I had just bought a pair of sandals and they were great. I really dislike shopping so when I buy shoes, I expect them to last for many years but unfortunately, one of the straps on these sandals broke within the first week. My plan was to take back the sandals then go to a different store and buy some different ones. The flaw in my plan was that I didn’t take a second pair of shoes with me to put on after I returned the sandals I was wearing. Oh well, what I lack in brains, I make up for in adaptability so I decided to go shoe shopping in bare feet. If you want to get fast service in a shoe store, I highly recommend this. As soon as I walked in, one of the sales people rushed right over to me and said, “you obviously need my help.”
Why, if this shoe salesperson was able to know exactly what I needed, would Jesus seemingly not know that this obviously blind person would want to see. Why did Jesus ask, “What do you want me to do for you?”
This is actually one of those reading that is chock full of little subtleties that could easily be missed with a quick reading. Mark is one of those writers that is very brief but hides meaning is every sentence.
Here we have Bartimaeus trying to catch the attention of Jesus so that he can be healed. Already, Mark is making a strong statement. He gives this person a name and contained in this name we also know his father, Bar means son so Bar-Timaeus means son of Timaeus. Very few people in the Gospels are given names – it’s usually simply a man, a woman, a pharisee, a scribe. In this case though, we know who this is. Names at this time contained honour especially if it draws a family connection. It’s significant then that in all these stories of anonymous people, it’s a disabled beggar that’s given the privilege of being named. We see the same thing in Luke where the only person ever named in any Parable is Lazarus, a man dying of poverty. This is Jesus’ reversal of the world order. This is the least becoming first.
Even today, if you watch people walk past beggars on the street, few will even respond with a hello or a “no, I have no change.” It’s easier to not acknowledge the existence of this person – they’re simply an unnamed, unnoticed, feature of the sidewalk.
We also have a story of faith. Bartimaeus calls out to the Son of David. He knows who Jesus is and what he can do. All that’s unsure is whether or not he’ll be offered the healing he needs. After a few attempts to get attention, ignoring those who try to silence him, he’s told by the disciples that Jesus will see him. He leaps to his feet and throws aside his cloak. This in itself is an act of faith. For a beggar, a cloak was a tool of the trade. Bartimaeus would have spent his days sitting on the ground with his cloak on his lap. The cloak was a symbol of his status as a beggar and also used catch the alms thrown his way. As soon as Jesus offers to see him, he has faith that his life’s about to change – he’s no longer going to be a blind beggar and so he no longer needs that cloak.
Maybe this is why Jesus asks him what to do. Bartimaeus only knew the life of a beggar and sometimes people take comfort in their own affliction – it’s sort of a “better the devil you know rather than the angel you don’t.” Jesus doesn’t force anything on Bartimaeus – he has to choose to accept new life.
When Jesus calls to you and offers you new life, what is it that you’ll have to throw aside? What affliction or stigma, what expectation or role will you need to give up? What do you hold on to that you know isn’t life giving but it defines who you are? Jesus calls us to new life but it’s totally up to us whether or not we accept.
So many times, when the world, or somebodies corner of it changes, it follows a pattern. First there’s an idea, then there’s faith, then there’s an action and then living into the new reality. For Bartimaeus, he had an idea of a life other than that of a blind beggar. Then came the faith that this change could happen through the healing power of Jesus. Then he took action and called out to Jesus who also took action and healed him. Finally, Bartimaeus lived into his new reality. Jesus healed him and sent him on his way.
But did you notice in the reading that Bartimaeus didn’t exactly follow Jesus’ instructions? Instead of going off to do whatever, he followed Jesus – while not one of the 12, he joined in with the many others who followed Jesus to Jerusalem and beyond.
I’m guessing that there was a sense of indebtedness – Jesus restored his life and so he might have felt that he should devote his life in return. But more than this, I’ll bet Bartimaeus simply wanted to be around this amazing person and be a part of this amazing movement. After all, if you had a chance to be a part of something truly amazing, wonderfully life changing, wouldn’t you want to follow that chance?
Well. it just so happens that I have an opportunity to offer you today – an opportunity to change the world, or at least a small corner of it. It follows the same pattern. Jen and I had an idea. We’re renovating our basement and putting in a suit. We thought that while we could rent it to a student at SIAST, we could offer it to a refugee family. This idea, made more and more sense as the details fell into place – I’m an employee of the United Church of Canada – one of the organizations that is partnered with the Government of Canada to sponsor refugees and make the process easier. The church I work for is also the home of Moose Jaw Multicultural which offers assistance to refugee families.
Beyond the idea is faith. I have faith that this is something we’re called to do. I stand up here, week after week, talking about the Christian mission of caring for the poor and outcast and what kind of minister, or Christian would I be, if I didn’t do the same when opportunity arises. I have faith that this will make a difference to a family that really needs the world to be different.
Then there’s action and this is why I come to you. Jen and I are excited about this but we don’t want it to be about just the 2 of us but our entire church family. We’d like this to be a St. Andrew’s project. Some of the actions we can take will involve money. Depending on the size of the family and the level of government support they receive, there will likely be some funds we’ll need to raise. Going back to faith, I have no doubt this will happen. Eventually, there will be need for supplies. This family will be arriving with little or nothing and the suite will need to be turned into a home. I’m sure many of you have furniture and towels you’d be happy to part with but please, not yet. So far, I’ve already been offered 4 beds, 3 easy chairs, a couch, kitchen suite and 5 dressers and cabinets to go into a one bedroom suite. Let’s wait and see what the needs are when we know who they are.
What we do need is people to offer support of time. My idea is to have about 8 families or individuals who can take turns offering one week at a time every 2 months. This would mean going over to visit and make them feel welcome, helping with appointments and shopping, and anything else they may need to adjust to a new life. If you’re immediately excited about this idea, I’ll have a piece of paper where you can add your name to the list after church. If you need to think and pray first, there’s time.
After this action, the next step will be to live into the new reality. If we do this, we might be literally saving lives. We’ll be chipping away at the wall between our world as it currently is the world as it could be. We’ll also be doing something so amazing that even Bartimaeus might decide that he’d like to follow because in welcoming the stranger we will be participating in Christ’s ongoing work.