“Surprised by Vision”
Mark 10: 46-52 ~ August 22, 2021 ~ Northwood United Church ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook
Beggars…people begging for spare change…people seeking blessing, care and favour. They were found throughout most of the major towns in Biblical times. And this continues today as those living on the edge of poverty ask for help. But this story was very different. Timaeus’ son would sit on the same roadside each and every day. He would wear a coat to protect himself: sometimes protecting him from the elements…the rain and the hot scorching sun. Other times he would need protection from the rude comments that passers-by would make. When we saw him, some of us would offer him a kind touch on the shoulder, perhaps even a friendly word, maybe even some food or money to help him get through the day…others would just pass him by as if he wasn’t there.
But, today…today was a VERY different day and will forever be remembered by us all. Bartimeus somehow knew this Jesus, the one who so many of us have been following was arriving in Jericho. In fact, Bartimeus somehow knew Jesus for who he was. He shouted out to him “Jesus…Son of David”. He shouted this not once, but twice… “Jesus…Son of David”…”Jesus, Son of David”. Bartimeus saw, not just the worker of miracles…not just the one who crossed human separations and boundaries…He saw the fulfillment of time…the Messiah…the son of the divine King David. And Bartimeus, with a deep faith, shouted out to him: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” And Jesus received him and allowed his faith to heal him.
Bartimeus’ story is continuing be lived by so many. To those who sit at the roadsides of indecision…to those who sit at the cornerstones in uncertainty…to those who sit at the precipice leading to our tomorrows, the question to us becomes: ‘do we have the vision of Bartimeus to see Jesus and ask him to give us sight? I see people calling out…much like Bartimeus…today! As the fires rage throughout parts of our province. And, you have seen the pictures and videos. We are in a state of emergency…towns have been evacuated…roads have been closed and smoke and fire is overcoming. Many are shouting Bartimeus’ same cry! Jesus, Son of David, help us…have mercy on us...Jesus help! These are cries for God’s help.
Thousands of miles from here, many of our brothers and sisters living in Afghanistan are also crying out for God’s help. The one image, that I am sure you have seen as well, of so many Afghans clinging to the American plane as it prepared to leave the runway. These people are living in deep fear of their future…fear for their homeland…fear for their sovereignty…fear for their lives. They are shouting out…Where is God’s protection? Where is God’s vision? Where is God’s aid?
And as we prepare to return to ‘in person’ church in just two weeks on September 5th, we might also be sitting on our own roadsides of fear and indecision. We might feel uncertain about moving ahead; we likely have many emotions as we prepare to return; and we shout out asking for God’s guiding vision in our life. Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me! Jesus, I need you now!
Jesus’ response to Bartimeus, as you may have noticed, is rather succinct. Compared to how much time is spent on developing the entire story of Bartimeus, Jesus’ response is contained in only one verse. There is a reason for this. For Jesus, embedded in this story isthe deep question of discernment. It is that pivotal question of what we need from God. Jesus asks Bartimeus: ‘what do you want me to do for you?’ For the casual observer, it might seem to be an insensitive question. However, the purpose that Jesus asks that question is to call Bartimeus to discernment. It is critical, as people of faith, that we know what we want from Jesus. What does Bartimeus want from Jesus? What do you want from Jesus? For Bartimeus, his request of Jesus leads to his spiritual enlightenment; he begins to see with eyes of faith; his vision is restored as never before. Jesus commissions him saying: “go, your faith has made you well.”
What would you say to Jesus’ question: ‘what do you want me to do for you?’ To be clear, this is not a ‘genie grant us 3 wishes’ kind of question. Rather, it is a deep faith question that we must answer. What do you need Jesus to help you see? What passionate call do you need Jesus to help you pursue? ‘What do you want me to do for you?’…asks Jesus. Amidst our forest fire crisis in British Columbia, what do we truly want Jesus to do for us? Earlier this week, the cooler temperatures and brief periods of rain might have been a faith moment for us. ‘Thank you God’ for this weather…and keep it coming, you might have proclaimed. Indeed, we have been praying for this weather to help with the fires. Yet, others are beginning to gain clearer vision around climate change. Summers are getting hotter; forest fires are getting worse. Increasingly we are gaining vision in how we might play a role in this crisis and turn things around. I suspect that the environmental issue will be an even more significant one in the Federal Election than ever before. God is granting us vision to see our role in further harming or further blessing this creation we have been gifted stewardship over. The question: ‘what do you want me to do for you? is a discipleship question as we consider how we might be granted vision to see ways to more faithfully follow Jesus in the days ahead.
In a similar way, Jesus’ discipleship question is being asked in relation to Afghanistan. Jesus asks of the Afghan people ‘what do you want me to do for you?’. For us in Canada, we think of the role we might play in promoting the sanctity of human life, in upholding democracy and maintaining the beauty of one’s homeland.
This is also the faith question we should be asking as we prepare to return to church. Jesus is asking ‘what do you want me to do for you?’ We will consider how Jesus can be present again in our gatherings, as we answer the question of how to make them safe, inspired and life-giving. How do we honour our common desire to unite as a community, yet also acknowledge that for some this will be a scary step. As I talk to people, some will not be ready for a hug…or a handshake. Simply to gather in our sacred space of Northwood will be what they need…for now. Just to have two or three gathered together will be what some need. This will be a time to embody the grace, compassion and love that Jesus taught us…more than ever before. It will be important to gain spiritual vision in creating a safe and life-giving worship experience for all!
If you can’t see it, you will never get there. And, we have all experienced those moments of restored vision…of clarified vision…of seeing where God wants you to go in your faith. Of seeing what God wants you to do. This is the gift given to Bartimeus. This is the gift offered to you: ‘what do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus is offering to restore your spiritual vision; to deepen your faith; to fill you with the Spirit for the journey. ‘What do you want me to do for you?’