This sermon was delivered at Russell Memorial UMC on October 28, 2012.
Healing of blind Bartimaeus
46 Jesus and his followers came into Jericho. As Jesus was leaving Jericho, together with his disciples and a sizable crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, Timaeus’ son, was sitting beside the road.47 When he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was there, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, show me mercy!” 48 Many scolded him, telling him to be quiet, but he shouted even louder, “Son of David, show me mercy!”
49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him forward.”
They called the blind man, “Be encouraged! Get up! He’s calling you.”
50 Throwing his coat to the side, he jumped up and came to Jesus.
51 Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”
The blind man said, “Teacher, I want to see.”
52 Jesus said, “Go, your faith has healed you.” At once he was able to see, and he began to follow Jesus on the way.
There are some people you probably wish would just go away. Don’t deny it, we all know that one person who just… well they get on our nerves.
It’s the person at work who has only one joke, and that joke gets told over and over and over again until somebody laughs at it, just so that everyone’s misery is put out. It’s the person who, in church, somehow has the power to drown out everyone around them so that everyone knows that they were the lead in the high school musical twenty years ago. It’s the person who sits in the back of the class and just doesn’t get it, and continually dominates a conversation with their ridiculous opinions, or with their obnoxious questions. What they do to get on our nerves is irrelevant, because the end result is the same. These people just set us on edge. They get on our nerves. These people are the extremely loud, and the incredibly annoying.
I know I have these people in my life, but you see, I am conflicted about them. My brothers and sisters in Christ, before you stands such a person as these. I am one of them, one of the extremely loud and incredibly annoying, for you see, I am the youngest child in my family. For we youngest children, being extremely loud and incredibly annoying is an innate gift, a trait that transcends genetics and bloodlines, time and space. If you have a younger sibling, or if you are a younger sibling, you know this very well.
For most of my childhood, I knew exactly how to get on my older brother’s nerves, and it usually involved being both extremely loud and incredibly annoying. It’s really easy for me—at least when it came to my brother. On my own, I was actually a pretty shy kid. I wasn’t often very loud, and more often than not I was well behaved. Around my brother though, I could get pretty wound up. It usually involved me saying something I thought was terribly funny (or unfunny, for that matter) over and over again, until I was sure that someone had heard me. Each time I said it, it would be louder, and louder, because when you are the youngest child, you crave attention. Youngests can attest to that, right? The youngest children often are the ones who crave attention, because the eldest is often the star of the family, and while I will give my parents credit for doing what they could to make sure we both felt equal love, not everybody got that memo, specifically the teachers at school.
It’s easy when you are the youngest to live in the shadow of your older sibling—especially if your older sibling is a high achiever like mine is. “Oh, you must be Charles’s brother!” They would say. On the outside, I would say “Why yes. Yes I am.” The inner snarky person on the inside would say “Thank you for reminding me of that. I also have many fine qualities and abilities of my own, and actually my own identity, but yes, teacher that defines me by my family rather than trying to get to know me, I am Charles’s brother.” So sometimes I would get extremely loud and incredibly annoying anyways, even when he wasn’t around, because I still felt the craving for attention.
I will say though, that I really do love my brother. I do. And when I am annoying to him, he usually lets me know. And honestly, when he calls me out on it… I feel bad, because in my case, I never meant to be annoying. I never meant to be loud. I only ever meant to be heard, to be paid attention to. So this brings me back to my own conflict on being annoying, because I also know what it is to be annoyed. I can’t tell you how many people annoy me. When one of these people are around, I can’t stand it. There’s a physical reaction to being annoyed, and that reaction is to snuff out whatever it is that is annoying you. We want to make the annoying thing, the annoying person, just go away.
Often what we do is, when that person, that extremely loud and incredibly annoying person, does whatever he or she does loud enough and for long enough, we simply tune them out. We stop listening. We shut them out, because that’s the only way we can get along with our lives and not be dragged down by the irritation these people provide for us. We tune them out, and they somehow fade into the background noise of the world.
But what happens, my brothers and sisters, what happens when these people refuse to be shut down? What happens when extremely loud and incredibly annoying actually have a good reason for being that way? What happens when the world tunes them out, but they just keep on existing until someone pays attention to them? And what if, just what if, we somehow realize that maybe in tuning them out, we miss out on something incredible? Something amazing? Something life-changing? What if what the annoying person is saying something that really, we should be paying attention to?
You see, nothing in this world would ever change were it not for those people who annoyed the heck out of someone at some point. Yeah, there are people who annoy others for personal validation, personal satisfaction. There are people who annoy just so they can get attention. But at the same time, there are those who annoy because they believe that they have something to say, and something that needs to be heard.
This October 31, we celebrate Halloween, yes, but we also get to celebrate Reformation day. It’s the day that we remember that Martin Luther posted on the door of the church in Wittenburg his 95 theses, which was the domino that set off a long line of dominos in the Protestant Reformation, of which we Methodists are eventual sharers in. So you see, we are around because someone was extremely loud and incredibly annoying.
Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, was a blind man, who lived on the edge of Jericho. He was a man who lived on the side of the road, his only comforts in the world the clothes he had on and a blanket to sit on, if that. He’s a man that everybody knew by his face, if not by his name. He was a man that, because of his blindness, was fated to also be a beggar. This was not a time of equal opportunity for the disabled, nor was this a time when people could fight for their right work. Nobody would hire a blind man, and so he was resigned to begging on the side of the road. He could not see anyone, but he could obviously hear pretty well, and so you know what he would probably do? You know what would probably say, if you were walking by? He would probably say to you “Please, have mercy on me. Please, show me mercy. Help me.” And while you know that maybe you could help a little, you have your own worries to attend to, and honestly it’s not going to do him any good in the long run. Maybe if you could spare it you’d give him some money, or maybe some bread, if that much. More than likely, you would do like I would do, what any of us would do. You would tune him out. “Have mercy on me, show me mercy.” And more than likely, you would walk on by. Pretty soon, you’d not even hear his cry. Pretty soon, old Bartimaeus would blend in to the surroundings. You’d tune him out.
