Companions on the Journey
Mark 10: 46-52
23rd after Pentecost; October 28, 2018
46They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
About 20 years ago, when my late partner, JungHee Park, and I came to Canada, our intention was that our lives unfold through the study of theology and the practice of our faith based on the learnings of our chosen faith community as well as from the gifts of other faith communities. We spent many years deepening our knowledge of God and searching for the meaning of being Christians in this 21stcentury. About four years ago we were both at the stage of writing our theses with the hope that we would soon begin to contribute our new learning to our own discipline and our church, when we heard the shocking news that my partner had cancer. The news shattered everything. I was not able to maintain energy for my ministry or the final work on my thesis. Our children found it difficult to concentrate on their studies as they faced final exams at high school.
When struggling in the deep waters of despair and grief, many friends helped us to sustain our life journey. One of our friends began sending us a prayer through email each day from the day we heard the news. My former church members brought food for us and they lifted up our family in their prayers and thoughts. The support of known and unknown companions sustained our family on this journey. I was able to continue my ministry and finished my programme through the help of many companions.
Let’s return to today’s scripture reading. In the gospel reading we come across a blind man called Bartimaeus who is yearning to be healed. According to Leviticus, blindness was one of the blemishes disqualifying the descendants of Aaron from offering God’s food at the alter (Lev. 21:16-24). Blind persons were banned from worshipping God in the temple: the people were taught to believe that blind persons were sinners because they could never keep the law. In the Gospel of John, chapter nine, we meet another ‘man born blind.’ In that story Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned this man or his parents?” Even Jesus’ disciples believed that blindness was the result of sin.
We can imagine how difficult Bartimaeus’ life is. He is prohibited from all kinds of religious and cultural activities. He is banned from work places and social activities so he has to beg for his food. He is sitting on the roadside, rocking back and forth on his heels, waiting for people’s charity. His life is misery itself. He has no protection from the sun: he suffers from thirst under the scorching heat.
One day one passerby groans and says, “It’s Bartimaeus again.” Many people complain. No one, including the disciples, wants to see Bartimaeus. They believe he is just a trouble-maker. So the disciples warn him to go away. But, all of a sudden, Bartimaeus begins to shout out loud, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” When the disciples try to make him be quiet, he shouts out all the more loudly. The more others want him to be silent the more he persists in being heard.
In today’s story, Bartimaeus has the temerity to name Jesus the Son of David and asks mercy of him; this blind man has the nerve to identify Jesus as the long awaited Messiah. “Many sternly [order] him to be quiet.” The people try to silence him, but, according to today’s scripture, Bartimaeus cries out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
However, Bartimaeus is not alone; he has supporters in the crowd. He feels some people encouraging him to his feet. “Take heart! Stand up,” someone says. “Get up, Bartimaeus, Jesus is calling you” (10:49). Throughout the challenges and trials we face on our life journeys we need the experience of support and encouragement of others both in our faith communities and outside them. In a situation where we have been silenced, we need to know that we are not alone, that others stand beside us and walk all the way along beside us, support us and pray for us. We experience this as God with us.
Today we welcome two people into our faith community. Fiona and Alice both were baptised in China and expressed their interest in becoming church members. What, then, does it mean to become a member of our faith community? The word “faith” is used and abused in many ways in our Christian context. The traditional meaning of faith in Western Christianity means “holding a certain set of ‘beliefs,’ ‘believing’ a set of statements to be true, whether casts as biblical teachings or doctrines or dogma” (Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity, 25). But the original meaning, close that of the bible, is to trust in God as our rock and fortress and express our loyalty and commitment in God.
Becoming a member means proclaiming that West Point Grey United is our spiritual home. As a member of this church our “hearts” are here and together we practise what God loves us to do. We practise God’s mission together. It is not my or our mission but God’s mission; our ministry and mission is to build God’s kin-dom in our midst. You may now notice that we say kin-dom, not Kingdom. As the family of God we are brothers and sisters doing God’s mission together. On the journey we “rejoice with those who rejoice [and] weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). For many decades you have done this ministry and mission with Dorothy. As we bid farewell to Dorothy, we give thanks to her for her vision of becoming an intercultural church. With Fiona and Alice we will put our heart in this ministry of which we are so proud.
Despite the difficulties he has to face, Bartimaeus does not give up his faith. According to today’s scripture, Bartimaeus is emboldened to confess Jesus as the Son of David. It is the first time anyone but a person possessed of a demon and considered as a sinner has called Jesus by this Messianic title - Son of David. How does that blind man recognize what no one else can see, that the man on the road in front of him is indeed the Messiah?
Bartimaeus does not merely rise when he hears people’s encouraging voices. He flings off his cloak and springs to his feet, rushing towards the remembered sound of Jesus’ voice. It is quite reasonable to regard his cloak as representing his most treasured possession. It has kept him warm through the cold nights. It may also hold the meager spoils of his begging. In the act of throwing off his cloak, we see the image of one who leaves his former life behind. To those who have always known honour, power, affluence, and prestige, this image reminds us of the transforming effect of the gospel to call forth a life of renunciation and dramatic change. Like Moses who removed his sandals from his feet at the presence of God (Exodus 3:5), Bartimaeus leaves his possession behind to seek out God’s presence and his own healing.
Now Bartimaeus becomes a disciple. According to theologians, discipleship means being on the road with Jesus. We are all called to be disciples of Jesus. We journey with each other and with Jesus on the way. On our journey we will learn to work together and discover ourselves to be filled with God’s grace. Thanks be to God.
Hyuk Cho (Rev. Dr.)
West Point Grey United Church