THE TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
Year B, Lectionary 30
October 25, 2015
Pastor David Tryggestad
Our Savior’s Lutheran Church
“Believing is seeing.”
Common wisdom says the opposite: “Seeing is believing.” But biblical faith invites us to consider the opposite: “Believing is seeing.”
Bartimaeus is blind. But he knows who Jesus is: “Jesus, Son of David.” That is: “Messiah.” The disciples, though they see, do not understand. They fail to see.
“Believing is seeing.”
The Gospel writer Mark gives us only two accounts of Jesus healing a blind man: at the beginning and at the end of the section of narrative about discipleship, chapters 8, 9, and 10, the section that includes Jesus’ three passion predictions, the three explicit statements to his disciples that he will be arrested, that he will suffer, and that he will die.
In the first account in chapter 8, Jesus and his disciples encounter a blind man in Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26). The people of the area beg Jesus to heal him. Jesus takes him aside, puts saliva on the man’s eyes and lays hands on him. Then Jesus asks, “Can you see anything.” He replies, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking” (Mark 8:24). Evidently the healing was only partial. So Jesus lays hands on his eyes again, then then the man can see clearly. What’s going on? I’ll come back to this story.
What does it mean that this section of narrative about discipleship is bracketed by the healing of two blind men?
The second blind man is Bartimaeus, the story in our Gospel today. Bartimaeus in his blindness stands in stark contrast to the unbelief of the disciples. Bartimaeus, though blind, perceives who Jesus is—Son of David—and he knows that Jesus can help him. The disciples, in contrast, fail to understand who Jesus is and argue about which of them is the greatest. Why is it that we are sometimes—or often—surprised by the faith of someone we might consider an outsider?!
Jesus declares to Bartimaeus, “Your faith has made you well”—literally—“your faith has saved you.” In Confirmation we are learning about the Reformation. One of the foundational verses for Martin Luther and the Lutheran Church is one that the girls in Confirmation have committed to memory: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God . . .” (Ephesians 2:8). (The boys in Confirmation have memorized different verses, all significant to the Reformation.) Jesus declares to Bartimaeus, “Your faith has made you well”—literally—“your faith has saved you.”
The genuineness of the faith of Bartimaeus is that, having received his sight, he follows Jesus. The genuineness of faith is not how well we know our Bibles, or how many verses of Scripture we can quote, or how well we pray, though all these things are beneficial. The genuineness of faith is in following Jesus. How many people, after encountering Jesus, walk away, even those who walk away sorrowful, like the rich man in our Gospel two weeks ago?
The last three words in our Gospel for today are “on the way.” Bartimaeus follows Jesus on the way. On the way is the way of discipleship. It is a journey, not a destination. And all are invited, regardless of status. Our Confirmation young people are on the way, and the way does not end when Confirmation ends, rather, it’s a milestone on the way.
Perhaps more than being a healing story, our Gospel story today is a call narrative—a call story: three times in verse 49, Mark writes the word call: “Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you’” (emphases added). Jesus calls Bartimaeus and his call is mediated through the disciples. Have you ever considered that you—as a congregation as well as individuals—are mediators of God’s call on others?
As a congregation, you are in the process of discerning extending a call to a pastor. The call comes through you, but the call originates in God. The call is authenticated by God. The call is empowered by God.
As individual Christians, we all have the high calling to be mediators of God’s call to others. Consider in your own heart when you have been a mediator of God’s call to another.
Many people stand outside our circle of fellowship. Some of those are seeking Jesus, even if they don’t articulate their seeking in those words. But they are seeking. Perhaps they, like blind Bartimaeus, are making a disturbance, causing a problem, making a nuisance of themselves. Perhaps we, like the disciples, would try to silence them, as the disciples sternly warned Bartimaeus to be silent. Perhaps we try to shut them out, or to put roadblocks in front of them. But Bartimaeus cries out all the more. Those on the outside seeking Jesus cry out all the more.
Have you considered that Jesus may be calling us to be a mediator of God’s call to those on the outside? Who are those “making noise,” trying to get our attention, when we would rather silence them?
A few weeks ago, our Confirmation young people wrote some of their deep questions about faith and life and God on post-it notes; they are displayed on a bulletin board toward the west wing of the building. Youth Director Meagan compared the posting of these questions to Martin Luther posting his 95 Thesis to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany, on October 31, 1517, an event we celebrate today and every Reformation Sunday. We join thousands of congregations across the globe celebrating Confirmation/Affirmation of Baptism, on Reformation Sunday.
Have we as a congregation and as individuals taken the questions and cries of our young people seriously? Have we been mediators of God’s call on their lives? If we don’t take the questions and cries of our young people seriously, how are they to take the church seriously?
Back to the story of the blind man of Bethsaida who was healed twice. It’s the only instance in the Gospels where Jesus had to heal a second time. Did Jesus not get it right the first time? Did Jesus mess up? Was his power inadequate the first time? What’s going on?
The two healings of blind men bracket the narrative about discipleship. Despite Jesus’ three-time explicit teaching about his impending suffering and death, his disciples fail to understand. They fail to see. They lack the faith to see—to understand. They are like the blind man from Bethsaida, who sees at first, but only in part. He sees men, “but they look like trees, walking.”
Perhaps we are like the disciples. Perhaps we see only partially, or not at all, or fail to understand, or get it wrong more than we get it right, are always jockeying for position, arguing about who is greatest (but perhaps arguing in a more Scandinavian passive-aggressive manner!).
We are all blind, like the man in Bethsaida who was healed twice, or like blind Bartimaeus. In our First Lesson from the Jeremiah, God sings through the prophet of a time when God promises to gather the lost remnant, including the blind and the lame (Jeremiah 31:8). The Good News is that Jesus calls us, in whatever state of blindness we may be, whether we don’t have a clue who Jesus is, or whether we see partially, like the blind man of Bethsaida, who sees men who look like trees walking. The Good News is that Jesus calls all of us who cry out to him: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Like Bartimaeus, we are all blind beggars. It is said that, at the death of Martin Luther, a note was found in his coat pocket written in his hand: “We are all beggars, it is true.” Martin Luther, declared by TIME magazine to be the most influential person of the entire second Millennium, summed up his life: “We are all beggars, it is true.” Like blind Bartimaeus, we cry, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Thanks be to God!