Such is the life of a lot of people in the world. Homelessness and poverty is a huge problem, a growing problem. It’s also an intimidating problem. It’s also a discouraging problem. No matter how much you give of yourself, no matter how much time you devote, no matter how much you might care for the least of these, at some point the problem gets too loud. Too annoying. And we tune it out because we feel like we can’t fix it. There’s always another person, another soul in need, and we wear out. I’m not pointing any fingers, because I’m just as guilty. Even though I am at times loud and annoying, I tune out and ignore those in need.
However, the story we read in scripture reveals to us something different. Some days are just different than others, and some days are pivotal points in life, in many lives. Jesus just so happened to be leaving Jericho, and on the way out, he was obviously bringing a crowd with him, a crowd that caught the attention of Bartimaeus. With a man like Jesus in town, you know the town was abuzz with gossip. “Hey, had you heard? Jesus is in town! Yeah, the guy who’s been healing people, and casting out demons. You know, the teacher, the rabbi, the holy man. We should go see him!” You know that with a man like Jesus in town, Bartimaeus was wanting to see him. I imagine, Bartimaeus was tired of being ignored, tired of being tuned out. Jesus just might be his way out.
So what does he do? He does what he’s been doing all his life: he becomes extremely loud and incredibly annoying. “Jesus! Son of David! Show me mercy!” He shouts at the top of his lungs for his one big chance at a new life, and he says it with such force, such passion, such gusto… everyone tells him to just be quiet and go away! Be quiet, blind man! Be quiet! We’ve heard enough out of you, for a lifetime we’ve had enough of you, be quiet!
Well, no. He wasn’t going to be quiet. People had been hearing him, but they hadn’t been listening to him. So he wasn’t quiet. He could no longer be quiet. He shouted even louder, “SON OF DAVID, HAVE MERCY ON ME! SHOW ME MERCY!”
And then, the unthinkable happened. The unexpected happened. But really, if you knew anything about Jesus already, you knew this wasn’t unexpected behavior for him. For Bartimaeus, though? For the blind man who had been ignored, tuned out, and forgotten all his life? You bet he wasn’t expecting Jesus to call him forward. When he heard it, he was probably stunned speechless, for the first time in his life. As was the crowd, for that matter. I bet you could hear a pin drop. And then some brave soul says, it doesn’t say who, says “Come on, man, don’t keep him waiting! Go on up! Be confident and go up!” And I wish, I wish I had the courage to be the man to encourage a Bartimaeus. I wish I had that courage.
And we see Bartimaeus go up to Jesus. Jesus asks him what he wants. Bartimaeus is probably still in shock. Nobody had ever really heard him before, let alone asked what he wants, what he needed. Nobody. Not like this. It’s a rare gift that was given to extremely loud and incredibly annoying Bartimaeus that day. He was asked what he needed. And so he answered. He drops the formal “Son of David.” He had been elevated to the point of being listened to, so he addressed Jesus as a student: “Teacher… I want to see.”
I imagine Jesus looked him square in the eye, and spoke the words that pierced his heart. “Go, your faith has healed you.” Simple. Honest. And yet, strange. It was not Jesus that healed Bartimaeus, but his own faith. The faith to be loud. The faith to be annoying. The faith to know himself well enough to shout out without reservation: I need mercy! I want to see! The faith that gave him courage to be persistent enough to fight for his life. That’s what healed Bartimaeus. And that’s what healed that crowd.
For you see, Bartimaeus was not the only one who was healed that day. Something changed in that crowd. Something changed that needed to be changed. Perhaps it wasn’t Bartimaeus that was blind, but the people of Jericho who had tuned him out, erased him from their vision. Jesus knew that Jericho was a blind city. Jesus acknowledged a cry for mercy, and addressed it. And a town was given a new way of living. Not just the blind beggar, but the blind town.
Jesus revealed that people can be healed by being heard. A soul can be given new life if it is heard, if it is loved, if it is listened to. That soul may be loud, it may be annoying, it may be unpleasant, it may be discouraging, but that soul also needs mercy. We all need mercy. We all want to be heard. We all want to be loved. We all want to be healed.
So what can we do, us citizens of Jericho? What can we do, when we are faced with a problem that has no easy answer? What can we do when confronted with a loud and annoying cry for mercy? My brothers and sisters, more than anything else, we can listen. We can listen to those who maybe we have ignored. So I’ll pose the question to you; who do you think has been ignored in this community? What are those annoying problems that you’ve maybe tuned out, but could stand some attention? I’m sure there are plenty. It could be an at-risk child in the schools who maybe could use a mentor, a stable influence in their lives, who could help them in ways their parents may not be able to. It could be an animal shelter that’s understaffed and overworked, who could use a volunteer. It could be a person at work who’s having a hard time, and who could use a kind ear. It could be many things. It could even be a need of this community that you believe this church can do something about. The cries are many, but the question is, are your willing to listen? Because listening to what the problems are is often the first step to solving the problem.
We as the church are called to be witnesses of Christ, and what better way to witness is there than to listen? To treat people with respect and dignity? To not tune them out but, but to crank up the volume? To hear rather than to ignore? Yes, I know, doing that is a dangerous proposition. That’s Christianity for you. The people who change the world are often extremely loud and incredibly annoying. All Jesus asks you to do, and all I’m asking you to do, is listen, and have mercy. Amen.