holy cross sermon for the twenty-second sunday after pentecost, october 25, 2015

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

In today’s Gospel, we hear the story of Jesus healing Bartimae’us, a blind beggar. There are a number of lessons that may be drawn from this passage. I would like to point out three.

Firstly, notice the Lord’s preference for the marginal. Bartimae’us is both sick and poor. The crowds tell him to be quiet when he calls out to Jesus for mercy, but “Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’”

If this is how the Lord treats people on the margins of our society, then how should his disciples behave? This is a lesson that the Lord reinforces throughout the gospels. And the apostles took up the message too. The opening verses of the third chapter of the epistle of James say:

“My brethren, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘Have a seat here, please,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘Stand there,’ or, ‘Sit at my feet,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brethren. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you, is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme that honorable name which was invoked over you? If you really fulfil the royal law, according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well. But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”

And note that the message is not so much that its great to be poor and sick, but that no partiality is to be shown. The criteria by which we, as disciples of Jesus, esteem people are not the world’s criteria. The fact of the matter is that how much money we have, how pretty we are, how able-bodied we are – none of that has anything to do with our standing before God. Nor should it have anything to do with the standing of anyone in the Church.

Which brings me to my second point. Jesus’ attitude toward Bartimaeus is on account of his FAITH. When Jesus heals him, he says to him, “Go your way; your FAITH has made you well.” Bartimaeus BELIEVED Jesus. He shows that he believes Jesus by the fact that he calls Jesus the “Son of David,” the legitimate King of Israel – and more significantly by the fact that he comes to Jesus to be healed in the first place. He wouldn’t be coming to be healed if he didn’t believe that Jesus had the power to heal him.

Bartimaeus’ faith undergirds his actions. That’s how it should be with us. We should ACT as though what we say about Jesus were true. I think most of us don’t – and I include myself in that rebuke. How might your life be different, in terms of the things you do, the choices you make, if you REALLY BELIEVED to your marrow, that Jesus is the Son of God, that he really rose from the dead, that he really will come to judge you? These basic truths of the faith, which we affirm “officially,” as in the Nicene Creed at mass, should make a difference in the way we live our lives. But to what extent do they, really?

Thirdly – and this is what might be called a “spiritual interpretation” – notice that the passage says that Bartimaeus is “sitting by the roadside.” He is static. He’s not going anywhere, even though he is right there next to the path that Jesus is travelling. Part of the problem is definitely that he’s blind. But I think the passage hints that there’s another problem.

Jesus calls Bartimaeus, and it says that “throwing off his mantle he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’”

The mantle is a symbol of his old self, his old patterns of action and decision-making, which might have been governed by despair, or self-pity, or pride, or any number of things. But in the presence of Jesus, Bartimaeus throws these things away and comes to the Lord. And Jesus says to him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

On the surface, that’s a strange question for an omnipotent being to ask a blind beggar. It would seem obvious that he would want to be healed. But the conspicuous strangeness of the question, in light of the facts, invites us to pause and consider. (When you see weird things like that in Scripture, it usually means there’s something deeper going on that you should pay attention to – that there are important questions you should be asking.) Maybe its not so obvious that Bartimaeus WOULD want to be healed. Maybe he had eked out a living for a long time by being a blind beggar. Maybe suddenly getting healed would cut off the only means of getting by that he had ever known. Maybe it would mean that he would suddenly have new responsibilities, that he would have to find something new to do with himself. Maybe that was a frightening prospect. And maybe Jesus was saying to him, “Are you sure you want to be healed? And that you want all the responsibilities and ramifications that come with being healed? If I take away your infirmity, your self-pity goes with it. If I take away your infirmity, your anger at people who don’t help you is no longer going to be justified. If I take away your infirmity, God is going to expect things from you that he does not expect now. Are you sure you’re ready for that? Do you really want to be healed?”

This applies to all of us. And not just with respect to being healed of physical infirmities. It applies especially to forgiving others, and not nursing grudges. If you forgive people from your heart, you’re going to give up your right not to be injured. Is that something you really want?

Bartimaeus shows us the right answer: “Master, let me receive my sight.” “Let me be healed.” And notice that the very last verse of the reading reveals what the new responsibility is that Bartimaeus embraces – it shows exactly the thing that God now expects of him. It says that “immediately” Bartimaeus followed Jesus on the road that he had just been sitting beside up to that point.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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