Take heart, get up, he is calling you

For those of us who see ourselves involved in continuing Jesus’ work in the world, we can take from this simple bible story how it was the followers of Jesus who turned to the once rejected human being to say “Take heart, get up, he is calling you”.  And the good news is that our Christ is approachable.  He knows only too well what is like to be caught in a web of restraints and restrictions that hold us in our place.  As we know our own brokenness, he knows the pain of isolation and abandonment. We cry out “Jesus, have mercy on me” and he asks each of us “What would you like me to do for you.”



 

 

 Our Gospel Reading for today, Mark 10:46-52, comes as the final story of Jesus’ work in Galilee.  It closes the section of Mark given over to Jesus’ itinerant ministry.   The very next verse in Mark begins “When they were approaching Jerusalem…”  Mark, the shortest and some say earliest written of the four canonical Gospels, has often been characterized as a passion narrative with an extended introduction.  This is where the introduction ends.   

 

 

A couple of weeks ago we looked at the story of the young man who had kept all the commandments but given all that he possessed, which was a sure sign by the way of his being blessed by God, he could not part with what he owned.  He was one of the Jewish elite.  He was at the pinnacle of power, privilege and prestige.  He was not able to follow Jesus.  Last week we looked at James and John, two of Jesus’ closest disciples, who asked Jesus for chief power positions in the new administration in a kingdom of God they envisioned to be a replica of the Roman Empire except with better leadership – them.  They may have left a lot to follow Jesus but evidently they had not left behind their aspiration to greatness and power.  Today our story is of someone who would leave everything behind, his brokenness and his cloak, his only real possession, and follow Jesus, as Mark says, “on the way”. 

 

“They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.”

 

The way the text reads I couldn’t help wonder what happened in the town of Jericho. Biblical archeologists say that Jericho is the earth’s oldest city.  They also say it was destroyed, rebuilt and destroyed, and there is no evidence to support a thirteenth century BC invasion by Hebrews.  It was rebuilt during the time of Ahaz which we read about in Ist Kings, some one thousand years before Jesus’ time. Mark tells us “They came to Jericho” and the next thing he says is that as Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho they encountered a blind beggar by the side of the road.  Regardless of what happened in Jericho, at least to Mark, it wasn’t as important as what happened as they left.

 

We might think it a name, but the man they met, Bartimaeus, didn’t even have his own name.  He was the son of Timaeus. His blindness meant that he was outside of family support and participation in the more normal social, political and religious activities.  And he was in his place, the accustomed place, for a visually disabled beggar.  His place was on the side of the road heading out of town.  As the young man of important position and great substance was thought to be surely blessed by God, this blind beggar was the perfect example of a person not blessed by God and therefore was obviously a sinner.   You want to talk about someone being  marginalized, this nameless, blind, begging sinner was in his place, out of the flow of traffic, by the way, on the side of the road and ignored.  At least as the story begins.

 

But he hears that it was Jesus of Nazareth and company who were coming down the road.  Was there something about the Nazareth connection that was important?  Remember how Nathaniel had cockily repeated the popular prejudice of his day when he said of Jesus “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  Mark knows nothing other than the report that Jesus indeed came from Nazareth.  One of the major arguments used by the religious scholars of his day to deny the possibility of Jesus being the Messiah was this connection with Nazareth.  For this blind beggar and convicted sinner the matter is that Jesus, being from Nazareth, isn’t someone from the upper crust, the elite strata of society, but a low cast peasant. His hope soared,  Jesus was approachable! 

 

Bartimaeus begins to shout. And the crowd immediately tries to shut him up.  First, he wasn’t staying in his place. People like him were supposed to endure their marginalized state in silence. I’m reminded of the old political saw that argues that a good politician is one who once bought stays bought. They thought that way about those pushed to the edges of society.  The community felt it their responsibility to keep someone of his low estate from trying to get Jesus’ attention.  Remember, they tried to do that with the children.  There was a second reason for wanting to hush the outcry, such a commotion was likely to bring the Roman peace keepers and complicating their dismay was that Bartimaeus didn’t just shout out, he shouted “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  But as the crowd became more stern in their demand for the beggar’s silence, he became more persistent and louder: “Son of David, have mercy on me”. 

