David A Davis
October 28, 2018
Jump to audio
Every one of us has been “shushed” at some point in life. “Shushed” as in “Shhhh!” It happens to everyone no matter what age; very young to very old. It must be part of the universal language; “shushing”. We’ve all been on the receiving end and we’ve probably all, at some point, been on the delivery side as well. Shh! In the theater, at a concert, in a lecture hall, in the classroom, at church, in a museum, on the quiet car, at the movies, at the dinner table, in a restaurant. It happens pretty much everywhere. Sometimes polite, more often probably not. People try other things to attempt silence: holding up the hand with a peace sign, zipping the lips as a sign, a hand clap or two. But it all comes back to the “shush”. When hosted my group of pastor friends last May, the din of all the fellowship often needed to be squelched. So I resorted to shouting “the Lord be with you”. It worked every time. It is just part of the human experience, isn’t it? “Shushing”. In all of its forms. So utterly common and ordinary; telling someone else to be quiet. Except this one. This one is different. Here in Mark, chapter 10, the man who was blind, named Bartimaeus and those who tell him to be quiet. This one’s different.
Do you know that one scene in a movie when you get an inkling of how this all is going to end? Or that chapter in a good mystery when you as the reader find yourself beginning to have a take on who did it? Or that particular point in a choral or orchestral performance where you begin to pick up the notes, the harmonies, that touch of the melody that will then come to the fore in its conclusion? Something like all of that is happening here with the healing of Bartimaeus. In the Gospel of Mark, there’s a turn here, some kind of a shift, a light bulb going on. Something happening here that the reader ought not to miss.
Jesus and the disciples were “going up the road to Jerusalem.” The seasoned reader of scripture knows that the phrase “going up the road to Jerusalem” is a loaded phrase because Jesus is now going up to the cross. But, as if for the sake of a first reader’s naivete, Mark’s Jesus pulls the disciples off to the side and tells them again, tells them the third time, what was going to happen to him on up the road. That “the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him, and after three days he will rise again.” The “rise again” part is mysterious at best and not all that clear. But the handed over, and the condemnation, and the spitting, and the flogging, and the killing? That’s pretty clear.
And right then, on the way up, is when James and John ask the teacher to do for them whatever they ask. They want to sit, one at his right one at his left, they want to be right next him in all his glory. Jesus is trying to get them to understand what is going to happen when they get up there; What’s going happen to him. And they want to bask in his glory. The only thing more embarrassing for James and John than flat out asking for the Lord’s favor, for priority seating, the only thing worse is that in Matthew’s gospel, in Matthew’s telling of this “on the way up” conversation, in Matthew, James and John have their mother ask for them!
When the ten other disciples heard, they were angry. No mention of them being horrified by the thought of what was going to happen, of his suffering now on the horizon. No, they were mad at James and John for asking. They were angry at James and John for asking to hog the glory. They were mad that they didn’t think to ask first. Jesus tells all twelve of them what he has told them before. “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.” On that road up to Jerusalem, Jesus is trying to get them to see….. and they can’t.
So then they get to Jericho and a blind man named Bartimaeus is sitting along that same road up. Bartimaeus could hear from the large crowd now going along with Jesus and the twelve, he could hear that it was Jesus. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” he shouted. And they “shushed him”. Actually, it says “many sternly ordered him to be quiet.” That means they told him to shut up. It doesn’t say whether the disciples were the ones. Neither does it imply that the whole crowd joined in. Just many. Many “sternly ordered” him. Ordered him to be quiet, to shut up. So Bartimaeus did it again. Bartimaeus cried out more. Bartimaeus shouted even louder. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”.
And according to Mark, “Jesus stood still.” He stood still. It should be as powerful and as memorable and as quotable as “Jesus got into the boat” and “Jesus wept, and “Jesus had compassion” and “Jesus took bread.” Jesus stood still. There surrounded by a crowd that was now on the move. In the face of others ordering Bartimaeus to be quiet. There along the road that was heading up to Jerusalem, the road Jesus so firmly intended to walk. Right then, on the threshold of the Palm Sunday caravan up to Jerusalem, Jesus stood still. In response to the crying shout of Bartimaeus, Jesus stood still. In response to one man’s plea for mercy, one, just one, one man, Jesus stood still.
