Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
I have prayed this prayer time and time again, and with it also what is known as the ‘Jesus Prayer’ as I prayed with my prayer beads: Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
I pray these prayers because words fail. I pray these prayers because they are ancient, because they don’t depend on my ability to choke out my frustration or fear or sadness. I pray these prayers because they see the world as is it is, and ask for God’s mercy to come even still.
It has been a difficult week; it’s been a week of hate crimes, mass shootings, and terrorist attacks, and in my frustration and sadness and fear, the words that come are these ancient ones. Yesterday as I watched as the synagogue in Pittsburg was attacked, I cried out, Lord, have mercy. Earlier this week, when two men were shot in a Louisville Kroger, I cried out, Lord, have mercy. As the count for the intercepted bombs sent and to prominent political figures continued to climb, I cried out, Lord, have mercy. It has been a difficult week.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
In our gospel passage today, Bartimaeus cries out in faith, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
As the disciples and Jesus leave Jericho and are surrounded by a large crowd, and a blind beggar, named Bartimaeus, was sitting by the roadside. When Bartimaeus heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout for the Messiah to have mercy on him. Many in the crowd scolded him and ordered him to be quiet, but in their attempts to suppress his cries for mercy, he raised his voice even louder, begging for mercy that only the Christ could offer. Jesus, at the hearing of the cries for mercy stands still and calls Bartimaeus to him; Bartimaeus is so excited that he throws off his cloak, sprang up and came to Jesus. Jesus doesn’t follow suit in trying to quiet this beggar, but asks first and foremost, “what do you want me to do for you?” The blind man asks to see again and Jesus heals him and tells him that his faith has made him well. Rather than going on about his way, this blind beggar chooses to continue to follow Jesus on the way.
Two things that stand out to me in this passage. First, is the simple, but unique, fact that the blind beggar is called by name. In our sacred texts, names matter, if someone is known by name, it’s never by accident. In Mark’s gospel, there are many people with whom Jesus interacted, helped, and healed whose names we do not know; not even the rich young man gets called by name, but Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, does. In Bartimaeus being called by name, this blind beggar is not a prop, he is no longer invisible to the crowd.
The crowd tried to quiet his cries; the crowd tried to overlook this beggar and his need in search for the joy and prestige of seeing the now infamous Jesus. Bartimaeus, in his faith, cried out despite his invisibility to the crowd and expressed his faith in the Messiah, calling him the Son of David, not just once, but twice. Bartimaeus was not invisible to Jesus, and when Jesus heard his cries, he stood still and called him over.
The second thing that stands out to me in this passage is what Jesus says to Bartimaeus when he joyfully runs to Jesus’ side, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus no doubt knows what Bartimaeus needs, or at least could assume. Maybe he needed money, or food, or shelter, but Jesus engages anyway and asks him what he would like him to do. Bartimaeus’ faith compels him to respond, “My teacher, let me see again.”
The unique thing about this response is that it relays a relationship. “My teacher,” here is the word rabouni, only used twice in the gospels, here and at the tomb with Mary when she can’t recognize the risen Christ until he calls her by name. Rabouni is intimate, and just as Bartimaeus being named is not an accident, neither is this. Rabouni conveys relationship and conversation. This is an exchange between a student and a teacher. It is an exchange where Bartimaeus’ beggar status or physical capability are less important than his willingness to seek out the Messiah and his faith therein.
These two things, Bartimaeus no longer being invisible and Jesus engaging in a conversation and relationship with him, are so crucial because, for me, they are difficult; they are difficult for me because they are uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable to because it disrupts my notion that everything is fine. But, I know that it must also be true that it’s difficult because it’s convicting; I know that each day that I put on my feet on the ground in the morning and choose to follow Christ, I must follow the example that our gospel lesson presents to us today.
My desire to continue to try to be a Christian must find its home in seeing those that society sees as invisible and engaging in relationship and conversation with those who society often casts off.
Perhaps you have noticed a rise in unhoused and homeless guests and neighbors around the church property, or perhaps you haven’t. A group from Deacon Kellie’s Seeking Shalom class have started to engage in sacred conversations with these neighbors to learn more about them, to ask them what they need, to figure out how we can help connect them to more sustainable rhythms of life, and to build relationships with them. They are beginning the difficult, life-giving work of starting conversations and seeing those society also sees as invisible.
This week we also have the Living Waters for the World Team headed to install the water-filtration system to help that community in Peru have access to clean water and later we’ll hear about Room in the Inn, and the shelter we help create during the cold months. There are so many opportunities in our own community to follow Jesus’ example of seeing those who society overlooks and begin those conversations and relationships wherein which we ask, “what do you need?”
This has been a difficult week, but God is inviting us to follow Jesus on the way by seeing those who are often invisible and to engage in relationship and conversation with those who are often forgotten in our society. As you go out into the world today, remember to follow Jesus’ example; see those who are often unseen, pray for God’s mercy upon them, and be the hands and feet of Jesus.
Engage in relationship and conversation with those around you, find out what is happening in people’s lives, ask of them what they might need from you.
Pray for the Living Waters for the World team and the work and relationships that they will build, and contribute your time and talents to one of our outreach ministries like Room in the Inn.
It has been a difficult week, and yet, even in difficult weeks where we give rise to our cries of “Lord, have mercy,” may we have faith like Bartimaeus and have the courage to follow Jesus on the way.
A sermon delivered to the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, KY on Proper 25B, October 28, 2018 on Mark 10:46-52.