Eleison, have mercy: it is our prayer and Christ’s command.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Sunday of the Reformation, Lectionary 30 B
Text: Mark 10:46-52
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Eleison. Have mercy.
That’s what Bartimaeus asked. Actually, eleison me, have mercy on me.
Jesus, his disciples, and a large crowd are leaving Jericho. It’s like a parade or a march. And Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, hears the crowd, finds out it’s Jesus, and cries out, have mercy on me.
And Mark says “many” tried to shut him up. They rebuked him, told him to be quiet.
Who are these who won’t hear the cries of someone in need asking for mercy, who even would prevent Jesus, someone who could offer mercy, from hearing?
And where are you in this story? Do you sometimes wish those in need would be quieter, quit bothering you and others? Do you stand next to such silencers in the crowd and let them shut out the cries for mercy? Do you reach out to Bartimaeus, help him up, saying, Take heart, Christ is calling for you?
Bartimaeus is real. He lives among us. And all he asks is eleison.
Our government not only tells Bartimaeus to be quiet, they insult him, try to throw him out of the city, even try to deny he exists.
The U. S. Department of Health and Human Services now proposes to define gender as strictly male and female, defined prior to and at birth. The 1.4 million Bartimaeuses in America who identify themselves in differing categories, fluid or changing genders, won’t exist for purposes of health and services. The administration claims this “protects” the health of Americans. We deny Bartimaeus his existence and say we all benefit.
A caravan of thousands comes north from Honduras and Guatemala seeking help, and our administration characterizes these impoverished Central American families with children as dangerous criminals, and says that ISIS – from the Middle East! – hides among them.
But it was U.S. policy and actions in the twentieth century that destroyed the economies of places like Honduras and Guatemala, destabilized their governments, and made U.S. businesses and their profit the priority. These thousands come from desperation created in part by us. We made Bartimaeus. But he isn’t welcome here.
But my friends, these are the easy ones for us to see and want mercy for. There are others who are your Bartimaeus.
She may live in a tent next to Hiawatha, and you’d like to have compassion for her. But then you see the needles and syringes lying around her tent, her children, and it’s not a feel-good story anymore. Maybe you just don’t think if Bartimaeus does drugs she deserves the mercy of her neighbors.
Maybe Bartimaeus has dark skin, and his cries of eleison include his claims that his life is radically different from yours. That he has to teach his children strategies to avoid police attention. That he has to worry about broken lights on his car lest they lead to his death. Maybe you’re just tired of hearing that Black Lives Matter. You wish they’d be quiet.
Sometimes you can’t even see Bartimaeus. She’s going to be waiting for you after church, though, holding a cardboard sign as you enter the freeway. She’ll be there again tomorrow, and if you’re careful you don’t even have to make eye contact, let alone hear her.
Maybe you’re thinking, I actually see all these, and I’m trying to find ways to help. That’s good. But there are so many Bartimaeuses in the crowds, there’s definitely one you don’t see or hear. Keep looking until you find that person who annoys you, whom you can’t bring yourself to care about. Whom you wish would be quiet about their needs.
Then look at Jesus.
It’s a crowd, a parade. And suddenly, Jesus stops, stands still.
He listens. He hears eleison me, have mercy on me. In the midst of the bustling crowd, the noise of the dogs and children, he hears the cry for mercy others would shut down. He commands: bring him here.
And then he asks, What do you want me to do for you?
Here is the glory of the Christ, the Son of God: there is no limit to mercy. There is enough mercy for the whole universe in God-with-us, this Jesus. His very next stop is Jerusalem, another parade with a crowd, this time waving palm branches, and he will leave that crowd and go alone to a cross. He will bear the mercy of the Triune God for the universe in his flesh and blood and offer his life. And there is enough mercy for all.
So, Jesus asks, What do you want me to do for you? What does mercy look like for you? And Bartimaeus astonishingly claims a relationship with Jesus in that moment. Rabbouni, my master, my teacher – the same trusting name Mary Magdalene calls the risen Jesus – my master, let me see again.
And mercy pours out from God-with-us. Bartimaeus the inconvenient, Bartimaeus the annoying, Bartimaeus the shouter of his needs, receives his sight. And he follows Jesus.
Today we once again celebrate the Church’s sixteenth century Reformation, and realize that the twenty-first century Church also needs to be reformed.
We need more than a reforming of doctrine, though. Our twenty-first century question of reform is simple: will the Church be Christ in the world or not?
Will we claim the mercy of God we see at the cross for all creatures? We don’t need to struggle over the doctrine of grace and mercy. The only issue is if we’ll be grace and mercy, if we as Church and as individuals will be Christ. If our lives from waking to sleeping will reveal that there is no limit to God’s mercy.
We start by forcing ourselves to see Bartimaeus, wherever they may be. We start by learning to name our inner protests and justifications as delaying tactics. We start by finally, as Church and as individuals, doing what Jesus does. Stopping in the middle of the crowd, opening our eyes and ears, listening, looking for Bartimaeus.
Then calling her to us, and asking, what do you want me to do for you?
That’s a Reformation desperately needed across the Church. And it’s a Reformation that would cause rejoicing in heaven.
Eleison. Have mercy. That’s our prayer.
We are overwhelmed by God’s love that we know, that we’ve seen at the cross, that we receive in Christ’s meal of life. Eleison is our breath, in and out, because we know how much we need mercy, and we know Who it is who gives it.
But the One who answers your eleison commands with the same word: eleison. You have mercy. Be mercy. Live mercy. Find Bartimaeus and ask what you can do. Listen to the cries for mercy you want to silence and ask what you can do. Stop those in government or in your city who would shut out the cries, who would answer with cruelty, and stand alongside Bartimaeus.
As you struggle with this command, hear one more miracle: Christ asks you the same question. What do you want me to do for you?
Now you know: you are Bartimaeus, too. “My teacher, my master, let me see again. Open my eyes, my ears, my heart, my hands, my mind, my life, that I may follow you. That I may have mercy as you have mercy.”
And Jesus opens your eyes. And now you can follow wherever he will go.
In the name of Jesus. Amen