Rev. Nick Reed
You can feel the tension as today’s Gospel reading begins. A crowd excitedly following Jesus walks past a blind beggar named Bartimaeus. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” It is quite possible the crowd was so large around Jesus, that Jesus did not see him or maybe Jesus had not reach him yet. The crowd wants nothing to do with this blind beggar, and it seems they do not think he is worthy to even approach Jesus. They sternly order him to be quiet. Sure this man is physically blind, but it seems the same followers of Christ who have witnessed Jesus do and say amazing things are spiritually blind.
It is worth mentioning that in ancient times it was believed that those with disabilities or any physical disfiguration were being punished by God for their own sins or even the sins of their parents if they were born with a disability. Maybe this is the reason a community of those who follow Christ are quick to exclude someone from being a part of their group. His disability or his status seems like a justifiable reason to them to make him an outcast.
Even though the crowd sternly orders him to be quiet, Bartimaeus knows that Jesus sees things differently. This is the man who has not only healed people during his ministry, but has welcomed those who were pushed aside by others. Jesus’ ministry has been about serving and loving all. How telling is it that a blind person sees this about Jesus, yet his own followers are blind to it all. Yet their spiritual blindness will not keep him from seeking Jesus, and it will not keep him from talking. He says even louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus hears him this time, stands still, and decides it is time to restore the tension of the moment. In verse 49 instead of walking over to blind Bartimaeus, Jesus asks the community that has shunned and ignored a blind Bartimaeus to “call him here.” With these words Jesus makes it known to everyone that the community who faithfully follows him are called to seek out those on the margins.
He also is making sure this particular community knows they can be a part of of someone’s restoration and healing. The crowd that ignored him and sought to silence him is now pleading with Bartimaeus to “take heart, get up, he is calling you.” They might have been blind to this person who is seeking help from his community, but Jesus has created a space and a moment for the community to be present in the life of someone on the margins. While Christ is the one who heals, by the crowd going over and talking to the blind man their simple actions will forever be a part of his restoration story.
Sadly today there are sometimes stigmas that we attach to those who are in need of restoration and healing. Like the crowd in today’s passage we may find ourselves in similar situations ignoring the cry of those in need. Or maybe we are in need of healing and unlike Bartimaeus we are afraid to cry out for help because we are afraid of what people might say. Today I want to lift up just one of the many things people are seeking restoration and healing from in their life. Some of you have most likely heard this statistic before, that 1 in 5 adults in the United States are currently experiencing a mental illness. Over 51 million adults in the United States are currently experiencing a wide spectrum of mental illness from depression to anxiety to mental trauma.
The good news is conversations about mental health and people’s struggles with mental illness have become more out in the open than previous generations, yet sadly it is still stigmatized by many. Many are still afraid to talk about their own struggles, or others feel so ill equipped to engage in people struggling with their mental health that they ignore it or disengage from it. For the longest time someone experiencing mental illness was seen as a weak person or something they should be able to fix themselves by toughening up.
During our time in Scotland this summer anytime you watched tv at some point there would be an interview, or a program, or a commercial about the importance of tending to your mental health. This was due to the fact that Prince William and Princess Kate are leading an initiative in Great Britain called Heads Together. The goal of this initiative is to encourage everyone to provide a space to one another to simply talk about their own mental health struggles. The simple act of talking and listening is first step in tending to each others needs.
I came across a news release this week that grabbed my attention, and maybe you saw it as well. It was a news release from the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association declaring a national emergency for child and adolescent Mental Health. The last 19 months between a pandemic and racial tensions has caused a big jump in mental health in regards to depression and anxiety in children and youth, especially with children and youth of color. They write, “This worsening crisis in child and adolescent mental health is inextricably tied to the stress brought on by COVID-19 and the ongoing struggle for racial justice and represents an acceleration of trends observed prior to 2020.” One sad fact in their news release was “140,000 children in the United States lost a primary and/or secondary caregiver due to Covid-19, with youth of color disproportionately impacted.
As we process the news of this national emergency for children and adolescents in our nation may we find hope and courage in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus makes it known in today’s passage that a community of people can be a source of restoration and healing. The good news of the gospel tell us that the common source of healing and restoration that Christ gives the world is love. What he seeks from his followers is to be a loving presence in other’s lives. Christ’s followers might not be able to make a blind person see again, but they have a role. Their role is to seek out those on the margins, instead of ignore or stand idly by.
These last few weeks we have been talking about stewardship, and believe it or not this passage today is a stewardship passage. It might not be about money and talents, instead it is a passage about the giving the gift of love and support to one another. We might not be doctors who can offer physical healing, but we have been given a gift by God and are called by Christ to offer our presence to each other. We might not have all the answers for someone needs, but we could take the same approach as Prince William and Princess Kate and their heads together campaign. We can make sure we provide a space for people to simply talk and express their feelings and provide a space to listen. This passage reminds us as a community our purpose is to provide a ministry of presence for one another that is be rooted and grounded in love.
Sometimes maybe our words are not what is needed, but the simple non verbal presence of our support. I will never forget a moment when I realized the impact and gift a ministry of presence with no words makes for people. The oldest brother of one of my best friends died after a 42 year battle with cystic fibrosis. I was in the first year of my first call at a church in Tennessee, but I made plans to go to the funeral. I knew that my best friend’s mother had not been feeling well leading up to the funeral, and when I arrived at the funeral the family told me she had been admitted to the hospital. She was so grieve stricken that she could not even attend her own son’s funeral. I grew up next door to this family, so I offered to go and sit with her while they stayed to visit with other friends and family. I got to the hospital her vitals were lower than they should be. I just sat with her, and shared a few words but mostly we just sat there.
After a while the rest of her children showed up and my best friend’s other older brother pulled me aside and asked, “what did you say to her?” I said we mostly just sat there. He told me that the nurse just shared with him that from the time I arrived to the time they arrived that her vitals became more normal. I obviously did not have a special gift because I did what so many of us would do in the same situation, I just made sure she was not alone. Something so many other people would have done. Ministry of presence is an amazing gift that can be given by the community.
Blind Bartimaeus being healed to see again is a miracle. An amazing miracle. Jesus made sure the community of his followers played a part in Bartimaeus restoration by having them seek him out and letting him know his presence mattered. Let us not forget that our community can be a part of miracles everyday. Theologian Rudolf Motlmann reminds us that “miracles, as such, means the activity of God.”
I found myself drawn to the words of Reverend Cynthia Jarvis’, former professor of ministry at McCormick Theological Seminary, as she offers insight in regards to miracles and God’s activity in the world, especially as we think about the gift of our presence in other people’s lives. She writes, “miracles are those events that bring people from darkness into light. Miracles turn our attention to what really matters in life in death. Miracles claim no power, but reveal a power who wills to be known. Miracles point beyond the one before us to the One who made us for love’s sake.”
May we go praising God for the miracle of love that has been made known to us through Christ. May we find comfort and strength knowing that Christ’s love brings restoration and healing to a world in need. May we go and seek out those who are in need of restoration and healing and let them know that God’s presence and love will always be a light in the darkness of life. May our ministry of presence be rooted and grounded in God’s love and participate in God’s everyday miracles. Alleluia Amen!