The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost
Inaugural Sermon by E. Bevan Stanley at St. Michael’s-Litchfield
October 28, 2012
Proper 25, Year B, RCL
Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What a delight it is to be with you this morning! My name is Bevan Stanley. To answer one question straight away, I prefer that you call me “Bevan.” Save the “Father” for state occasions. I am thrilled to have been called to serve as your Priest in Charge and look forward to working with you as together we grow to be all that God desires us to be.
Today’s Gospel reading is one of my favorites. The same story is included in all three of the Synoptic Gospels, that is, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and each tells it slightly differently. I like this version from Mark the best.
The main thing that catches my attention in all three versions is that Jesus asks either the dumbest question in the world or one of the most profound. A blind beggar comes to him, and he says, “What do you want me to do for you?” Well, what do you think he wants? He’s blind! Duhhh! If, like me, you don’t really think that Jesus is that obtuse, then let us take another look at what is going on in the story.
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to face his destiny. He has attracted a lot of attention, and there is much speculation about what will happen when this popular figure arrives in Jerusalem. Some are saying he is the long promised messiah who will throw out the Romans and restore national sovereignty to Israel. If so, then he could be dangerous. The Roman authorities might come down on him and anyone near him at any moment.
Given this state of affairs, when the blind man starts calling out “Jesus, Son of David,” and thus essentially calling him the messiah, everyone around him becomes frightened and tries to shut him. The last thing the citizens of Jericho want is a legion of Roman soldiers arriving in force to keep the Pax Romana.
So, when Jesus speaks to the blind man, perhaps the emphasis is more on the personal needs of the beggar. “What do you want me to do for you? Everyone has this political agenda, but the kingdom that I was sent to announce has more to do with creating a whole new way for people to be live with God and with each other. So what can I do for you personally? How would this new kingdom best affect your life? What do you really want most from me?
One detail that sets Mark’s version of the story apart from the other two, is that only Mark records the beggar’s name—Bartimaeus. This is not some generic blind beggar created as a foil to show off Jesus’ power to heal. This is a real, particular human being. And that is the power of the story. Jesus, the celebrity is on a freedom march to Jerusalem. The press is all around. There are crowds and shouting and dust. In the midst of it all he stops to forge a personal relationship with one individual. “What do you want me to do for you?
The other detail that is different in Mark is that the healing is attributed entirely to Bartimaeus’ faith. In Matthew Jesus touches his eyes. In Luke, Jesus proclaims, “Receive your sight.” In Mark Jesus says only, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Here, I want to make an observation that you will hear me make over and over. In the New Testament, the Greek word for “faith” is “pistis.” It’s best translated “trust.” All too often “faith” connotes an assertion of certain facts to be true, as it “I believe that Jesus rose from the dead. I believe that Jesus is the son of God. And so on. Pistis has more to do with trust. Thus in the creeds, try making the replacement: I trust in one God, the Father almighty…” It has a rather different feel, doesn’t it? So in this story, Jesus says, “Go; your trust has made you well.” Your trust in God, your trust in me.
So what is God’s word to us this morning at St. Michael’s? Jesus asks us, both as individuals and collectively as a congregation, what do you want me to do for you? As an individual, I find this a challenging question. What do I really want? In my heart of hearts, deep down. Do I want more security? More serenity? Better health? A good career? Good things for my children? Less pain? Do I want things for others? Peace? Justice? A more equitable and secure economic system? Good government? An end to AIDS? An end to hunger? These are all good things, and God wants them, too. Yet underlying all this there is a longing in Jesus’ question. What do you see in Jesus’ eyes when he says to you, “What do you want me to do for you?” You and me. Do you want a relationship with me? And what will that relationship be like? Do we want Jesus to be a kind of ATM for blessings? We ask Jesus for good things, and he gives them to us? Or do we want something more? Something richer and deeper? Are we ready to have Jesus for our friend, our companion, our guide?
What was the outcome of the encounter between Jesus and Bartimaeus? Not the blind beggar, but Bartimaeus, a man with a name. What happened? Immediately he regained his sight and followed Jesus on the way. Now Bartimaeus could see what he had not been able to see before. He could see now, and he followed Jesus. If we tell Jesus what we really want, we may get it. And it may change the course of our lives.
My hope, as I join you in this congregation, is that together we will become ever bolder at asking Jesus to help us. I hope that we will become more reflective in answering Jesus’ question, “What do you want me to do for you?” I hope that we will move ever deeper into our relationship with Jesus. We will trust Jesus more and more. That we will see things we have never seen before. I hope we will be increasingly bold to follow Jesus on the way to Jerusalem, through sacrifice, and on to glory. This is going to be a great adventure, and I can’t wait for us to get on with it.
Jesus said to Bartimaeus, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.