when Jesus shows him compassion.  Think this is just limited to them?  I remember once attending the ordination of a colleague.  My wife and I sat at the back of the church.  As is custom for me, I was not wearing my clerical collar.  I did not robe up.  I simply attended–a stranger in the midst of this congregation.  My wife and I were heartily ignored by all around us–until it came time for the laying on of hands.  All clergy were invited to come forward, so I whiffed out my clerical collar, put it on, and laid hands on the man being ordained.  When I returned to the pew with my wife, the reception we received was markedly different.  Because of a collar?  How quickly things change.

There is an important detail that happens next.  Bartimaeus throws off his cloak.  This might not seem like much to us, but remember that Bartimaeus is a blind, beggar.  What do you think his possessions consist of?  He has nothing–except his cloak.  The commentaries I consulted and sermons I heard made note that Bartimaeus would have spread his cloak on the ground to catch coins that people gave him.  He would have used it to wrap up in to keep warm as he had no place to go.  He would have used it to give him shade from the son.  It was the thing he used for protection; for earning a living; it was all that he had.  And he cast it off.  He comes before Jesus with nothing.  Remember the rich young man who could do no such thing?

Bartimaeus comes before Jesus, and Jesus asks him a pointed question, “What do you want me to do for you?”  I want you to remember last week when James and John sought out an audience with Jesus.  I want you to remember how these two disciples of the inner circle begged Jesus to give them whatever they asked.  I want you to remember how Jesus responded.  Do you remember?  It was with the same question, “What do you want me to do for you?”  James and John ask for power and prestige and status.  James and John don’t get the Kingdom of God.  Bartimaeus does.  “He has come to bring recovery of sight to the blind,” Isaiah says.  “Rabbouni,” Bartimaeus says, “Let me see.”

Again, let me quote Mark Edwards.  Your bulletin says, “Teacher, let me see, but the Greek word is Rabbouni which is significant.   Edwards says, “In extant Jewish literature, rabbouni is seldom used with reference to humanity, and practically never as a form of address.  It is frequently used as an address to God in prayer, however.  Its use here suggests Bartimaeus’s–and Mark’s–estimation of Jesus.”  Bartimaeus essentially offers a prayer, “Let me see.”

And Jesus says, “Go, your faith has saved you.”

What does Bartimaeus do?  He has been released from the captive of his blindness.  He now has the ability to go and work.  He now has the ability to earn a living.  He will now be seen by others to be blessed by God for he no longer carries the curse of blindness.  He can go anywhere and do anything, so what does he do?

He follows Jesus along the road.  Now, an interesting thing can be said right here because the Greek word for road is “hodos” which is also translated, “The Way.”  In the early Church, Christians were not initially called Christians.  Initially, they were called followers of “The Way.”  Bartimaeus follows Jesus along the Way.  Here is an example of discipleship at its finest.  When those closest to Jesus couldn’t see and had difficulty seeing, this once blind beggar trusts Jesus, throws off his cloak, is healed, and follows Jesus toward the cross.  He truly sees.  He has found the Truth.  How can we?

As you can see at this point, I am asking you to delve deeply into this question of truth.  I am asking you to look at Jesus to understand the Truth.  I am asking you to look to Jesus to give you the criteria in understanding how to discern the Truth.  I am asking you to see what Bartimaeus sees.

And what does Bartimaeus see?  He sees the Messiah–the one who brings about restoration.  But, as we have seen all along, the restoration Jesus brings is not by military might, but as the verse leading right into this story says, “He came to give His life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus came to be the suffering Messiah who dies on the cross to give His life for yours.  He does this because He loves you with a love beyond measure.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him.”

Why is this so significant?  Why is this such an important thing in knowing the Truth?  Because of this: when you look at people who spin things today, they have an agenda.  They are trying to win you over to their position.  They are trying to further their own positions of power and prestige.  They are trying to get you to go along with them, and if you do not...guess what they think of you?  Guess how they treat you?  With contempt.  With scorn.  With anger.  Sometimes with hatred.  If you don’t agree with them, they want nothing to do with you.

But how does Jesus respond when you don’t agree with Him?  How does Jesus respond when you don’t like what He teaches?  How does Jesus respond when you inwardly and outwardly say to Him, “I won’t do what you say.”

Jesus stretches out His arms and dies for you.  Jesus loves you and is willing to die for you even when you don’t love Him.  How do you know if someone is telling the truth?  How do you know when someone is immersed in the truth?  When they are willing to die for you even though they know you hate them.  This is Jesus.  This is what Bartimaeus saw.  This is what I pray that we might see.  Amen.

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