I remember the first time this story from Mark’s Gospel became more than just another story in the Bible for me. I had been on a Midnight Run on a Friday night. Handing out clothes and coffee and soup to groups of men and women at various locations in midtown Manhattan. Everyone was huddled and bundled against the cold. A faceless, nameless group anxious to get clean clothes and dry socks and something warm to eat and drink and then return to their cardboard box or their corner out of the wind. And we were anxious to get back in our vans. The next morning, still a bit tired from being out late on Friday night, I walked into my office to read through the scripture reading for Sunday and to make sure I was ready for worship. The scripture for that Sunday was the same as the scripture reading for this morning. Mark 10. Blind Bartimaeus. Son of Timaeus. Beggar who spent his days sitting in the dust on the side of the road just outside Jericho. That Saturday morning was the only time I remember ripping up what I had written earlier in the week to write something entirely different for the sermon for the next day.
My guess is you know enough Hebrew to catch the irony in the passage. Bartimaeus. Son of Timaeus. Bar. Meaning son of. As in Bar Mitzvah. Even though he had lived in that town his entire life, nobody knew his name. Only that he was Timaeus’ son. Bar Timaeus. This scripture and that insight changed the way I interacted with others especially those who were and are invisible to me most of the time. Those with whom I had interacted on that Midnight Run the night before. Those families and neighbors who I get to know on work trips to Appalachia or Nicaragua. Those whom I welcome when we host the Emergency Shelter Partnership. The check out person at the grocery store.
Now, I do my best to make sure I introduce myself.
And, do my best to notice or to ask them and then call them by name.
They deserve, at least, that much.
Something similar happened when I read through this passage again this past week and thought about and planned for this morning. Instead of the name, what caught my attention this time is the question Jesus asked. Reading through this story, the way I heard Jesus ask the question was not out of a sense of exasperation like you and I might sometimes do when being interrupted or being asked to do one more thing. Throwing up our hands and saying, “What do you want me to do for you?” But, as I read the story, I heard Jesus asking the question with a sense of openness and honesty and genuine concern for the person who now stood in front of him. Beggar’s cloak discard, Jesus could now look him in the eyes. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus said. “How can I help?”
I think one of the reasons this question jumped out at me, is that I had recently stumbled across and have been thinking about this reflection by the Rev. Gene Robinson, retired Bishop in the Episcopal Church. Bishop Robinson wrote: I think people often come to the synagogue, mosque or church looking for God and what we give them is religion.
They come looking for God and we give them….
What to believe.
How to believe.
What to do.
How to act.
We use our churchy words and say our churchy prayers and sing our churchy hymns. We stand up and sit down on cue. Please understand. I am not criticizing. All these things mean something to many, if not most, of you. They mean something to me. But, in light of the Gospel and Bishop Robinson’s reflection, I find myself asking the question.
Are there those who wait alongside the road?
Invisible to most of us?
Maybe even hoping for something.
Maybe not even aware that they are waiting or looking or hoping, but there. All around us.
Who are all those others who are NOT here.
Our children and our grandchildren.
Our neighbors down the street.
Our neighbors who look like us and those who don’t.
Do we see them for who they are?
Do we recognize them?
Do we care enough about them not just to see them, but to ask what they are looking for?
To ask what we can do for them?
Or, who we can be for them?
Is it true that all we have offered them is religion?
When what they are looking for…longing for… is…
Here is what I know.
Or, at least think I know.
- I think Bishop Robinson is right.
I think we are more accustomed and comfortable in offering people religion rather than an experience of God. Or a window onto the Holy.
- An indicator of this is that much of what we do and how we do it, while meaningful to us, is not connecting with others. All the demographics tell us that and trend in that direction.
Maybe that is because religion is easier and safer.
Because that experience of the Holy…
Our experience of God…
Is so personal and fluid we find it hard to put words around it.
How do you talk about that moment when you were saved?
Or describe that moment when awe buckled your knees?
Or, when you experienced a forgiveness which broke open your life?
Or, when that Something More filled your being to overflowing and changed who you are and how you live?
I don’t have any great wisdom here.
Let alone answers.
Just my intuition that Bishop Robinson is right and that the question Jesus asks Bartimaeus somehow connects with and has something to do with all of this. And, the belief that the more we ask and and the more we talk about this and the more we do our best to live out the question the more we create space for both us and others to turn towards that Something More which even today…even now…waits to turn our lives right side up.