Those Who Won’t Be Silenced

Mark 10:46-52
October 28, 2018

 

I love the characters in the Gospels who are bold and loud for the sake of healing they know is theirs. For the sake of possibility in the realm Jesus is bringing.

The way that Bartimaeus here refuses to be silenced reminds me of the Syrophoenician woman several chapters back—brave people who have a deep trust that healing is available to them, and they will not be kept from it.

 

In this story, the good news of God’s kingdom comes about in a very tangible way—someone whose physical condition kept them on the margins is restored to community, now a part of Jesus’ band, caravan, if you will, on the way to Jerusalem.

 

As far as miracle stories: There are two things important to say.

First, who knows what the world was like thousands of years ago? Maybe there is still something mysterious that we don’t understand. I’m sure many of us have heard scientific rationalizations for these miracles. That can be a helpful move for some people, but I want to invite us to let these stories stand on their own. To not be too quick to read our Modern, rationalizing views to ancient stories and settings.

 

Second, Miracles can be glimpsed around us now.

Miracles are those events that bring people from darkness into light.

Miracles are scales falling from our eyes to truly see the other before us. And to then encounter God.

Miracles look like an article I read this morning about how, as the caravan of people fleeing their violent homes in Central America walk through these small Mexican towns, the residents are ladling out beef stew, playing with the migrating children, and donating fresh shoes for the miles to come.

Miracles are those moments of human goodness persevering against all odds.

 

So I want to open up some space in how we think of miracles.

But for this sermon, I want to zoom in on one part of this story.

The part where Bartimaeus shouts for mercy, is shushed by the crowd, and shouts even louder for mercy.

First, Bartimaeus is rebuked for calling out to Jesus.

It could be that they were like, “don’t call him Son of David! Talk like that will get us all killed”

 

Bartimaeus calling Jesus the “Son of David” was more than just a snazzy title. It was political speech.

This connotes the expectation and coming of a messianic revolution in the cultural world of the Jewish people at the time.

The hoped-for future for those who were under occupation was that one day, a descendant of King David’s line would come to free God’s people from those forces that oppressed them. This would be the Messiah, God’s Anointed One, who would lead a revolution to overthrow their oppressors.

Speaking it would be heard as dangerously subversive political speech in Judea at this time.

Shouting it would be reckless.

 

This armed revolution is what many of Jesus’ followers were likely expecting, and why it was so exciting to fall in line with Jesus. Many in the crowd were probably anticipating a confrontation of powers in Jerusalem, and they were hopeful to be on the winning side.

As Jesus is so fond of doing with expectations, he turns those of his own followers and disciples upside down as well.

 

So a larger question arises from this text, this healing story, that kicks off Jesus’ confrontation in Jerusalem and ultimate Passion: what are our expectations about what saves us, and what truly, actually saves us?

 

Usually, the strategies and worldviews that got us into a challenging situation are not also the ones that can get us out.

 

“Saving”—a new hope, a new life—usually needs something novel, not more of the same.

Albert Einstein once said that “No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that caused it in the first place”.[1] He was one among many pioneers of new ways of thinking about our world. One of the most significant aspects of his genius was to creatively ask questions that had never been asked. To go beyond business as usual for the sake of new possibilities.

 

In the same way, the occupation by a violent empire that the Jewish people experienced in Jesus’ day would not be saved by a stronger, more God-sanctioned violent empire.

What saved was a revolution of love.

A revolution of love that looked, in Jesus, like vulnerability that became so strong that it defied the forces of death itself.

What saves us may not look like what we think it will.

 

Back to the silencing crowd:

another way of thinking of the crowd silencing Bartimaeus is due to what humans can be so good at: putting up barriers of who is in, and who is out.

Likely, they were thinking they were protecting Jesus, keeping barriers up on this sacred person.

Because sometimes, when there are some people are “inside”, they will try to keep others on the outside, yes?

 

This passage contrasts with the one before it, where the disciples James and John are asking Jesus for special favor from him. He still asks them, as he does Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?”

The insiders display a pride and sense of entitlement; the outsiders demonstrate a mix of boldness and humility that truly comprehends Jesus’ way.

As is often the case in these stories, the blind are the ones who see; and the sighted are the ones that miss it.

 

And yet Jesus even, in welcoming Bartimaeus, doesn’t rebuke his followers for their mistreatment of human need.

He instead tells them to “Call him here”—inviting them to be the disciples of his mercy that they might not be without this act of invitation.

So again, there is a healing story tucked into the obvious healing story.

It is the story of Jesus’ followers, who move from barrier maintenance to welcome, invitation, and encouragement.

They are transformed, just as Bartimaeus is.

 

Here, we learn that life-giving and heart-healing faith looks like boldness that will not be silenced. And a trust that will not be impeded.

 

The scolding and silencing crowd invites us to ask, who is silenced today?

 

Mercy is not something you can wait for when you are choking in the dust by the side of the road.

The cry for mercy will not be silenced, will not wait for the time deemed appropriate by others.

 

There will always be those already in power, on the inside track, who need some outsiders so that they can keep being insiders. Who will berate and silence and shame those who seek mercy.

 

It reminds me of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” when he criticizes the white moderate who tells those who are oppressed and long for freedom to wait. [2]

To hold off on their fight for liberation until a more opportune time. Wait for a more convenient moment, when things feel easier.

 

But people who follow Jesus, heck, people of conscience, cannot wait for mercy and liberation.

Not when, God have mercy, a new prominence of anti-semitism kills eleven people while in worship.

Not when our trans siblings are made invisible and threatened.

Not when thousands of people set out on an exodus from Central America because the miles and miles and miles walked over this continent are less deadly than home.

With stakes like these, we cannot be polite about crying out for mercy and liberation.

 

The crowd could have silenced Bartimaeus because they didn’t think he was worth inconveniencing Jesus.

The crowd could have judged that it would be politically dangerous to lift up his voice for mercy. Not a good time.

Whatever the reason was, Bartimaeus’ shout is the shout of all people who cry out for witness, for mercy, for freedom. Who cry out for mercy that is sometimes life or death. And it is a shout that will not be silenced.

 

Bartimaeus shouts all the louder for mercy. He knows there is a different revolution arising—one that trusts in a miraculous love as the strongest force. He is done sitting on the margins, and he knows with every fiber of his being that this Jesus can free him from those margins.

And when he is silenced, this bold soul shouts even louder, crying for mercy with a trust that this is the moment for which he can’t bide his time.

 

His story invites us to consider:

 

Who is silenced, and how can we be agents and advocates of mercy and liberation?

How can we go beyond business as usual for the sake of love?

How do we liberate ourselves from barrier maintenance, for the sake of making the way for mercy and liberation and welcome?

[1] Quoted in “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life” by Richard Rohr. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco. 2011.
[2] King, Martin Luther. “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” 16 April, 1963.