“‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man replied to him, ‘Master, I want to see. Jesus told him, ‘Go your way; your faith has saved you.'”
Today’s reading from Saint Mark’s gospel follows the story of two-weeks ago of the rich young man and Peter’s lament, “We have given up everything and followed you.” And last week’s gospel, and the contest between James and John and what powerful position they will hold in the “coming kingdom.”
Now we hear from Bartimaeus who pleads for a miracle that would restore his sight. So my themes for this homily are sight and direction.
First, let me talk about sight. Back in July, a mother whose name is Jessica Sinclair of Cincinnati, Ohio posted a very short 30-second video on You Tube of her daughter Piper. This video went viral, and I happened along with many, many others took notice of this 11-month old infant who was seated in a high chair at a restaurant, as her mother struggled to wrap around her head, Piper’s very first eyeglasses with pink rims and plastic straps. This moment was perfectly captured on video as the child sees distances, maybe for the first time.
Off camera, we hear Jessica ask her daughter, “Hi Piper, how are you?” Piper pauses for just a moment, looks around simply awe-struck at the sight of her mother, up close, and then bursts into a wide-grin. Then a voice from another direction, her father Andrew calls her attention, saying, “Piper, hi!” The young baby, looks over to him, and smiles instantly. The child looks back and forth — amazed at the sight of her parents laughter.
Well, this video tugged at my heart, and the hearts of thousands of online viewers, a miracle of sorts.
Sight is something most of us take for granted, and today thanks to modern medical technology, miracles are happening with implants, medication, and the training and care of guide-dogs, service companions, for the blind.
Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus for a miracle in order to join the disciples on their seventeen mile journey from Jericho to Jerusalem. Today we celebrate this miracle and the “joy of discipleship.”
Jesus is this prophet, teacher, and healer. There are some 30 miracle stories in the New Testament; this is the last miracle story in Mark’s gospel. In all of the New Testament, only two miracle healings are so prominent that the writers give precise names to these bible characters — Bartimaeus and Lazarus. Scripture scholars have plenty to say about the derivation of these names, but I’ll let that go for now.
More important is the personal encounter of Jesus and the blind man on the side of the road to Jerusalem, in which Bartimaeus gives away Jesus’s identity as the “Son of David,” and further revealing Jesus’s great mercy to Bartimaeus and the invitation to join his disciples and their difficult mission ahead.
Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” And ultimately, it’s Bartimaeus’s faith that leads to Jesus’s mercy, healing and thus, “spiritual discipleship.”
This brings me to my second theme, that of direction and common mission.
I, too, was traveling recently, and following Pope Francis from Washington, D.C., to New York and Philadelphia. His homily at the Mass at Madison Square Garden was directed to our common mission as a Church. Here are the pope’s words on September 25th,
“The Gospel tells us how many people came up to Jesus to ask: ‘Master, what must we do?’ The first thing that Jesus does in response is to propose, to encourage, to motivate. He keeps telling his disciples to go, to go out. He urges them to go out and meet others where they really are; not where we think they should be. Go out, again and again, go out without fear, go out without hesitation. go out and proclaim this joy which is for all people.”
Over the past few months I came across many people and probably as many opinions about how the pope should take to the United States. I was personally most touched by the words of three Protestant ministers who spoke to the press in Philly during the press/media preview tour in late August.
An afternoon session entitled “Church in the City: Thriving, Dying or Just Getting by?” brought together ecumenical and interfaith leaders, Rev. Leslie D. Callahan (Pastor, St. Paul’s Baptist), Shane Claiborne (Founder, The Simple Way), and Alvin Sanders (Senior Vice-President, World Impact). They addressed the visit of the pope as an opportunity for all people of faith. Leslie Callahan saw that the pope’s moral muscle would bring greater attention to racial justice in the USA. “We hold the soul of the city in our hands” Alvin Sanders told us, and asked how do we preserve these souls. and, at the same time, deal with both transition and innovation?
Last of all was Shane Claiborne, whose intentional community, “The Simple Way,” is dedicated to social justice and activism in the city of Philadelphia. He told us that his community would house a group of Franciscan seminarians during the pope’s visit. Shane got my attention when he noted that the pope has both thrilled and fascinated the world. That such religious movements, like his own spiritual experience, help shape all life.
Drawing from Matthew’s gospel, Claiborne added that “when you welcome the stranger, you welcome me…so welcome Pope Francis, and know that there are so many popes on the ground.”
These were mighty powerful words of welcome, both to the pope and the countless women, men and children doing the work of Christ in Philly and around the United States.
As if to finish Shane Claiborne’s message, let me go back to Pope Francis’s words, again drawn from his Madison Square Garden homily, the pope states,
“God is living in our cities. The Church is living in our cities. God and the living Church in our cities wants to be like yeast in the dough — to relate to everyone, to stand at everyone’s side, proclaiming the marvels of the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Eternal Father, the Prince of Peace.”