Let me see!
Pentecost 22, Common Lectionary Year B
Â©2015 JoÃ«lle Leduc
Every Sunday morning, we pick up a little bit of a much larger story. My father used to read a comic book magazine (Le Journal Spirou) in which different stories were published only two pages at a time. Every week, he would have two more pages of each story in the magazine… Two pages of a Tintin, two pages of a Spirou, two pages of AstÃ©rix. My mother found it really irritating to follow stories that way and she told my dad: “Let me know when a whole album is out. Then I will pick up the stack of magazines and read up the whole episode in one shot!”
I feel like my mother about this morning’s passage. It is like two pages of a comic book and we read the previous two last week… And I feel like I need to re-visit them to understand what is going on in this morning’s text… And I also feel like I need to hold the whole album of Mark’s Gospel in my hands and flip to the last pages and get a sneak peek at where this is all going!
The NRSV tells me this morning’s snippet is a healing story. But I suspect there is more to it.
Let us go back to the whole album. Where is Bartimaeus in Mark’s Gospel? What happened before? It is in the episode of the Journey to Jerusalem.
So Jesus set out with his disciples on a journey towards Jerusalem. Just as they were about to leave, there was a rich man who came to Jesus and asked him what he could do to inherit eternal life.
Jesus told him that in addition to all the pious things he was doing, he should sell all he had and give it all to the poor and then follow him. And the rich man was disappointed and left very sad, perhaps thinking this was way too hard for him. And Jesus told his disciples that it is hard! That following him is not an easy thing to do.
On top of that, Jesus told them for a third time that he was going to be killed.
In last week’s two pages of Mark’s Gospel, as they were walking on their journey to Jerusalem, two of the disciples, James and John, asked Jesus if they could have the places of honour, one sitting at his right and the other sitting at his left, when Jesus would come in all of his glory. And Jesus said: “You don’t know what your are asking! Don’t you understand that where I am going, I will suffer? And don’t you understand that you will suffer too if you associate closely to me? And besides, it is not for me to decide who gets to sit in the power seats.”
And this is where Bartimaeus is introduced. It is not innocent. And the way he is introduced is not innocent either. Bartimaeus is named. Bartimaeus son of Timaeus… Where else does the narrator of Mark’s Gospel name characters that way? James and John, sons of Zebedee… When he tells the story of the disciples being called by Jesus. This may be a healing story, but Mark here is telling us it is also a calling story. At first, Bartimaeus is doing the calling: “Jesus, son of David! Have mercy on me!”
Even if others are trying to make him quiet, he just shouts louder until Jesus hears him and say “Hey, call up that shouting man so I can talk to him.”
Bartimaeus throws off his cloak and springs up before Jesus. Jesus then asks him the same question he asked the disciples last week: “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus is not asking for honour and glory like James and John… Instead, he says: “Let me see again…”
Now Jesus does not give him laser eye surgery, he does not put mud in Bartimaeus’ eyes, in fact, he doesn’t even touch him… He just says: â€œGo; your faith has made you well.â€ And where does Bartimaeus go? He follows Jesus…
He what? He follows Jesus…
The whole way up to Jerusalem, Jesus has made it clear that following him would not be an easy road and would certainly lead to a lot of suffering… Pardon the pun, but is Bartimaeus following Jesus “blindly”?
Details are not innocent in Mark’s Gospel. Stories of blind or deaf people healed often follow a passage in which someone did not understand Jesus’ teaching. Being able to see is not only about physical sight, but is also a way in which Mark talks about understanding what Jesus is talking about. Details carry meaning.
Just after James and John asked to be seated at the left and right of Jesus in his glory, we find Bartimaeus sitting on the side of the road. Sitting in the Ancient Near East culture is a position of power. When Jesus starts teaching in the Gospels, he sits down. It is a way of having authority. So Bartimaeus may be a beggar, but he is sitting down.
In that culture, the cloak, (or mantle) is a symbol of power, wealth and social status… Bartimaeus casts his cloak to the side to go talk to Jesus and never goes back to retrieve it… He leaves behind all he had as a beggar… But also symbolically all the honours, status and wealth he had… Bartimaeus is doing what the rich man could not do and rejecting what James and John were asking.
Bartimaeus is doing all the things that Jesus has been asking others do to along the way… He even calls Jesus “Son of David” which is another way of calling him Messiah. He recognises who Jesus is… He gets it. Yet he is said to be blind and asks: Let me see…
Perhaps this is why Jesus does not do anything physical to give him back his sight, but tells him his faith has made him well. He is confirming that Bartimaeus gets it. And that is all he needed to see again and follow Jesus.
But what is Bartimaeus understanding any way? Does it make any sense at all to follow someone who is going to be executed as a state criminal and risking to be killed to, just for following him?
What did Bartimaeus see that gave him the final boost of confidence to follow Jesus?
Bartimaeus was acting by faith. And what he saw when Jesus healed him might have been a glimpse of God’s vision for the world, allowing Bartimaeus to understand deep down how he was a part of God’s vision and how the crazy things he was doing actually made sense.
A lot of the things we do by faith do not make sense in a rational cost-benefit analysis.
What are you all doing here on a Sunday morning when you could be sleeping in or having brunch with friends and family?
How can a banker to leave his job, his cloak of honour and wealth, to go work of a non-profit organisation?
I could have said: Why would I waste all my Friday nights with teenagers I don’t even know?
Let me see…
Three months of going to SouthWest United Mission in Verdun every Friday and spending time with teenagers form the neighbourhood. 12 Fridays wondering: Does this make sense? What am I doing here? Do I really make a difference? Does this make sense? And then, at snack time, one of the teens is eating up these bagels we got from the Salvation Army like there is nothing else to eat on earth!
“Wow! You are hungry!
This is my first meal of the day, he tells me.”
Let me see… Yes I see. This makes a difference for him. Yes I see, this makes sense for me to do this.
For most Fridays, I would not see… I would follow blindly… I would go play dodge ball with teenage boys and be happy just to make sure they do not start a fist fight… But from time to time, Jesus would let me see…
Two years of youth group later… My loudest self-proclaimed atheist is at a youth forum with us. He comes to youth group, he says, to hang out with his friends and to stay out of trouble. It is already worth it, if you ask me. It is worship time. The prayers of the people at youth forum is always a magical moment, where youth gathered in a circle in the dark and light one tea candle after another: one for each prayer. They pray out loud or in silence. And my 15 years old self-proclaimed atheist is praying his heart out for his friends and for his family and thanking God for Youth Group and Youth Forum. I see… This makes sense.
Let me see… Let me see a group of people meeting in on a week day morning to connect with one-another… Let me see how, when one is sick or grieving the loss of a loved one, this group of people pulls together and lifts up this person, surrounding them with their caring loving presence… I see… It makes sense.
Let me see… Riding your bicycle in the rain or in the cold for 25 km in October? Are you crazy? Many of us who were riding or sponsoring a rider for Ride For Refuge will never meet a refugee… But with the eyes of faith you see. You see the hope it gives to displaced people seeking safety. Let me see…
O Jesus, let me see that leaving power or honour or comfort behind to seek to serve God by serving my neighbours can be hard… Let me also see with the eyes of my heart how it all makes sense. How my small effort, my small gift of myself, of my talents and resources is adding up to a stream, a river, the overwhelming ocean of God’s love for the world.
And when I don’t see it, give me the faith I need to keep doing it anyways. Amen.