23rd Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 34:1-8 (19-22) Job 42:1-6, 10-17 Hebrews 7:23-28 Mark 10:46-52
Two elderly men had been friends for many decades. Over the years, they had shared all kinds of activities and adventures. Lately, their activities were limited to meeting a few times a week to play cards. One day, they were playing cards when one looked at the other and said, “Now don’t get mad at me. I know we’ve been friends for a long time, but I just can’t think of your name. I’ve thought and thought but I can’t remember it. Please tell me what your name is.” His friend glared at him. For at least three minutes, he just stared. Finally, he said, “How soon do you need to know?”
We all need help remembering things we’ve known at one time or another. The men need help with their names, and Christians need help with remembering what the Kingdom of God is all about. That’s what Jesus does. He helps us see what the Kingdom is all about, and we must let him do his work in us.
This is our second week in our stewardship emphasis. Do you realize that Jesus spoke more about money than any other topic? More often than prayer, more often than witnessing, more often than faith, Jesus spoke clearly and specifically about money. As a matter of fact, the entire Bible is filled with stories and teachings on the topic of money.
The reason the Bible deals so often and so openly about money has to do with the fact that money is one of the most powerful weapons Satan, the evil one, uses to separate us from our God. It is our love of money that isolates us away from our love of God.
We also need to evaluate our attitudes about money, because money is an excellent place to start in taking a look at ourselves as generous stewards who are empowered by God to give. How we handle our money is one of the best indicators of how responsibly we’re managing the resources God has given us.
Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Talk is cheap. Anyone can talk about what it takes to live the Christian life. Anyone can talk about how great God is, but the true test of stewardship is whether or not we’re bearing fruit (John 15:16). Jesus said in Matthew 7:20 that his followers will be recognized by their fruit. One of the clearest insights we can gain into ourselves is what we do with the money God gives to us.
Many people use this line of reasoning when confronted with giving. “We would love to give more, but we just don’t earn enough. When I get that raise, we’re going to start tithing. When we get our bills paid off, we’ll have something left for the offering plate.” Just a little more money and we will be satisfied.
How grateful are we to our gracious God? How grateful are we for the gift of his Son? How grateful for his Spirit, who works in us through Word and Sacrament, to bring us to faith, and to draw us to himself? In addition to our verbal expressions of thanks, how do we show our gratitude but by joyfully giving back what we have received? The more we truly believe that all we have are gifts from God, the more thankful we will be. Our thoughts will be concentrated on what we have received instead of what we thought we needed or wanted. Instead of thinking of giving as an obligation, we will see it, as a privilege, as becoming as one in the body of Christ. With “gladness of heart,” we will also grow in the grace of giving.
The healing of blind Bartimaeus is the last healing in Mark’s gospel and it echoes the healing of the blind beggar in Bethsaida. You may recall at one time, Jesus used his spit and touched the man’s eyes to heal him. Here, Jesus asks an important question – “What do you want me to do for you?” In today’s reading, Jesus heals Bartimaeus with a word. But Bartimaeus has a part in acknowledging his desire to be healed. Earlier, the crowds brought the blind man to Jesus, but now the crowds try to keep him away from Jesus. The cure in Bethsaida seems to lie solely on Jesus. But here in Jericho, Jesus ascribes Bartimaeus’ recovery to his own faith. Jesus sends the man from Bethsaida home, but Bartimaeus follows Jesus – uniquely so, among the people whom Jesus heals in Mark’s Gospel.
It may bother us that Bartimaeus is discouraged from seeking Jesus. Isn’t that what we, followers of Jesus are supposed to do – bring people to Jesus. Would the stigma of his disability provide the justification for his exclusion? But the disciples’ discouragement brings into focus Bartimaeus’ determination. The blind man is not dissuaded. He persists until his shouts are heard and recognized. He understands that being restored to honor, productivity, and well-being will require the mercy of the one whom he reveres as the Son of David. Bartimaeus refuses to be defined by his circumstances or by the expectations of those who are able to see, who are close to Jesus, and who assume the right to speak on his behalf. He ensures that his call is heard by Jesus.
The persistence of Bartimaeus sets into motion a wave of mercy, blessing, and change. Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus. Jesus calls for him. Those around Jesus call him to Jesus. His breakthrough of mercy begins with the recognition that those who once urged him not to bother Jesus are now transformed. They are no longer speaking sternly to him. Their excitement is amazing. Take heart! Cheer up! On your feet! He is calling you! They have become witnesses to and vessels of mercy.
