Sermon for LAST SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY Sunday 28 October 2012
Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!
When Bartimaeus rises up and throws off his cloak. He throws away the old and puts on a new life in Christ. He is changed in look, he is made new, this is, as some would suggest, his moment of baptism. He rises out of the dust, casting off the old, and now lives a life as a follower of Christ. So if we want to believe Blessed Paul who encourages us to see one another as neither male or female, slave or free, today take the name and liberation of Bartimaeus to heart, and consider this story your own, for in this disciple of Christ, there is no fear, there is no blindness, nothing holds him back from proclaiming Christ, and nothing can silence him from speaking the truth. And so, if we cannot be like Christ, let us look like Bartimaeus, and no longer collude with selective sight or a blindness of eye which allows to pick and choose when we act as followers of Christ, place yourselves in the crowd and do not be deaf to hearing others proclaim Christ in our midst, and do not be lame in following, in walking the walk, as some might put it.
It is no accident that Bartimaeus is the last healing miracle in Mark’s Gospel: this story is the climax to the theme, which is important to Mark, of spiritual blindness and sight and the integrity of those who follow Christ.
This healing follows the last of Jesus’ predictions of the passion, yet is also on the cusp of his entry into Jerusalem and the start of that gruesome passion narrative. But before he endures that torture, so readily depicted in our gaze in the architecture of this church, at last, perhaps even giving him some comfort, this blind man on the roadside, this beggar Bartimaeus recognises our Lord, and doesn’t only call out to him to bask selfishly in Our Lord’s popularity, his glory.
Like the women who gather at the tomb, like those who are outside of polite society or religious purity, like those who have no worth or value, again, it is these wonderful people who are most excluded from society, and from religion who recognise and confess the truth of the incarnation; these are the ones who in the dirt of their miserable lives, know their need of Christ, they are the ones who through their birth right of destitution and discrimination give testimony to new life through our Lord.
God takes what is foolish, ugly, poor and broken and reveals its glory. It isn’t to the status driven individuals, society’s success stories that the Gospels place the truth, it is into the mouths of babes, and the vulnerable, those whose clutterless lives allow them clarity, that love is fully revealed, that the truth is given, so almost to mock most of us out of our riches of security and into a place of humble access.
The Gospels are stories to assist us to be like Bartimaeus, to be convinced by a consistent revelatory truth which can sustain us, which can enlighten and transform us and which lead us to cry out, “Son of David, have mercy on us”. At this point in Mark’s Gospel, the revelation has to become explicit in order to make sense of what is coming next for the reader. Our Lord’s teaching of what we should be like, is basically complete, we need to understand because of who Bartimaeus says our Lord is, how the following chapters are going to work out, why the messiah is going to be so radically different, because reaching into the depths of creation, our Lord wants us to be a transformed and seeing community of faith, he wants our spiritual and social blindness to be healed, he wants us not to be quarrelling about our superiority and status like his closest followers, James and John, rather he wants us to see our lives in relation and context to his saving life. For he is the eternal one, and it is only in him that we share in that eternity of God’s life and love.
Dear Bartemeaus is nothing, he would sleep if he could on the back wall of this church throughout Mass, yet he is the first to recognises the identity of Jesus as Messiah and rather than Jesus rebuking him or calling him to secrecy, he is commended by Jesus and healed. So, Jesus is ready, for what is to come in the Passion as we as followers, or even simply readers of the story are to be prepared for what is to come in his passion so that we might just begin to glimpse the possibility of resurrection of new life.
Wonderful Bartimaeus refuses to collude with keeping quiet. He is compelled to speak the truth, for in such a character like Bartimaeus, his faith proves to be greater than his fear. He does not collude with his poverty, he is not obedient to his place in the dust. He rises up, and reveals healing, purpose, restoration and the Messiah. Ironically he is the only clear sighted individual, who is persistent in the presence of the crowds and disciples call to silence him, whose faith is greater than his fear.
So, take this story to heart, be like Bartimaeus, be courageous like Bartimaeus, be true to the liberation that Christ intends for all creation. Bartimaeus’ faith sees hope where his eyes fail him. He is the blind man who calls out the truth, and who in response receives his place within the community. He is the beggar on the street who knows not how to be silent, or to be put in his place. He is a good reminder for how our discipleship should work out.
Bartimaeus, is one amongst very few who are remembered by name in Mark’s account of the Good News. It’s likely that following his healing, he remained faithful part of the community of faith. He doesn’t run away and make up for lost time. Some might characterise Bartimaeus’ blindness as symbolic of the lack of hope and faith that we have as a Christian community in tomorrow, and the next day. But I think perhaps we can see it as in Christ we have healing and life. We have a commission to be different, to be not pious, but holy, not near-sighted, but clear-sighted encapsulating for the community of faith a vision of something true which we perceive but different from what we immediately see.
For it is the blind beggar on the side of the road who is the most successful disciple… that doesn’t mean that we cannot be like him because of our apparent sight, it simply means that we need to look at one and other with different eyes, with a different affection and expectation and live life in Christ, always calling out, especially as we approach this altar, Son of David, have mercy on me.
Sermon preached by Fr. John Pritchard