Today I’m going to ask you to use your imaginations. If it helps to close your eyes, feel free to do so…just no napping.
Let’s start with some basics. It’s the early morning. There’s still a chill in the air because the sun hasn’t come into the high point of the sky. You’re sitting on the ground. It’s cold and hard and dusty. Around you there are the sounds of other early morning risers. In the distance you hear a dog bark. The smell of bread wafts by your nose. Your stomach growls…you can’t remember the last time you had fresh bread.
As you awaken, you remove your wool blanket from around your body. Standing, you shake out your blanket, hopefully getting the dirt off of it. Your mother gave it to you when you were very young. Carefully, you lay the blanket on the ground, making it a smooth as possible. It is your most prized possession; in fact, it’s your only possession. Hopefully, a few coins will be tossed on it today so that you can have a little something to eat tonight. You miss your home, but you couldn’t burden your parents any longer. Being born blind meant you had no way of contributing to the household. You couldn’t be a farmer or a shepherd because you couldn’t watch the weather signs in the sky or notice a wolf stalking the herd behind rocks. You couldn’t be a salesman in the market because you couldn’t spot a pickpocket or someone stealing from you. Even though you were named “Son of Honor” you felt as if you’d only brought shame to your family, and so you left.
Leaning against the stone wall, sitting on your blanket, offering passerby’s greetings and blessings when they tossed you a coin, you notice a sound coming toward you. There is excitement, loud voices, cheers and the name “Jesus” being shouted. You’ve heard of this Jesus. He had been feeding people who were hungry. He had healed a little girl. Among the other beggars, you had heard that even women were allowed to hear him preach. As the voices and cheers grew louder, you feel an overwhelming sense of joy and wonder come over you. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” you call out. Where did these words come from? Why would you call him “Son of David”?
A voice responds “Be quiet! Go away!”
But you can’t help yourself. You call out again “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me”.
Suddenly, everything becomes quiet. There is a sense of calm in the air. Another voice says “Call him here.”
The voice that had told you to be quiet is suddenly in your face, mocking you, “Take heart; get up, he is call you.”
Jesus is calling you. What will you say? Will you be bold enough to touch his face? In a moment of excitement, trepidation and joy, you stand up from your wool blanket and walk toward the calm, comforting voice. You don’t reach for your wool blanket; you just leave it there. Approaching Jesus, he takes your hands in his. They are warm and calloused. Even though you can’t see his face, you can feel him looking at you. “What do you want me to do for you?”
“My teacher, let me see again” are the words that pour from your lips. It is your deepest desire. If only you could see again, you could return home. If you could see again, you could live up to your name “Son of Honor” and instead of being a burden to your parents you could learn a trade or a skill to help support them. If only you could see again.
Gently, Jesus places his hand on your head and whispers to you, “Go, your faith has made you well”. As if the heavens had suddenly opened up, you see the crowd circled around you and Jesus standing before you. The sky is a clear blue. The dirt is gritty and brown. People around you are wearing grey, white and brown tunics. You can see their faces, and what you see there is amazement. You can see the face of Jesus, and what you see there is hope, love and forgiveness.
As the crowd begins to move on, you go…right along with them. You have been made well. Your faith in God was strong before, but now you know your purpose…to tell others about the wonderful healing power of Jesus, Son of David.
You leave your wool blanket behind.
I’ve read the story of Bartimaeus what feels like a thousand times. As a priest, I sometimes struggle with “what new do I have to say about the gospel” and that’s exactly how it felt this time. Lately I think we’ve all been feeling a bit of anxiety and worry. The election is only days away, and the future of our country is unknown. The holiday season is upon us, while that means parties, shopping and lots of yummy food, it can also be a time of high expectations and anxiety. And our stewardship campaign is happening too…can we rise to the call to give of our time, talent and treasure? When we feel anxious, we often retreat to our “safe spaces”, our “wool blankets” if you will. It is in these spaces that we know who we are and what is expected of us. In our safe spaces, things might not always be easy, but there is a sense of routine, there is no anxiety.
Bartimaeus serves not just as an example of physical healing, but also as a model of spiritual and emotional healing. Yes, he is able to see Jesus and the crowd around him, but instead of returning to his wool blanket, he follows Jesus to Jerusalem. He gives up his safe space. He gives up returning home. Instead, he becomes a companion of Jesus and an evangelist to all who will listen to his story.
And so today this gospel invites us all to wonder, what is our wool blanket, or safe space, and are we willing to leave it behind and follow Jesus.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.