October 24, 2021

"Throw Off Your Cloak – Take Heart"

Rev. Scott Landis

Mark 10:46-52

In recent weeks, we have been walking with Jesus in the gospel of Mark exploring mainly stories of healing. In each story the one seeking healing had to overcome some sort of encumbrance to get their needs met. Whether it was the hemorrhaging woman who had to force her way through the crowds to touch Jesus’ cloak, or Jairus whose daughter had already died, and he had to break through his own doubt to seek a miracle, or the Syrophoenician woman who was initially rebuffed by Jesus but insisted that her daughter be given the same chance at healing as any other child even though she was not a Jew. Each one persisted and Jesus eventually complied.

Notice in each situation, and in all the healing stories of Mark, those on the inside – those closest to Jesus – wanted to keep Jesus (his wisdom, his compassion, AND his healing powers) all to themselves. And they were vigilant in trying to keep others out. Typical of gatekeepers, they acted as if those on the outside were not worthy.

The story of Bartimaeus is a case in point. As a blind man he would have been socially marginalized. In that day, folks automatically assumed that physical infirmity (of any sort) was the result of sin – either by the individual or the parents. They needed a reason for the malady or disease, so they insisted on some kind of cause and effect to explain matters.

Because of his disease from some unknown “sin,” Bartimaeus was relegated to the margins – forced to live a life of begging – totally dependent on the charity of others. He spent his days on the side of the road begging for food or money to buy food. Folks would pass him by and typically try their best to ignore him by looking the other way – that is, until he became insistent. He heard that Jesus was passing by and knew this was his chance.

“Jesus, Son of David,” he cried repeatedly, “have mercy on me!” Those nearby ordered him to be quiet, but he cried all the louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me.”

Jesus heard him, stood still, and called for him. The disciples changed their tune as well, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.

It was then that he did something we often miss as we tend to rush to the happy ending of healing and rejoicing in this story. Perhaps without even thinking, Bartimaeus threw off his cloak, and made his way to Jesus. While that may sound insignificant to you, by doing so he was casting-off the most valuable (if not the only) thing he owned. His cloak would have been used to shield him from the strong sun during the day, and protect him against the cold at night. His cloak would have been laid before him as he begged for folks to offer food or money. In short, his cloak was all he had – and yet he threw it aside for his opportunity to meet with Jesus. It was as if he knew, in following Jesus, he would need nothing else – nothing else really mattered.

Quite a commitment, I’d say. Bartimaeus gave up everything and took a chance on healing as he made his way to Jesus. [Pause]

It’s sometimes fascinating to walk into one of these stories and pretend, if only for a moment, that you are right there. Rather than reading about it so many years later – it’s interesting to enter into the scene to more fully appreciate what was going on. If you do that, I wonder where you find yourself in the story.

Are you one of the gatekeepers – trying as best you can to maintain order and keeping the riff-raff away from Jesus? Or are you Bartimaeus, in need of help and unsure exactly how to get it, but when you hear the Savior’s voice, you are willing to jump at the chance – leaving everything else behind? Or are you a character that is unidentified in the story? Perhaps you are Bartimaeus’ parents – embarrassed by the malady with which your son has been struck – wondering, indeed, who sinned, you or him? After all, why else would he be blind? Or are you struck with sorrow at the fact that he has been relegated all these years to this shameful existence? You know you don’t have the ability to heal him, and you have no idea how to help?

Too many of us know this character. We want to help, but we have no idea how. We see in Bartimaeus the plight of our aging parents and feel helpless, or our own children – regardless of their age – and we cannot figure out how we can make things better for them without helicoptering or completely taking over. Our hearts ache, and our hearts break as we see them repeatedly stumbling or facing situations that are irreversible and we must face the reality that there is not a damn thing we can do to help. And so we feel guilt, and frustration, anger, and shame.

I wonder. I wonder, if WE can hear the same words offered to Bartimaeus – words that we may need to hear today. “Take heart; get up, Jesus is calling you.” Yes, you! [Pause]

I had us sing the familiar gospel song by Fanny Crosby just prior to my sermon, “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.” As you may be aware, Fanny Crosby was also blind from infancy. She understood the plight of Bartimaeus – the longing to be able to see, but she channeled her energy differently – into poetry — which became the source of over 8,000 hymns.

It’s believed that Fanny Crosby wrote this particular hymn after she visited a detention center in New York not far from her home. While there, she spoke with several inmates and listened to their plight and then sang them some songs – it was all she had to offer. On her way out, she heard one of the prisoners say, “Good Lord, don’t pass me by.” So she sang some more.

Later, encouraged by one of her collaborators, she wrote this hymn, which, I suppose was as much for her as it was for this inmate.

Pass me not O Gentle Savior, hear my humble cry;
While on others you are calling, do not pass me by.

Savior, Savior, hear my humble cry;
While on others you are calling, do not pass me by.

What is your humble cry today? Is it something specifically for you? OR is it for someone else? Someone you love? Someone who needs to be touched by Jesus — as he is passing by?

It’s often much harder to be on the outside watching another in pain. We may find ourselves angry, or frustrated, bitter, or perhaps we have given up. Can YOU hear those words of encouragement once again, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”

Jesus has many lives to attend to. We see this in all the gospel stories and, I am certain, that is the case today. And just like others in these old gospel stories – those in need had great obstacles to overcome in order to be healed. But, listen closely to those words of invitation. They are offered to you, as well, “Take heart – he is calling you.” He will not pass you by.


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