Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!
The drama is building. This text is the last event in Mark before Holy Week. Next, as chapter 11 begins, is Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the day the church calls Palm Sunday. Things have been picking up speed since the Transfiguration back in chapter 9, with a prophecy, a healing, then Christ meditates on his death. Jesus mediates a dispute among the disciples, teaches about divorce, about honoring our relationships, blesses little children, tells the rich young man that in order to follow him he has to sell all he has and give the money to the poor. This man goes away, ‘shocked and grieving,’ Mark says, ‘for he had many possessions.’ Our Executive Presbyter, Ted Churn, is going to preach on this text for us next week. Another teaching section with the disciples, and we’re here…
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” he cries out. I wonder if you have too. Maybe not those words, but maybe in response to when the doctor calls back and says to come in, she’s seen something. Maybe because of a job change you weren’t seeking, a relationship come to an end. Maybe it’s simply because you’re tired, weary, and your kid – the one you thought was fine – got in trouble or flunked something or got pulled into something with friends that did not allow for good decision-making. You make a mistake, don’t take the time, fly off the handle in a way that makes you keenly aware of your own brokenness. Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.
Or you look at the flooding down east or you watch our government, maybe this week the Senate, the ‘world’s great deliberative body,’ stuck in a morass of resentment. Even as 100 or so of us gathered on Wednesday for a wonderful evening of meal -packing, we were reminded we were doing this because 821 million people in the world – this Sunday we celebrate World Communion and remember how Christ’s table connects us with brothers and sisters throughout the world – 821 million people who go to bed hungry. Or police, 7 of them, are shot in Florence, South Carolina this week heading into a domestic abuse situation. Whatever it is, you know the place…after you’ve exhausted every option and all that’s left, ALL THAT’S LEFT, is to cry out to God. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus, Holy One, bringer of comfort and strength and hope, HELP. We need you. It’s a mess down here.
Jesus and– Mark notes it’s a large crowd – were leaving Jericho, and this blind gentleman sits by the side of the road. Bartimaeus is the only person healed by Jesus in Mark’s gospel whose name we know – every other time it’s ‘a leper’, ‘a paralytic’, ‘a man with a withered hand.’ Bar-timaeus, literally son (bar) of Timaeus, in Hebrew means “son of the unclean.” “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The crowd tries to get him to keep it down, but that only makes him louder. HAVE MERCY ON ME!
Most of the time when reading these stories I identify as one of the disciples. I don’t start reading these stories – and I suspect that’s a product of my own life and social location –as the leper, the woman who is unclean, as the Roman Centurion in need of healing, as the blind beggar on the side of the road. But I found something here –good news– as we started reading with the stewardship committee month before last. Because, at some point in our lives – maybe it’s right now for you – we find ourselves as Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus, crying out in his need – the folks around sternly ordering him to be quiet, but he persisted: “Have mercy on me!”
But you know who heard? JESUS. The good news here is that Jesus heard. Not only did Jesus hear, Jesus acted: “Call him here” he says. The fickle crowd turns, “Take heart. He is calling you.” THIS moment is one of profound grace. Can you imagine how that would feel to blind Bartimaeus, a beggar on the side of the road, who knows how long he had been there, and after all the waiting, all the crying out, to FINALLY hear, take heart, he is calling you? Can you imagine how that might have felt? Even if you can’t imagine that, I bet you could imagine those moments when you have cried out for God, and to hear: Take heart. Have courage. Jesus is calling. Christ has work for you to do.
The Stewardship Committee found that message of Christ’s comfort and call to be a powerful one as we reflected on this past year in the life of our beloved Westminster. This has been a busy season filled with much change, which brings uncertainty. And, this is only in the church. We look at our world and find it lashed with instability and hurt, loneliness and violence. I was raking leaves on Saturday and some neighbors walked by with their dog. I greeted them, asking them how they were. “We’re just grieving the loss of community in our society…” They said. We all feel it. Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us. Seasons of change tend to make individuals, and communities, want to step back, to lay low, hold off on that pledge, hang in there on the sidelines. Let’s wait and see. And that’s a fairly natural thing and I wouldn’t blame you for doing so. I might if I were in your position. But that is NOT what you all have been doing for most of this year, and it is such a gift, such a testament to your faith, and I am so, so, so grateful for it. I have been overwhelmed by those of you who have stepped up to recruit teachers and organize teams, who formed search committees who very quickly found strong interim staff who are jumping right in. You have showed at the office and asked how you could help, you’ve made extra visits to hospital or rehab facilities. This has been a wonderful week of mission, of service for our neighbors these past few weeks as so many of you purchased supplies for the Haiti team and brought in clothes for our neighborhood sale, and this past week, the last 8 days, we have prayed for the team in Haiti, organized and planned and welcomed our neighbors for the sale, and showed up this past Wednesday night to pack meals, even as we begin to gather buckets of cleaning supplies for our brothers and sisters down East as we stay in touch and hope to have some chances for us to go ourselves and help soon. This is the Holy Spirit at work.
Yes, its stewardship season. Yes, I’ll invite you, encourage you more than once, to not only make a pledge but continue to step up and increase your pledge this year. I’ve told you before that our family is committed to tithe to this church and we pray that you’ll join us. Because Christ calls us to be generous, to stretch. Because Christ calls us to reach towards the world. Because Christ reminds us that generosity is at the very heart of the life of discipleship. Because all of these gifts are reflections of priorities, what matters to you. To us. Because, in so many ways every decision we make is a decision about the allocation of seemingly scare resources, of time we don’t feel like we have, of energy that is waning, of money that we never feel like we have enough of. And I believe it is so desperately important in these days of confusion, of deep need, of much anger and mistrust, that there are communities that will proclaim the GOOD NEWS that God has come to earth to accompany us here in the life and ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and to call us to follow, which is not the easiest thing, but that is the thing that brings the most life, life abundant, in Christ’s name, in this world and beyond. To be a community of grace and care and compassion and generosity.
Imagine, again, what it might have been like for Bartimaeus, there on the side of the road. Can you imagine what that might have been like? If you can get there then maybe, just maybe, you can also glimpse what marvelous, miraculous good news it would have been – with whatever you’re carrying today, as we move forward in faith and hope, as we wind our way towards the table in a few minutes remembering we do so with brothers and sisters from all over creation – to hear the disciples come over and say, “Take heart. Jesus is calling.”
My goodness how amazing must that have felt. Might you receive that grace as well. Take heart, friends. Have courage. Have hope. Christ is calling you. Amen.
 Eugene Boring, Mark: New Testament Library (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2006), p 304.
 Myers, Ched. “Binding the Strong Man,” (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2006), p. 282. Both of these citations come from the Rev. Jessica Tate’s paper on this text at the 2012 gathering of The Well, Montreat, NC.