Bartimaeus is portrayed as a model of Christian discipleship. He comes to Jesus and does so by casting his cloak aside. The cloak represents all his worldly possession, probably stuffed with the fruits of his begging. It has kept him warm through the cold nights. It has covered him and comforted him during his time of exclusion. So, in throwing off his cloak to come to Jesus, he is exposing his heart’s desire, he is offering himself in a vulnerable way, he is way outside his comfort zone. When he sheds his cloak, we see the image of one who leaves his former life behind. To those who have always known honor, power, affluence and prestige, this image reminds us of the transforming effect of the gospel to call forth a life of love for our neighbors, of service to others, of giving from our hearts.
The image further challenges us to reflect on the life circumstances of the world’s poor and destitute who call out continually for mercy. Most have no security blanket, no coats to keep them warm, and no hope for a better life. Billy Graham wrote, “You make a living by what you get, you make a life by what you give.”
The Episcopal Network on Stewardship defines stewardship as – “Everything I do after I say I believe.” Isn’t that what we see in Bartimaeus’ responses? He leaves his old life and grabs hold to his healing and his new life. He is transformed in that moment of Jesus’ mercy and compassion. Perhaps, Bartimaeus saw the possibilities. He realized that stewardship is not just about money, but about mission, about care of the church resources and about Christian formation. Perhaps he realized, as Terry Parsons says, that “Stewardship is using the gifts we’ve been given to do the work God is calling us to do.”
The work God is calling us to do. We can acknowledge Joe Cornelius loading up his truck with supplies and driving to Albany for hurricane relief. Nobody told him to do that - the work God is calling us to do. James Israel took the leftover food from a Leadership Waycross retreat to Sweetwater for the homeless guys living there - the work God is calling us to do. Ken Taft took the leftovers from the lunch that day to Serenity House - the work God is calling us to do. Small acts with big hearts – not because they were pressured into doing something, but because they listened to that still small voice calling them to do more – to do the work God is calling us to do. One of the Cursillo participants, Evan Brown, loaded up the leftover snack food and took it to a homeless shelter in Douglas. Small acts with big hearts - the work God is calling us to do. Not thinking about our own needs but seeing and feeling the needs of others.
Audrey Jernigan sneaking in the back door of the parish hall to bring bags and bags and bags of food for the Ruskin children. Never wanting recognition – sorry – but always remembering their needs - the work God is calling us to do. Tina Caron, Don Brown, Mike Taylor and James Israel are frequently here to help with the outreach. We always get such a heartfelt reception in feeding the folks in line at the Mary Street Mission on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month. So this Tuesday, we will gather at 4:30 to put together the bags for the Ruskin kids. Come and join us. It is fun and the feeling you get in giving of your time and talents is amazing. The Ruskin bags are delivered on Thursday morning so the counselor can get the bags to the kids on Friday so they have food for the weekend. Come and be the hands and heart and feet of Christ. C. S. Lewis wrote, “I do not believe we can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid that the only safe rule is to give more than you can spare.”
Jesus’ question to Bartimaeus “What do you want me to do for you?” is also for us. What is it we want Jesus to do for us? What is it we want Jesus to do for our friends and family…for our church… And what is it that Jesus wants us to do. Jesus encouraged folks to give from the heart – a heart touched by love – a heart responding in service – a heart vulnerable to the plight of others. The arms of God’s love surround us and encourage us to love others. It is in our pledges, our commitment to God’s work that the Vestry can use to make a budget that includes the needs of others. It is in our giving that the mission and ministry of Grace may come together to make a difference – a difference in the hearts of folks, a difference in the needs of the community, a difference in our using God’s gifts to the good of many. Stewardship is using the gifts we’ve been given to do the work God is calling us to do.”
Bartimaeus is the model of discipleship, because he is a person of faith. His capacity to see and comprehend reminds us that the disciples seem not to perceive or understand, they don’t seem to see or to hear. In today’s reading, Jesus draws attention to the faith of Bartimaeus, and we are invited through the words of Jesus to see the relationship between faith and wholeness, faith and love, faith and salvation. These elements are powerfully combined when we hear and respond to the words of mercy: Go, your faith has made you well. Go, your faith has healed you. Go, your faith has made you whole. Go, your faith moves you to do the work God is calling us to do. May the Lord bless us with loving and giving hearts. Amen.