August 9, 2015
“Flinging Our Cloaks Aside”
The Rev. Maren Sonstegard-Spray
Our Commissioning program here at the church, which involves our 7th and 8th grade students, focuses over the course of two years on what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, and when we do our big retreat in 8th grade we focus on the practices that shape us as followers of Jesus – prayer, forgiveness, enjoyment of God’s creation, and entering God’s story through the Bible – the more we get into God’s story, the more it gets into us.
So we spend time learning different approaches to reading the Bible. If you have ever just sat down and read the Bible, and felt like you got nothing out of it, first you are not alone, and second there are methods to reading the Bible that open it up and bring it to life. We talk about two different ways.
One involves writing in your bible (shocking I know) and making different marks at parts of a passage that you don’t understand, the parts that challenge you, the parts that are good news.
This is really interesting to do in a group of people because what is good news to you may be a challenge to me. The second method comes out of the Ignatian tradition of reading the Bible imaginatively.
Place yourself in the story – who are you and what are you seeing and smelling and tasting and touching? What do you notice that you never noticed before? If you read scripture this way, I hope you will discover that the story comes alive – it is vivid and surprising (our God is a God of surprises) and challenging.
The passage we have for this morning is perfect for this kind of imaginative reading.
Before I read it, I want to paint a picture for you of what has already taken place in Mark’s account of Jesus’ life.
And a quick note, I’ve shared this before, the gospels which are the biographies of Jesus’ life, are written by his followers after his death and are pulled from eye-witness accounts, from stories that are told over and over by the early followers of Jesus, and even from a document long lost that had collected many, many sayings of Jesus. And all the biographers pulled from all of these sources to create a faith statement about the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Mark is our briefest and earliest story of Jesus, but I hope you will see that Mark has woven this story together like a tapestry – it is beautiful.
So, we will pick up the story in Mark chapter 10 where Jesus meets a man who runs up to him and begs him, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” and Jesus says keep the commandments and the man replies, “I have done that my whole life” and Jesus looks at him with love and compassion for he knows what this man is not telling him, that he is wealthy and the wealth is standing in his way, so he says to the man, “let go of your wealth, let go of your belongings, come and follow me and you will find the treasure you seek.” And the man walks away.
Next scene, Jesus and his disciples begin their journey to Jerusalem. This is Jesus’ final journey – and the writer lets us know that something is wrong – the people walking with Jesus were amazed and afraid, even before they hear Jesus tell them for the third and last time, ‘this is the end for me – there will a trial, torture, death and then resurrection.”
But Mark, the writer, lets us know that the disciples do not understand what this means – they are blind.
Two of his Disciples, James and John tell Jesus, “We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And Jesus replies, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And what they want are places of honor beside Jesus. And the other disciples get angry about this. And Jesus tells them, “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”
And then we reach our passage for this morning – this is the last thing that Mark records happening before Jesus makes his big and momentous and final entry into Jerusalem to shouts of Hosanna.
46 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. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”
50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.
51 Then 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.”
52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.”
Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
Jesus has now gathered a much larger following, while making his way through Jericho. The road is hot, the dust is churned up filling the air as the crowd moves along. Lost in the noise and the crowd and the dust is a blind man, in those days someone considered to be cursed by God. He sits in the gutter and begs alms, crying “Have mercy on me.”
The first thing I noticed reading this passage was that the blind man is named, and not just once but twice: Bartimeaus, “bar” meaning “son” and Timaeus is his father. Scholars point out that this name can also be read us “son of the unclean” or “son of poverty.”
So the son of poverty calls out to Jesus, son of David – and David is royalty. The son of the unclean calls out to the son of David, a messianic title meaning the one God has chosen, the king God has chosen to save the world. Bartimaeus cries out for mercy. The people around him tell him to shut up, but he cries even louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me.”
It would have been easy to pass him by because important things lay ahead. But, in the kingdom of God, there are no unimportant people.
Jesus hears him and calls him to come forward. Let’s place ourselves in the story as the disciples, still fresh in our minds, is this young, wealthy man who wanted to follow Jesus but could not let go of the things he valued most in this world – he would not let go of his security, his treasure – even when Jesus said come and follow me.
And we watch as Jesus calls to the blind beggar and he gets up and throws off his cloak and leaves it behind.
Did you catch that remarkable detail in this account?
Why, when there are so many other details that are left out, why does the author leave in that the beggar flings aside his cloak?
The cloak is the man’s security, shade from the burning sun, warmth in the cold, it is his tent that he sleeps in, the thing that protects him and his possessions. And he leaves it behind – Jesus says come, and he comes with his hands not holding on to anything else.
Let’s place ourselves in the story as the son of the unclean. We believe that God doesn’t love us, and then we hear that God is walking by, and so we cry out for mercy, and God calls us, and all we have to do is leave behind the things we think are our security, the things that we have a tight grip on. What do you need to leave behind to answer God’s call? It’s time for us to shed our cloaks.
The man comes before Jesus, empty-handed now. And Jesus asks him a question, “What do you want me to do for you?”
What do you want me to do for you? And if we are back in the shoes of the disciples we are thinking, wait, Jesus just asked us the same question, and we asked for honor and power and glory.
What would we expect the blind beggar to ask for? “Teacher, I need money” . . . instead Bartimaeus asks for the deepest longing in his soul, “let me see again.” Healing isn’t the end of the story; the man is now free to follow Jesus on his way.
In his book “The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything,” Father James Martin begins to talk about spirituality by talking about this very passage.
He asks, why would Jesus ask Bartimaeus what he wanted?
He could see that he was blind – and he has already healed many people, so Jesus knew he could heal him.
James Martin writes that Jesus was helping Bartimaeus identify the deepest desire of his heart.
He writes, “Desire has a disreputable reputation in religious circles. When most people hear the term, they think of two things: sexual desire or material wants, both of which are often condemned by some religious leaders.
The first is one of the greatest gifts from God to humanity; without it the human race would cease to exist. The second is part of our natural desire for a healthy life – for food, shelter and clothing.”
But understanding desire as part of our spiritual lives, can be much more difficult.
What do you want me to do for you? It is a powerful question.
And there are holy desires which are different from surface wants like “I want a new car” or “I want new clothes.”
What we are talking about here are our deepest desires, the ones that shape our lives – the desires that help us know who we are to become and what we are to do.
James Martin writes, “Our deep desires help us know God’s desires for us and how much God desires to be with us. And God, I believe, encourages us to notice and name these desires, in the same way that Jesus encouraged Bartimaeus to articulate his desire. Recognizing our desires means recognizing God’s desires for us.”
For example, the desires that we have for significant change, or for growth, for a fuller life, or a simpler life, or desire to do something meaningful or good, the desire for healing or for less anxiety – these are the kind of desires that lead us to become who we are.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola would say desires are one manner in which God speaks to us directly.
Here are two possible ways to come to know what are the deepest holy desires that we have.
The first is “Outside In” – examine your life and your heart and consider what are the desires that you already have, desires like “I want a new job” or “I want to move” may signal something quite different – like a deep longing for freedom or more connection with loved ones or, and I know I keep bringing this up, a life that is more simple and less cluttered, or a desire for a life that is more connected to God’s creation.
The other approach is “Inside Out” – so we ask ourselves, what are the stories from our childhood, from novels or movies or songs or fairy tales, and especially from scripture, that we are drawn to, that speak to us, that produce longing and desire in us. Might these stories hold clues about our holy desires, perhaps even our desire to use the gifts God has given us in a new way?
This can be a way that God’s voice is heard in our lives. Ultimately our deepest desire, placed there from the beginning, is our desire for God.