Saturday, February 24, 2024

“Seeing and Really Seeing” - February 25, 2024

Text: Mark 10:32-52

Have you ever been in a situation where someone is being completely inappropriate for the occasion – acting in ways that just don’t fit the context?

If you had just made an error that was going to cost your company thousands of dollars, that would not be the best time to ask for a raise.  It just wouldn’t.

If someone had just poured their heart out to you, shared something deep and important, that is not the time to say, “Hey, did you hear the one about the priest, the rabbi, and the Baptist pastor?”  I mean, timing matters.  

In our scripture today, two of Jesus’ closest friends and followers show themselves to not only be somewhat clueless, but they have an absolutely terrible sense of timing.  

Our text today has three parts.  First, as Jesus and the disciples travel toward Jerusalem, Jesus speaks about what is to come.  “The Son of Man will be arrested and condemned to death… they will mock him and spit on him and flog him and kill him, and after three days he will rise again.”

This is the third time Jesus has spoken of his coming suffering.  It is hard to imagine a more intense conversation.  This is deadly serious – literally.  The disciples may have been confused, upset, unsure.  The may have been in denial.  Or maybe they chalked it up to another of Jesus’ hard to understand teachings.  But regardless, this was serious stuff.

Jesus predicts his death, and how do James and John respond?  “Hey Jesus, we want you to do whatever we ask of you.”  Are you serious?  This is what they say in response?

Jesus, with an immense amount of patience and forbearance, I’m picturing this as maybe with a deep sigh, says to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”  

What James and John want is power.  Honor.  When Jesus gets to be king, they want to bask in the glory.  They want to sit at his right and left.  They want places of honor.

Where we sit can matter.  Iowa’s women’s basketball team with Caitlin Clark has been selling out arenas all season.  And with sellouts, ticket prices go up.  For the game in Iowa City where she broke the women’s college scoring record, resale tickets started at $350-400.  That was for far away seats – for really good seats, the price was a lot higher.

I went to the Final Four one year.  It was at what was then the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, a football stadium.  We sat in the upper deck, so far away that we watched these little ants on the court playing basketball.  It was a great experience, but better seats would have been nice.

When you come to church, where do you sit?  The same place every week?  Do you look for a spot where the sun isn’t too bright?  Do you look for a seat where you can get a decent view of the preacher?  Or more likely, are you looking for an obstructed view?  In our sanctuary, what would be considered the seats of honor – in the front, or in the back?

Where we sit matters, and James and John understood this.  For them, the seating chart was important.  Where a person sat was a matter of prestige.  A person’s seat could reveal greatness.  And so they sought the best seats, at Jesus’ right and left.  

Their request is hard to believe.  Three times now, Jesus has spoken of his death.  He keeps on saying that things will be turned upside down, that the first will be last and the last will be first.  He has already redirected the disciples concerning their desire for greatness, telling them that to save their lives they must lose them.  He has told them they must become like children in order to enter the kingdom.  Yet the disciples still don’t get it.  They still cannot get it in their heads that Jesus’ kingdom is different.

Do you remember another occasion when the Bible speaks of two as being at Jesus right and his left?  I recall that two criminals were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.  To go where Jesus was going, to be near Jesus, is to know suffering.

Jesus replies to their request: ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’  With love, Jesus is saying to them that they will get what they are asking for, at least in part – but they still do not understand what they were asking for.  

Not surprisingly, the other disciples are not happy with James and John.  To be honest, it’s hard to tell whether they are angry because James and John are such jerks for asking this, or if they are angry that they did not think to ask first.

Jesus reiterates what it means to follow, spells it out yet again: “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.  For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’

Jesus has been saying this over and over, in various ways, and the disciples still have a hard time getting it.  And it’s not just the Twelve; it’s not just followers who were with Jesus then.  We have to admit that we can have a hard time with this.  There is a reason that for a lot of people, a person who serves others and cares about the needs of others is not the first thing that comes to mind when they hear the word “Christian.”

The narrative continues and Jesus and the disciples come to Jericho.  They travel through the town and as they are leaving along with the large crowd heading to Jerusalem for Passover, they come upon a man who is blind.  He is begging along the side of the road.

Bartimaeus is there, outside the city gates.  He lives off the pity and generosity of strangers.  It’s a hard way to make a living.

