On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus is still cramming in last minute lessons.
The story says that he walks ahead of the disciples, and he’s also ahead of them in all the ways he’s ahead of us, with lessons unlearned and a kind of spiritual blindness all around. As he walks, we can imagine him hoping that they – and we — will catch up with what he’s trying to teach. Instead, it takes a blind man who can see the truth to point out the ways they are blind. (Find the scripture here.)
The disciples are still trying to take in who Jesus is, and we overhear him make his third announcement of his coming death. The story says, cryptically, “they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.” The disciples are amazed, and the following crowds are afraid? Just a chapter ago, the disciples don’t understand and are afraid to ask. (9:32) Are they amazed now because they know more, or because they know so little? Are the people afraid because Jesus has just said, in the teachings before this, that it’s hard for wealthy people to find salvation? Or is there something in the approach to Jerusalem that has people afraid?
Jesus himself may be amazed at the questions his friends ask. Just after he talks about his coming death, James and John ask to sit next to him in glory. They seem to have missed the mocking, spitting and killing announcement in what Jesus is saying. In fact, they start a little revolt among the other disciples, who are angry about the power grab. The gospel is full of reversals, and two thieves will end up on Jesus’ right and left, while James and John are missing from the end of the story.
In Mark’s elegant way, he highlights the things the disciples can’t see, adding a story about a man who is physically blind, but, even in that blindness, recognizes who Jesus is. Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus, knowing him as the Son of David and a giver of mercy. Jesus asks the same question of James and John, and then later of Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?” Mark continues the pattern of contrasts by noting that Bartimaeus calls Jesus “my teacher,” a difference from the disciples who don’t want to learn the lessons he’s trying to teach. Bartimaeus, now gifted with sight, also follows Jesus “on the way.”
In our time, we have a greater understanding of disability, and any preaching on this part of the text should reflect that. Bartimaeus sees in ways that the sighted disciples can’t. His story points us to places of blindness in all of our lives, and to the kind of faith that allows us to see clearly.
Jesus, the disciples and Bartimaeus are all on the way – to Jerusalem, to the cross, to a new kind of faith – and they invite us to consider our own journeys on the way to something new.
The sermon might consider:
- When Jesus talks about his death, the disciples can’t hear what he’s saying. Partly this is because they don’t understand the kind of messiah he is, but we often have the same reaction to people talking about death. If we love them, it’s hard to hear. The sermon might talk about the gift we give people when we can talk honestly about death, especially for people who are preparing to die.
- The sermon might talk about the places where all of us are blind – the things we can’t see about ourselves, or our lives, or our connection with God. Where are we clueless about our habits, our compulsions or our impact on others? How do we give this kind of sight to each other, as part of a faith community?
- Is it harder to see if we are closer to organized religion? The disciples can’t see what Bartimaeus can see. Are there ways where the “nones” and “dones” see the church more clearly than those of us who are in the middle of it? What might we learn from them about where the church itself is ill, and needs healing?
- Bartimaeus has an amazing persistence in asking to be healed. He calls out, even though the crowd tries to shush him. Are there places where our faith needs a dose of his perseverance and clarity?
- “Amazed” and “afraid” are often connected. The sermon might talk about the place of healthy fear in the life of faith. As God nudges us forward, fear seems like exactly the right reaction…how is fear part of our faith journey, and how do we, as Pema Chodron says, learn to smile at our fears? How is fear another pathway toward God?
- As always, thanks to our friends at Working Preacher for their work on the Narrative Lectionary. N. Clayton Croy’s thoughts are here.
- Where are your thoughts taking you this week? We would love to hear your ideas in the comments section below.
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