Sunday, October 25, 2015

What Do You Want Me To Do For You?

Mark 10: 46-52
October 25, 2015
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

We continue today with the final reading from the tenth chapter of the gospel of Mark. The central figure in the reading is a blind man. He cannot see, but he has a vision of being healed, and is willing to cry out for mercy to Jesus. The folk around want him to be quiet, but he won’t keep quiet. It is Bartimaeus’ initiative that opens the story, and Jesus respects him in this: “What do you want me to do for you?” he asks.

Bartimaeus: Reader’s Theater on Mark 10:46-52

Narrator: They came to Jericho.

People: Sound effects – crowd noises, a busy roadway, talking, horses, murmuring

Narrator: As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say,

Bart: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Narrator: Many sternly ordered him to be quiet

People: Hush! Be quiet! Bartimaeus, shut your yap! Stop shouting!

Narrator: but he cried out even more loudly,

Bart: “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Narrator: Jesus stood still and said,

Jesus: Call him here.

Narrator: And they called the blind man, saying to him,

People: Take heart! Get up, he is calling you! Bartimaus, Jesus is calling you!

Narrator: So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.

Jesus: What do you want me to do for you?:

Bart: My teacher, let me see again.

Jesus: Go; your faith has made you well.

Narrator: Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

People: Sounds of amazement, ooh, ahh

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

“What do you want me to do for you?”

We heard it last week, when the two disciples approached Jesus, looking for a favor – to be the favorites, to be special. We hear it in similar form when we walk into a retail establishment – What can I do for you? How can I help you?

But I’ve jumped ahead, haven’t I – to the middle of the story.
Let’s start back at the beginning. We have been walking along with Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. He has been on the way throughout the last several chapters of Mark, and on the way he has told the disciples three times that when they get there, he will be arrested and executed, but will rise again on the third day. And all along the way the disciples have been unable to see what he is showing them. They are annoyingly blind to his identity and to his purpose.

We who are watching from afar, having already read the end of the story, we can see what is going to happen. But they have not yet gotten there. Jesus knows where he is going and what he is doing but those who are traveling with him cannot see it.

They have come through the town of Jericho, a town famous in Biblical history for the battle that was won there. The battle of Jericho was the first conquest made in the land of Canaan. The armies of Israel were told to surround the city and march around it with the ark of the covenant, blowing trumpets, six times for six days in a row. On the seventh day, they were told, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city.” And when they did, the walls came tumbling down.

The blind man outside the walls of Jericho had no such restrictions. He began to shout as soon as he heard Jesus come near. He was not the least bit shy about yelling loudly, even though the people around him tried to silence him. In his shouting, for the first time in this gospel Jesus is identified as the “son of David,” the promised one of Israel. The blind son of Timaeus somehow can see that this is the son of David.

Bartimaeus knows what he wants – and loudly says so:
“Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me!”

While those around him may believe, may recognize Jesus, for some reason they want Bartimaeus to keep quiet. But he will not – this blind man sees his chance, and he is going to speak out loudly! At least, after Jesus notices and hears him, the crowd encourages the blind beggar. It doesn’t take much – Bartimaeus throws off his cloak, springs up, comes to Jesus.

He throws off his cloak, which is the one thing he owns that has any value, and he leaves his old life behind. He is not reluctant – he springs up! and comes to Jesus. If ever there was an enthusiastic participant in a come to Jesus meeting, Bartimaeus is it!

His faith gives him confidence to come to Jesus. He gives voice to his hope, and Jesus responds. Bartimaeus’ shouting and calling out for mercy, however unpopular it is with the people around him, is an act of faith, a statement of belief.

Jesus, of course, has the vision to truly see this blind man,
and in his mercy and love, asks him:
“What do you want me to do for you?”

The blind man answers simply, “My teacher, let me see again.”

And as you heard, Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.”

The blind man regained his sight, but he did not go – he followed Jesus on the way. On the way, of course, to Jerusalem, where others would call out to the son of David, and throw their cloaks down in front of him as he rode into the city on the back of a donkey.

Today is the day in the church year when we observe Reformation Day.
The actual date is October 31, All Hallows Eve, 1517, and it is the date on which Martin Luther gave voice to his faith and began what became the Protestant Reformation. The date – October 31, 1517, is one of the few that I insist our confirmation students memorize. It is the date when Martin Luther is believed to have nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church at Wittenburg.

Martin Luther was loudly protesting the practice of selling indulgences – offering forgiveness of sins for a price – so a person of wealth could give money to the church in exchange for forgiveness of sins. The money was going for a good cause – to renovate St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. But while it was a good cause, it was not a good practice. The equivalent modern practice would be to promise people that their financial gifts to a capital campaign would mean the purchase of their salvation.

It seems obvious to us now, that God’s intent for us is to repent, and that God’s salvation for us comes by grace through faith. But when Martin Luther said it, nearly five hundred years ago, the people around him wanted to hush him up. The Roman Catholic church declared him a heretic and commanded him to be silent. But he would not stop speaking, and because Luther was willing to shout out, the Reformation began and the Protestant church was born. The very foundation of that change was one person speaking out, willing to claim God’s grace, even though others objected.

The saddest part of his story is that Martin Luther’s last sermon was attended by about five people, and he died believing he had failed. The final events of his life blinded him to the message of grace and faith he had so boldly and loudly declared.[1]

In mercy and grace, Jesus asked the blind man, and asks us, “What do you want me to do for you?"

Like the crowd on the road to Jericho, 
we need to be healed of our attempts to silence those who cry out.

Like the blind man, each one of us needs to be healed. We need to be healed of our blindness to the plight of others; we need to be healed of our lack of vision; we need to be healed of our hesitance to speak.

The good news of the gospel is that the teacher, the son of David, coming down the road toward us, and he wants to heal us, to lead us, and to transform and re-form our hearts.

The good news is that there are those around us who will say “Get up! Take heart! He is calling you!”

The good news of the gospel is that Jesus continues to call us to him, asking us “What do you want me to do for you?” It is entirely a question of grace, from the one who reaches out to us with healing, the son of David, who calls us along the way and who promises us and that our faith can make us whole.

When we have known that grace, when we have been reformed by that grace,
we joyfully, willingly, and gratefully turn to Jesus and ask him, with humble hearts,

“Jesus, Teacher, what do you now want us to do for you?”


[1] David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, October 21, 2012

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