Bartimaeus hears all of the commotion about Jesus, and he starts to cry out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

What an embarrassment.  Jesus is with a large crowd of people.  He’s an important person.  And this blind beggar, with no sense of propriety at all, starts yelling out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

The way we might react is to just ignore the person and keep on walking.  Don’t look at them, don’t acknowledge them, pretend they’re not there.

The disciples had a different approach: they told Bartimaeus to be quiet.  You’re being inappropriate, you’re causing a scene, just shut up.

But as much as they tried to hush Bartimaeus, he just kept yelling all the louder.  “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  The crowd tried to shut him up, but Jesus called for Bartimaeus to come to him.

And interestingly, the crowd made a 180° turn.  “Hey, it’s your lucky day!  Jesus wants to see you!  Get up!”

Bartimaeus is desperate enough to call out over the crowd.  He throws aside his cloak and goes to Jesus.  His throwing aside his cloak is significant.  Beggars laid out their cloaks by the road, and passersby would toss money onto the cloak.  This was his livelihood, his security, and he tosses it aside to go to Jesus.

And Jesus asks Bartimaeus the very same question he asked James and John.  

What a question.  “What do you want me to do for you?”  It could be a pretty compelling spiritual exercise for us to imagine Jesus coming to us and asking, “What do you want me to do for you?”  It is a tender question.  It is a deep question.  How would you answer?

And what if Jesus showed up this morning and asked of us as a church, “What do you want me to do for you?”  If we seriously pondered this question, it could change things.

Jesus asks Blind Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?’  We might think that the answer is obvious.  But not necessarily.  Perhaps Bartimaeus doesn’t really want to see.  Maybe the darkness is better.  To be able to see would change everything.  There would be no turning back.  Everything would be different.

He would have to live somewhere else.  He would have to find a new way to make a living.  It would be new territory.  It would be unfamiliar.  It would involve tremendous change, and that can be scary.

I’ve known people who have lost their sight and would dearly love to be able to see again.  I’ve known people who are terribly frustrated that they can no longer see.  But not everyone is like that.  Annie Dillard, in her book Teaching Stones to Talk, reports that there are those who recover from blindness and are so disoriented that they would prefer to go back to being blind.  The change is just too much.

Bartimaeus had been begging - for alms, for food, for anything which might get him through another day.  But that is not what he asks for.  He knows his deeper need.  He stood and threw off his cloak and he went to Jesus and said, “Teacher, let me see again.”

And Jesus said, “Go, your faith has made you well.” And the man “immediately” regained his sight and “followed Jesus on the way,” the text says.  Some whom Jesus healed, he told to go back to their homes.  Jesus said to this man, “Go your way.” But this man followed Jesus on his way.

Mark 10 is a really interesting chapter.  Jesus is teaching, healing, proclaiming the kingdom of God, but nobody quite gets it.  The Pharisees -- religious leaders -- only want to see Jesus fail.  His own disciples try to keep children away from him and get scolded, and they seem puzzled by his teaching.  

The disciples have been following Jesus for close to three years.  They have received his teaching, they have witnessed his miracles, they themselves have gone out to preach and to heal.  And when Jesus asks two of his closest disciples what they want him to do for them, they say, “We want to sit at your right and left.”

And then there is Bartimaeus.  He may have been blind, but amazingly, he is the one with real vision--the only one who really sees Jesus.  

Jesus tells Bartimaeus that he is healed and he can go live his life.  And for Bartimaeus, to go on living his life means following Jesus – as though now that is the only life he can imagine living.

In Mark’s gospel, this is the last healing that Jesus performs.  We have rea about several of these healings over the past weeks.  And of all the people Jesus heals, Bartimaeus is the only one known by name.  I think that maybe that is tied to the fact that he followed Jesus.  

I wonder if years later, when Mark wrote his gospel, people said, “You know old Bartimaeus, the Sunday School teacher over at First Baptist?  Years ago, he was blind, and he was healed by Jesus.”

I know that many of us have some issues with our vision.  I used to wear contact lenses until they really didn’t do the job, and now I’ve had bifocals for several years.  Some of us can see better than others.

But there is more than one kind of vision.  There is seeing and then there is seeing.  And we all have our spiritual blind spots.  

Who do we not see?  Do we see people like Bartimaeus?  Do we see people who are different than us?  Do we see the good in others, or only look for faults?

Do we try to push others aside or put others down in our quest to be Jesus’ favorites, or do we look in the mirror and see a beloved child of God – and go out to live with care for all of God’s children?

May it be so.  Amen.

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