Psalm 34:1-8 (19-22) Job 42:1-6, 10-17 Hebrews 7:23-28 Mark 10:46-52
There once was a strongman at a circus sideshow who demonstrated his power before a large crowd every night. Toward the end of one performance, he squeezed the juice from a lemon between his hands. He said to onlookers, “I will give $200 to anyone who can squeeze another drop from this lemon. A thin older lady hobbled up to the stage. She picked up the lemon, clamped it between her two frail, boney hands. She squeezed. And out came a teaspoon of lemon juice. The strongman was amazed. He paid the woman $200 but privately asked her,” What is the secret of your strength?” The woman replied, “Practice, I have been treasurer of my church for forty-two years!”
This is our third week in our stewardship campaign. 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 our need to examine our giving. Money is one of the most powerful weapons Satan, the evil one, uses to separate us from God. It is our love of money that can isolate us from our love of God.
This gives us pause to examine our attitudes about money. Money is an excellent place to start in looking at ourselves as cheerful and generous stewards. We 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 God? 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 become. We will focus 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.
There was a rich man who was quite destressed over the prospect of not being able to take his riches with him when he died. So, before he died, he loaded his briefcase with two gold bars from his private vault and left instructions to have the case locked with the key, handcuffed to his wrist and the key put in his grave clothes. His family followed his instructions to the letter. When he appeared at the pearly gates, he had the briefcase with him and the key in hand. St. Peter asked, “What do you have in your briefcase?” Very proudly, the man unlocked the case, opened it and displayed his two gold bars. St. Peter said, “Isn’t that special! You brought pavement.”
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 that 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 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 the disciples discourage Bartimaeus 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 warrant 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. He ensures that his call is heard by Jesus.
The persistence and eagerness of Bartimaeus set into motion a wave of mercy, blessing, and change. Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus. Jesus calls for him. He comes to Jesus. Those who refused to let him come to Jesus are 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. Beggars in first-century Palestine would spread a cloak on the ground in front of them to collect donations from compassionate passersby. It probably isn’t much, but for Bartimaeus, his cloak was all he has. 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. When he sheds his cloak, he is leaving his former life behind. We see the transforming effect of the Gospel. The gospel calls 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 continually call out 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, care of the church resources and 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. What is that work for each of us? I think it depends on our passion, what excites us, enlivens us, renews us – what touches our hearts? Frederick Buechner wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s hunger meet.” Where your deep gladness, your passion, your love meets the world’s needs. It is one of my favorite quotes! Come and be the hands and heart and feet of Christ.
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 feeling 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 that the Vestry can create a budget that includes the needs of others. In recent years, we have added giving monthly to OATH – Okefenokee Alliance for the Homeless. 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 for the good of many.
Bartimaeus is the model of discipleship, a person of faith – using his capacity to see and comprehend. 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. Amen.