 

Thinking it was important, Matthew began his Gospel: “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David,….” But for Mark’s Gospel this is the first time a connection is made between Jesus and the Davidic monarchy. Mark doesn’t have a birth narrative, no Jesus in the manger, no angel’s on the hillside, no little town of Bethlehem, no long list of ancestors.  Doubtless,  “Son of David” was a way of referring to the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed descendant of King David who would fulfill God’s promise to Israel that a descendant of David would again reign over Israel.  And if Jesus were that person it would mean a violent revolution to overthrow of King Herod, neither of whose parents were Jewish, and sending the occupying troops back to Roman.  This was rank insurrection.  

 

“Son of David” the blind beggar cried, “Have mercy on me!”   Jesus heard him and stopped.  “Call him here” Jesus instructed his followers.  Jesus doesn’t directly call him, he asks the very people who had been trying to shut him up and keep him in his place to tell him: “Take heart, get up, he is calling you.”  Hey folks, here is a picture of evangelism at its finest. “Take heart, get up, he is calling you.”  And what a response.  Mark says that he sprang up, threw off his cloak and came to Jesus. 

 

So what would you think?  This blind sinner, no longer begging for pennies but now for mercy presents himself and his needs to Jesus – and his needs are obvious to everybody.  So the beggar is to receive just another kind of handout from another person’s largess?  Not at all.  I like what happens next. Jesus doesn’t presume what Bartimaeus wants.  He asks him “What do you want me to do for you?”.  He asks the man to name his need.  That makes Bartimaeus an active participant in his own transformation, not just a consumer of someone else’s mercy.   Did Jesus’ question sound familiar to you?  It should. It was the exact same words he asked of James and John in the preceding story.  “What do you want me to do for you?” Unlike the status seeking disciples Bartimaeus asks for what he most immediately needs.  “Let me see again.”

 

Is that a question Jesus asks of you, when like the blind beggar you throw off everything that  holds you in your place and respond to his invitation? Does he ask us to name our brokenness,  what we know will make us whole again?  

 

So the next thing that happens is Jesus reaches out and puts his hand on the blind man’s eyes and cries loudly  “heal!”.  No, not here, not now.  Jesus doesn’t heal Bartimaeus.  I’ll say it again, Jesus does not heal Bartimaeus.  He tells him: “Go, your faith has made you well.”  As Mark tells it, “Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.”  I think in the 9th chapter of John’s Gospel there is an interesting follow up on this story.  With vision restored to his eyes the once blind beggar tells his inquisitors who asked what Jesus had done to him replies: “All I know is this: once I was blind, now I can see.” We may never fully understand what happens when we trust our selves to Christ except that we know the difference.

 

That would argue that the faith which made Bartimaeus well wasn’t connected to some creedal statement, some theological formulation.  But It may well mean that people of faith don’t allow buildings, social niceties and religious customs or crowds to keep them from pursuing Jesus’ mercy.  The opposite of this word we translate faith is fear.  Fearlessness.  When all our world argues that we should stay in our place, bereft and broken and we hear that Jesus is in the neighborhood and we know that he has the authority to free us from our bondage and heal our brokenness dare we be so bold as the marginalized blind beggar and cry out “Jesus, Son of David, Have mercy on me!”.

 

The kingdom of God isn’t built with those who reject a society of justice, equity and equality.  It isn’t built with disciples of Jesus who are driven by fear and doubts and are still tempted to embrace the power alternatives of the political and economic system.  The hope for the kingdom comes with the Bartimaeuses; among the beggars, the blind and those who know what it is like to be pushed to the side of the road. The last become first as Jesus builds his kingdom on earth.   

 

For those of us who see ourselves involved in continuing Jesus’ work in the world, we can take from this simple bible story how it was the followers of Jesus who turned to the once rejected human being to say “Take heart, get up, he is calling you”.  And the good news is that our Christ is approachable.  He knows only too well what is like to be caught in a web of restraints and restrictions that hold us in our place.  As we know our own brokenness, he knows the pain of isolation and abandonment. We cry out “Jesus, have mercy on me” and he asks each of us “What would you like me to do for you.”

 

 

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