23rd Sunday After Pentecost
It does not take a medical degree to diagnosis that we as a people and as a world are not well. We gather just one day following yet another tragic shooting, this time at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, and we live in a nation that was rocked this past week with several attempted bombings, some right here in New York City and the surrounding suburbs. And I could stand here and go through the whole list of events that have happened in the past week that further illustrate our state of affairs, but I think that we all get the picture: things are not right; this world is not well.
What do we as Christians do with this? While we proclaim a God that is making all things new—while we proclaim a future in which God wipes away the tears from our eyes, in which death will be more, in which mourning and crying and pain will be no more—we are faced with a radically different reality. We are stuck in this middle ground in which we have caught a glimpse of the glory that is to come, yet what we more often see is a world that is sick and dying.
Would you pray with me?
O God, in you we live, in you we move, and in you we have our being. Grant us the ears to hear your voice through the noise of our lives, the eyes to see your peace in the violence of our days, and the courage to speak your love into the silence of indifference, that we might experience and bear witness to the faith that makes us well. Amen.
Our Gospel lesson this morning is a story that you might have heard before: the story of Blind Bartimaeus. As the story goes, Jesus and his disciples were followed by a large crowd as they were leaving the city of Jericho, and a blind beggar by the name of Bartimaeus was sitting by the side of the road. When he heard that it was Jesus passing by, he began to raise his voice, shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Now, many people in the crowd told this beggar to shut up, to just be quiet, but this only emboldened him to cry out even louder: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus hears this voice from the margins and stops in his path. “Call him here,” he tells the people standing around him. And so these people—the very same who were just telling him to shut up—now say to Bartimaeus, “Take heart; get up, Jesus is calling you.” So Bartimaeus throws off his cloak and springs to his feet and comes to Jesus, who looks at him and asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”
It’s a question that seems like it shouldn’t even have to be asked. Bartimaeus’s whole life has been indelibly marked by his blindness. As you know, being blind in that age would have been infinitely more difficult than it is now. While we as a society have moderately adapted to the differing abilities of people now, no such accommodations would have existed then. It’s why Mark is sure to tell us that Bartimaeus is a beggar—it’s all that he can do. And as we learn from the Gospel of John, illness and other bodily abilities that make life difficult were closely correlated with sin; for someone to have been struck blind, then, means that either that person or their parents must have sinned. So not only would there have been the very real challenges of navigating daily life without sight, Bartimaeus would have also been a pariah within his community; on the very margins of life; an outcast. But still, Jesus asks. “What do you want me to do for you?”I have a very strong inclination that this is not a standard healing story about literal sight, however. Yes, Bartimaeus is blind, but Mark by this point in his gospel has already told us one story in which Jesus gives sight to another blind man. No, I think that this is something deeper—a spiritual, emotional sight; the vision of our spirit, and the healing of our innermost being. Jesus is giving Bartimaeus the choice: do you want to be well again?
For it occurs to me that we far too often are okay with not being well. Far too often, we become comfortable with the way things are for ourselves and for the world. Yes, we may feel a twinge of sadness or remorse about tragedies like we experienced yesterday and throughout this past week, but at some point, we have to recognize that nothing has changed. After a number of shootings in schools and shopping malls, in synagogues, mosques, temples, and churches, nothing has seemed to change. After countless allegations of sexual assault and hate speech, it honestly doesn’t seem to me as though much has changed. We’ve learned the cycle of grieving, of offering kind thoughts and prayers, and of then acclimating to this violent life anew.
Jesus asks Bartimeaus: What do you want me to do for you? Do you want to be well?
If you remember last week’s Gospel lesson, Jesus asked James and John the same question, to which their response was, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” As the Son of Humanity asks them what they want, these disciples are unable to think of anything else but their own benefit, to find glory and power. In a twist of irony, it is only blind Bartimeaus who actually sees what is happening: “My teacher, let me see again.” My teacher, let me see with the vision that you have for the world. My teacher, let me be well again. Jesus’s words immediately afterwards tell the story: “Your faith has made you well.”
In a sharp departure from other healing stories in the gospel texts, it is not Jesus’s actions that are the miracle. No, the miracle is Bartimeaus’s faith. A faith that held on even while begging on the margins, vulnerable, and at the mercy of the rest of the community. It’s not that Bartimaeus somehow believed his way into wellness; Jesus does the healing. But it is Bartimaeus’s faith that receives that healing; that in and of itself is a sign of hope beyond belief; that is a miracle.
My hope is that we as Christians and as a church are able to receive that faith, because I want to be well again. I want us to be well again. Each and every one of us. In our minds, in our bodies, and in the deepest parts of our souls.
I want us to be healed from our complacency with the ongoing violence around us; to find the holy anger that rages when even one individual is senselessly killed because of bigotry and hatred. I want us to be healed from this perception that death and mourning is just how life is supposed to be, that there can be anything good about such tragedy. I want us to be healed from those voices that tell us that any single person is anything less than a beloved child of God, imbued with God’s image from the very beginning of creation.
I want us to be healed. To be well. Because it is only when we ourselves are well that we can encounter the world and see it as unwell, yet still just as beloved. To see the wonder of creation in juxtaposition with the dire environmental situation. To see the beauty in the face of a child while at the same time seeing the child in today’s edition of The New York Times who barely has enough food to even live. To experience the fullness of worship in this place while holding the grief and pain of our Jewish neighbors and family this morning.
And when we are able to see the world in this way, we are led to the very heart of our faith: Christ crucified, bleeding, with his arms stretched out in love for the life of this world. And then I believe we will be driven to actually do something, more than rote thoughts and prayers. We will be so moved to be the answers to our own prayers, to get out into the world as the hands and feet and heart of Christ, to go out as a healing balm, offering up a new way of living in this world, proclaiming that no single person is deserving of anything less than abundant, liberated life. To grieve with those who grieve, mourn with those who mourn, and weep with those who weep. To laugh with those who laugh, sing with those who sing, and dance with those who dance. To see this world as it is and know that there is one who can heal us.
Once Bartimaeus is healed, he does not go on with his life like those in other healing stories. Instead, he begins walking with Jesus, joining the crowd as they all journey on to Jerusalem.
May we all cultivate that same faith to say to Jesus: I want to be well. May we have the bold hope that there is another way of life that grace makes possible. And may we embrace the love of Jesus for ourselves, for each other, and for this world.
 John 9:2