Jesus asked him the same thing he asked James and John; “what do you want me to do for you?” Like James and John, he called Jesus “teacher”. But unlike James and John, having cried out for mercy, he asked to be able to see. But even before Bartimaeus was healed, he could see. He could see what the disciples could not. In his shout and in his plea for mercy rather than glory, Bartimaeus could see Jesus. “Go, your faith has made you well” Jesus tells him. And Bartimaeus could physically, literally see, according to Mark, immediately. Both the first reader of Mark and the seasoned reader of Mark, all the readers of Mark then know and sense that significant understatement that sums it all up. Bartimaeus “followed Jesus on the way”. That would be the way…up. The way up to the cross. The way of being a servant, of being the least, of coming to serve not to be served. The way of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
No this was not your run of the mill “shushing” there along the way…up. Because along the way of servanthood, you can’t just “shush” another person’s plea for mercy. James and John might have been part of the crowd that ordered Bartimaeus to stop or maybe they weren’t. Regardless, those telling him to keep quiet errored on the same side of James and John who were trying to keep Jesus for themselves and horde his glory. But when it comes to the kingdom of God, you can’t keep trying to hold others back from the Savior. You can’t act like the Teacher is just for you. And for heaven’s sake, you can’t try to “protect” the Messiah from the suffering of a child of God you would just assume stay silent, stay invisible, or just go away.
The last Sunday of October is often celebrated as Reformation Sunday. These watchwords come from the very heart of the historic Protestant movement. Watchwords, fenceposts, takeaways: “grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone.” And when it comes to grace, it’s God’s first move, first love, first to us. As Paul unforgettably puts it in Ephesians: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Part of the wonder of God’s grace, the ever present mystery of God’s grace, is that you don’t deserve. I don’t deserve it. No one deserves it! And if you don’t deserve it, you didn’t earn it, then you don’t control it. More to the point, if you don’t deserve, you don’t get to decide if someone else, if anyone else deserves it. You cannot silence another person’s plea for mercy, another person’s yearning to be heard. In response to one man’s plea for mercy, one, just one, one man, many tried to tell him to be quiet, to just go away. But Jesus stood still.
You cannot keep someone else from being recognized as the child of God that God created them to be. Even if you kill them, driven by the sick evil hatred of racism, bigotry, and anti-Semitism. Lord have mercy on us. You cannot live like God’s glory shines all over you but never on someone who looks different, or believes different, or whose very presence somehow offends you. Lord have mercy on us. You cannot try to legislate a person’s identity away, keep them silent, tell them to go away because their sexual, gender identity doesn’t conform to your theological framework, your hording of what it means to be created in the image of God. Lord have mercy on us. You cannot ask for God’s favor and yearn for God’s mercy and expect God’s blessing and then act like the earnest plea of someone else is little more than the white noise of nothingness. Lord have mercy on us. If Jesus stood still for one blind man begging for mercy on the way up, you know he has to be standing still for one, two, hundreds, thousands, walking for miles in a caravan who are crying out for God’s mercy and seeking something better for those they love. Seeking God’s blessing. Lord have mercy us.
Bartimaeus could see what the others could not. That there is always enough of God’s mercy to share. There is enough of God’s grace to go around. There is enough of God’s glory for all. Along the way of servanthood, along this kingdom way, you can’t just “shush” another person’s plea for mercy. . In response to the crying shout of Bartimaeus, Jesus stood still. In response to one man’s plea for mercy, one, just one, one man, Jesus stood still. Jesus stood still. You have to remember that. Never forget that. Jesus stood still for Bartimaeus. That means he stands still for you, too. And for ever last one who cries out for mercy.