Proper 25 – Mark 10:46-52
I had a strange dream last night. I dreamt that I was having eye surgery on behalf of someone else.
It was a particular someone, actually. I was having eye surgery for an elderly woman from one of the congregations where I have served. I was to have the surgery in order for her to see. In my dream she was frail and the surgery would pose risks to her that it did not pose for me. I was in pre-op, just about to be put under, when the doctor started asking me questions, questions about my vision. How well do you see far away? Is it difficult for you to read? I kept answering honestly that my vision was fine. The doctor then pressed why I was having this surgery. I answered that I was having it for someone else. She couldn’t see. Exasperated, the doctor said that my having surgery would not fix her vision. She would have to have the surgery herself. There were no other alternatives.
Weird, I know. The entire thing was odd, odd, odd. It was one of those vivid dreams that stick with you and I chalked it up to having been reading about Bartimaeus shortly before I headed to bed for the night. Despite its bizarreness, there may be some nuggets of truth that do relate to this week’s text. Like the parable of the oil lamps in Matthew 25, there are some things we cannot share, even if we really want to share them. I cannot give you the eyes to see Jesus. I can tell you he is right in front of you. I can tell you to stop calling out to him, but as for recognizing him as Rabbouni? That’s between you and the One who restores your sight.
This is a call story and the details are striking. The place, Jericho, is given. The blind beggar isn’t just any blind beggar; he has a name, Bartimaeus. He has a family, son of Timaeus (I know, I know, they are the same thing, but maybe the repetition matters). Jesus “stood still.” In the midst of the chaos of shouting and shushing, Jesus hears and responds. The people heretofore telling him to hush, say to Bartimaeus, “He is calling you.” Bartimaeus “throwing off his cloak, sprang up and came to Jesus.” The description is such that the reader can picture the action. There is an urgency and an excitement to the scene. There is anticipation and hope. The plot moves forward in a way that makes the reader want to know what will happen next. The camera zooms in on Jesus and Bartimaeus while the disciples and the crowd become merely background.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Imagine that question to you, just you. Never mind the crowd who told you to be quiet. Never mind the past, how you got here, how long you have been beside the way. Jesus, standing still, waiting for you to come to him, asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”
“My teacher, let me see again.” Do you notice the shift? No longer does Bartimaeus call Jesus “Son of David,” he calls him Rabbouni, my teacher. Already his vision is restored. The honorary title has transformed to personal relationship. Salvation isn’t theoretical, it is actual. Jesus pronounces the transformation and immediately, newly and rightly seeing, Bartimeaus, no longer beside the way, follows Jesus on the way.
This is a call story and every call story is specific, personal, involving a new way of seeing. Once I was blind but now I see. It means moving from beside the way to on the way and only Jesus can bring about that change of status. As much as I may want to have that healing surgery that restores vision on behalf of another (my teenage children perhaps especially), I can’t. It just doesn’t work that way.
Eugene Boring in his commentary on Mark notes that Bartimaeus’ throwing off his cloak is “but a further indication that this is a call/discipleship story. The mantle in which he slept and which he spread before him beside the road to collect alms seems to be his sole possession and means of his livelihood; his casting it away corresponds to the other disciples leaving their boats, tax desk, and ‘everything.’ ” This new vision reorients Bartimaeus’ entire life, nothing is as it was before. This newest disciple is on the way, just as the way leads to Jerusalem.
This detailed call story offers preachers and teachers the opportunity to talk about the specifics of other call stories: those in Scripture, those in history and those with which they are most familiar, their own. Presbyterians are wary (often with good cause) of the notion of testimony. Our tradition is careful to point toward the importance of the communion of the saints rather than risking glorifying individuals. Rarely would we voice the question, “When were you saved?” (Two thousand or so years ago, we answer.) However, the story of Bartimaeus opens the door for important conversations about personal faith, our relationship to Jesus, what we’ve asked of him, what he has graciously given us and what difference those experiences make in our daily living.
Often preacher-types are asked to “share their call story.” Transitions from one church to another require writing a statement of faith. Frequently even strangers, upon hearing that we are pastors, ask, “What made you decide to become a minister?” We have various versions of our answers for various settings: the short answer, the longer answer, the theologically sound answer, the less crazy sounding answer. But how often do we share how our vision was restored? How we see in ways we never did before? What we threw off and what we took on as a result of a one on one encounter with not only the Son of David, but our master and teacher and Lord.
Even more importantly, how often are others asked about their call story? We do uphold the communion of saints. We don’t use language of “lay” and “cleric.” (OK, sometimes we do, but we know we shouldn’t.) Should we not then invite people on the other side of the lectern or pulpit to share the details of their call story? Perhaps this isn’t possible in a traditional sermon; maybe your setting lends itself to more two-way communication on Sunday morning. If so, invite that kind of exchange. If not, structure the sermon in such a way that those kind of conversations might happen around the lunch table after worship.
Not all of us have had the dramatic call story of a Bartimaeus or a Saul turned Paul. However, most of us have had encounters with our teacher. Most of us have experienced, in one way or another, new vision, a time when we have taken heart and had a change of heart. Sharing our testimony may allow others who hear it to call out to the Son of David and discover their teacher, too. We can’t give our sight to others, but we can share what we see.
- Both the Job text and the Mark text this week have themes of restoration after long seasons of suffering. How do you offer hope without minimizing the suffering of others?
- How is “seeing” symbolic in Mark’s Gospel? Take a look at other stories where seeing is involved.
- How is clothing symbolic in Mark’s Gospel? In other parts of Scripture?
- Take a look again at Mark 10:21-22 and compare and contrast it to this week’s Gospel pericope.
- Why do you think “Amazing Grace” is such a popular hymn? What resonates with the imagery of having been blind but now being able to see?
- Consider how the prayer of confession and the assurance of pardon are like the “before and after” of this and other call stories. How does this sequence of liturgy help move us from “beside the way” to “on the way”?
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