A Sermon on Mark 10:13-16 and 46-52
“Hush, Bartimaeus! Be quiet! Don’t make a scene!” MANY people scolded him. They spoke in the same harsh way as the disciples had spoken to the adults who tried to bring their children to Jesus. Mark uses the very same Greek word to convey their sternness.
Instead of helping Bartimaeus make contact with Jesus, they tried to shut him up. Was it because they thought he was an eyesore, a nuisance, an embarrassment that they didn’t want any VIPs to see? Bartimaeus sat by the roadside with his cloak spread open to receive coins passersby might toss his way. Maybe he resembled a homeless person curled up in a blanket in a doorway.
Bartimaeus was one of society’s least ones, a person whose life mattered less in others’ eyes—though polite people would be reluctant to admit that it mattered less. All lives matter. Right?
“Be quiet, Bartimaeus! We don’t want to hear it!”
Be quiet! Don’t make a scene. Through the ages that’s what countless people longing for things to be better have heard. People just wanting to exercise their rights as citizens, for example. People just seeking a decent living and who don’t want to be redlined out of safe neighborhoods. Be quiet! Don’t stir things up!
People just wanting to use the gifts God has given them—women who hear the call to preach, for example, still being told in so many places “Be quiet! It’s not your place!”
Parents of children with special needs petitioning for an appropriate education for their children being told “Go away! Don’t take resources away from our normal children!”
People deeply hurt by derogatory or unjust remarks made about themselves or others, but they don’t speak up. They swallow the pain because how well they have learned, “Be quiet! Be polite! Don’t stir things up!”
People with smiles plastered on their faces, but inwardly they struggle and cry. “Keep quiet,” they tell themselves. “Don’t let anybody see. Don’t let anybody hear. Don’t burden someone else.”
And many have internalized, “Don’t even bother the church. Don’t bring your brokenness to church. You at least gotta look like things are alright.”
Back in 2014 a church in an upscale neighborhood in Davidson, North Carolina placed a sculpture on their grounds, and it caused controversy. It is called “Homeless Jesus,” and it shows a homeless person sleeping on a park bench. The person is wrapped in a blanket, and you can’t see the face and hands. You can see the feet, however, and there are the wounds of the crucifixion. There’s a plaque that reads, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Some church members and neighbors are supportive, and some aren’t. When it was first installed, someone driving past the church was concerned that a homeless person was sleeping next to the church and called the police. A neighbor said, “In this neighborhood we don’t want to see an ugly homeless person sleeping on a park bench.” “Be quiet! Stay out of our sight!”
Unlike the disappointed parents who turned to leave when the disciples scolded them, Bartimaeus refused to be quiet. He cried out even louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Bartimaeus might not have been able to see physically, but his spiritual eyes were as sharp as they come. He knew where the hope and the help was. “Jesus, help me!”
Jesus, the one who said, “Let the little children come to me,” stood still. “Let him to come to me,” Jesus said.
Bartimaeus’ cry reached Jesus’ ears, and he listened, just as the verses from Psalm 18 we read earlier and so many other Psalms say, “God hears when people cry. God hears and answers.”
“Call him here,” Jesus said.
So the onlookers changed their tune. They turned and called Bartimaeus, and said, “Take heart. Get up. Jesus is calling you.” Bartimaeus threw off his cloak and jumped up, and made his way towards Jesus. Did he follow the sound of Jesus’ voice? Did others offer him an arm? I wonder.
Bartimaeus came to Jesus, and Jesus helped him. Jesus gave him the gift of vision. And then Bartimaeus became a follower. He followed Jesus on the way.
When people cry out now, Jesus’ disciples can choose how to respond. We can hush them, or we can hear them. We can hinder them, or we can help them. We can get in the way, or we can help make a way.
A few weeks ago John and I went to worship while we were on vacation at Selma Presbyterian Church, which has about thirteen members, and we got a glimpse of what is happening there. Back in 2014 another small church in that area, a very new United Church of Christ congregation, got in touch with the Selma church because they needed a place to meet and could not afford the rent other places were charging.
The UCC church is called Good Samaritan Church, and it formed because a few people heard a crying need. The need was for a church that could nurture families with children with special needs. Why was another congregation needed? Among these families are some who have been turned away from other churches that did not want to see their children’s brokenness and especially didn’t want to hear their brokenness. Sometimes the appearance of people with disabilities gives rise to discomfort, especially at first, and sometimes they make noise. And yes, it can be work to find ways for them to participate and be full members of the church family. It does require making adjustments.
The Good Samaritan congregation formed to proclaim the message, “Take heart! Jesus is calling you!” The Presbyterian congregation welcomed the UCC folks to use their building, and before long, the two congregations started working together, became a blessing to one another, then they started worshiping together, and now they are on their way to becoming a federated church that is affiliated with both denominations and preserves both traditions. The two pastors take turns in worship leadership.
What impressed me even more was that children regularly help lead worship. They have found things that the children can do, including those with limitations, and give them a chance to serve and to shine. They have made adjustments to help all the people be able to join in worship together.
For example, they line out the Lord’s Prayer because some people cannot easily memorize it, and they want everybody to be able to pray it together. The leader prays it line by line, and the congregation repeats each line back. No, it’s not the easiest, most efficient way to pray the prayer. But helping everybody participate is more important than reciting it beautifully from memory. The loud and clear message is, “Jesus is calling you. Yes, you.”
Another message is that other people’s need for Jesus trumps our need for things to be easy.
I have a book called A Child’s First Book of Prayers, and it is filled with beautiful and powerful prayers. One of the most beautiful is this one:
God does not neglect the poor, and neither will I;
God does not ignore their suffering, and neither will I;
God does not turn away from them, and neither will I;
God answers them when they call for help, and so will I.
(Written and compiled by Lois Rock, illustrated by Alison Jay. Oxford: Lion Children’s Books, 2002, p. 72.)
Jesus heard the longing in those parents and children that came to him that day. He heard the cry of their hearts. “Let them come to me,” he said. “Don’t hinder them. The kingdom belongs to such as these.”
Jesus heard Bartimaeus’ longing cry. “Let him come to me,” Jesus said.
I wonder what it would sound like if all the cries in our neighborhood became audible. One thing is for sure: Jesus hears every cry, and he says, “Call these people to come to me.” We who have experienced his love and mercy and healing power, who have heard him calling us, are called to call them. We must get the word out: “Jesus hears your cries, and he is calling you!”
Jesus is calling you, who are struggling to keep food on the table, a roof over your family’s head, and the bills paid.
Jesus is calling you, who cope with pain and wrestle with grief. He hears your cries.
Jesus is calling you, who are lost and don’t know which way to turn, who are in a mess. Jesus is calling you who are bowed down in shame and burdened with guilt. He hears your cries.
He hears your cries, and he is calling you, who know the pain of rejection, disappointment, fear and despair. Take heart. He is calling you.
Jesus doesn’t ignore your suffering, and neither will we.
Jesus doesn’t turn away from you, and neither will we.
Jesus embraces you, and so do we.
Jesus loves you, and so do we.