Our gospel for today is a journey story. Jesus and his followers are headed to Jerusalem for Passover, the road passes through Jericho, which is about 15 miles from their destination. Jesus’ followers believe this will be the moment that Jesus will rise to power. Jesus knows he will soon be crucified. Before we get to the Palms and Hosannas of Palm Sunday, our Gospel writer, Mark, shares the story of a blind man regaining his vision.
Every Jew was expected to spend Passover in Jerusalem. Many did but not all could make the journey. The Passover pilgrims came through Jericho. The people of Jericho would gather on the road to applaud and encourage those who were headed to Jerusalem. They would share food and water to support these pilgrims. Jesus and his followers were treated to this hospitality. The crowd buzzed as they realized who was passing by. His name was shouted. Some saw this as a victory march. One saw it as a death march.
Sitting on a mat on the side of the road was a blind beggar, Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus. Daily he would take his cloak and his mat and sit on the side of the road to beg. Passover was a great time for a beggar. Pilgrims came by and being in a charitable mood would drop coins and maybe even some food on his mat. His fellow citizens were used to Bartimaeus. He had his spot on the road and he had been there so long he had become a fixture. Sometimes notice, most of the time ignored. Somedays a charitable citizen might take pity and drop a coin or piece of bread on his mat.
The other senses of a blind person compensate for lost eyesight. Sitting on the road day in and day out Bartimaeus listened to the stories of people walking by. Travelers coming to Jerusalem from Galilee talked of a rabbi who was teaching and healing. They told stories of this teacher raising a girl from the dead and feeding 5,000 people at one time. Bartimaeus heard the name Jesus repeated over and over. He would remember this name, because someday he would walk by Bartimaeus and his spot on the road.
Today was this day, sitting in his usual place beside the road, the crowd buzzed. It was if the air was vibrating. He heard the name Jesus. People were cheering calling the rabi’s name. The was his time. He starts shouting- Jesus! Heave mercy on me! He shouting is so loud and embarrassing to his fellow citizen. They try to quiet him. Bartimaeus keeps shouting- Jesus! Jesus! Have mercy on me! Jesus hears him and stops. He calls him to come. Bartimaeus throws off his cloak, springs to life and come forward to Jesus.
Jesus asks him- What do you want me to do for you? The response- Let me see again. Bartimaeus once could see. He had not been blind from birth, but at some point, in his life, he lost his sight. Jesus tells him- Go- your faith has made you well. Bartimaeus could now see again.
With his sight restored, what did Bartimaeus do? He followed Jesus on the way. And followed he must- because of those healed by Jesus, only a few are named. With his sight restored, he began a new journey that the readers of Mark’s gospel would have known about and could recall.
What is The Way? Before the word Christian was used to name the followers of Jesus, we were known as followers of the Way. Before Christianity was a religion with a theology and a set of right beliefs, it was known as a distinctive way of living. Our call was not to be a community known for right belief, but a community that lives in a way different from the world. A journey or path modeling the Way of Jesus.
Every once in a while, a preacher has preachers’ block. A great passage of scripture and you get to the point where you are going to bring to light a profound insight you have experienced in the walk with this passage. This is my Sunday to serve, and this has occurred. And hard as I have tried, I have not made it happen. I finished this sermon at 5:45 this morning.
Most days I am as spiritually blind as Bartimaeus was physically blind. I should be sitting on Main Street yelling for Jesus to see me, and heal me of my blindness. I would hope if Jesus actually was walking down Main Street and heard my cried and asked me what he could do for me, it would be to ask him to let me see- through his eyes- and not seek a condo on the beach.
Over the last year or so I have had my eyes opened to the racism inside of me. The death of George Floyd, studying racism and white privilege, contemplation, and having conversations about race ‘woke’ me up to this fact. I live white privilege. But now that I am woke, I can recognize it. I can see how society and yes, my families and community taught me to see people of color as less than. And days like yesterday show me how far I still have to go to not make judgements on color or stereotype or my white maleness.
My contemplation on this sermon has focused on the overarching Christian religion. Has our community become as spiritually blind as Bartimaeus was physically blind? As a community have we let right belief and our thirst for power blind us to how we are to love and live? We are seen by many as blind to the needs of the world- blind to the Way of Jesus. In a recent survey of non-Christians about the larger Christian community, we are seen as narrow minded, homophobic, misogynistic, racist, and uptight. Does this describe the Jesus we see in scripture?
This is how the world sees us, especially those we are called to seek and serve. And if we wonder why we are seeing our attendance decline and if we choose not to blame a pandemic, we must seek restoration of our community sight. We are seen as judgmental, motivated by anger, awash in hate speech. This is not the Jesus I love, nor the way I want to be perceived. The time has come to throw off our cloaks of blindness and ask Jesus for our sight to be restored.
As Episcopalians we think we are not seen in this way. Sadly, very few drill down far enough to find us. Those searching for us often give up before they get to our red front doors. We have let other branches of the Church define us. We don’t like to evangelize. We don’t tell the story of our Walk. We don’t invite people to church. We don’t speak up or speak out. Why?
Mark tells us a story of a blind man receiving his sight right before Jesus dies. Maybe he was hoping the community he wrote his Gospel for would see their blindness and pray for sight. To remember their Way was one with a cross.
We have an amazing story of our walk with Christ which thousands in this community are longing to hear. It is not just the story that can be told by someone wearing a collar. It is your story too. It is our story. We are an alternative- A Way. We already have a space on Main Street. Let’s pray for Jesus to restore our sight. Let’s walk in the Way of Love and inclusion. We are needed.