Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Focused on mercy. . .

Sermon for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 25B, preached on Sunday, October 24, 2021, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

    This isn’t the first time Jesus has healed a blind man.  But this miracle is still unique, because we get to know the man’s name.  Most of the people Jesus healed remain anonymous to us.  But not this time.  This time we get to know who He healed: Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus.  And in Bartimaeus, almost ironically, we see a man with faithful focus, even though being blind his eyes couldn’t truly focus on anything.
    We don’t know much about Bartimaeus and his blindness.  We don’t know if he was born blind or if he became blind later on in life.  But we do know that his blindness kept him from being able to work.  So Bartimaeus was left to beg.  He had to rely on people’s generosity.  He had to rely on people’s mercy. 
It happened one day, while he was sitting beside the road, begging for alms, he heard a great crowd walking by that was following.  Hearing that it was Jesus, Bartimaeus couldn't help himself.  He cried out for help, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mk 10:47).  But people in the crowd scolded Bartimaeus.  They told him to be quiet.  But no matter what they did, Bartimaeus wouldn’t keep quiet.  He continued to cry out to Jesus.  He continued begging for mercy.  
   Scripture doesn’t say why the crowd tried to stop Bartimaeus.  Maybe they thought he wasn’t worthy to speak to Jesus.  His blindness might have been a sign or of his sinfulness.  Or maybe they thought Jesus was too busy for a beggar.  Whatever it was, it’s an interesting thing to think about; after all, you’d think that some in that crowd were following Jesus because they had seen or heard about some of His miracles.  Surely blind Bartimaeus would provide another opportunity to see Jesus at work.  But for whatever reason, they didn’t want Bartimaeus around.  They tried to distract him and his call for mercy.
   We too can often be distracted by other people from Christ and His mercy.  We’re definitely living in a time today when people don’t want to hear about Jesus and His forgiveness.  There’s a movement to get us Christians to stop talking about faith.  No longer is it the freedom of religion people are after.        Now it’s freedom from religion.  There’s two things you don’t talk about, politics and religion, but especially religion. And because most of us don’t like to ruffle feathers, and because we know it’s not right to force faith on others, we listen to those demands to keep quiet.  We do the exact opposite of what Bartimaeus did.  The problem though is that in that quietness we begin to forget about Jesus’ mercy.  We forget that we’re sinners in need of forgiveness.  If we don’t talk about sin, if we don’t hear God’s Law, if we don’t look in the mirror of God’s Word and see that we’ve failed in thought, word, and deed, we’ll begin to think we’re okay and that we don’t need Jesus, at least, we don’t need His mercy.
   We may let our focus be distracted, but not Jesus.  When Jesus heard Bartimaeus’ cries for mercy, He called him to Himself.  At Jesus’ invitation, Bartimaeus came, and again he begged for mercy.  He asked to be healed, and Jesus healed him.  Christ showed Bartimaeus mercy.  But the mercy Christ gave wasn’t just the recovery of sight.  The mercy Christ gives is salvation.  
    Jesus healed Bartimaeus’ eyes and said, “Go, your faith has made you well,” at least that’s how our English translations put it.  What Jesus literally said was “Go, your faith has saved you.”  Jesus isn’t just talking about physical healing here.  He isn’t just commenting on Bartimaeus' eyes that were now opened.  He is talking about the ultimate miracle that all His miracles point to.  He’s talking about salvation.  Salvation given by mercy.  Salvation received through faith. 
    Contextually, this encounter with Bartimaeus is important, because it happened on the road to Jerusalem.  Immediately after this miracle, Mark tells us about Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  When Jesus met Bartimaeus, He was making His way to the cross.  Jesus' focus was on the very place where the ultimate miracle would be performed, the very place where salvation would be accomplished.  Jerusalem and the cross were always the focus of Christ.  Luke describes this focus saying Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem (Lk 9:51).  Nothing could distract Him.  Nothing could prevent Him from making His way to Calvary.  Nothing could stop Him from giving His mercy to you. 
Christ’s focus has always and will always be His mercy for you.  That’s why He went to the cross, to heal you from your sin and death.  There’s no sin He can’t forgive.  There’s no sin so big His atonement can’t cover.  There’s no sin so dirty His blood can’t cleanse.  Christ’s focus is His mercy for you.  That’s why He calls you to Himself, just as He called Bartimaeus.  Jesus invites you to come to Him to receive His mercy.  He calls you in worship where He gives you His mercy through Word and Sacrament.  Christ’s focus is always His mercy for you ... and this should be our focus too.
   With eyes of faith opened by our Lord, our focus should always be on Christ and His cross.  We need to focus on His mercy.  Today it’s easy for us to get distracted.  With so many different versions of Jesus being proclaimed, we can lose focus of the true Jesus.  There’s buddy Jesus who just wants to be your friend.  There’s life coach Jesus who tells you what to do to succeed.  There’s social justice Jesus who promises perfect equality.  There's environmentally friendly Jesus whose goal is ecological utopia.  The list goes on and on.  But we don’t need those kinds of “Jesus.”  We need the Jesus who died on the cross for our sins.  We need Jesus who rose from the dead to defeat our death.  We need the true Jesus and His mercy.      Bartimaeus’ focus was on Jesus and His mercy.  Christ was the only one who could save him.  And with that focused faith, Bartimaeus was saved.  We must also have a focused faith like his.  We need to look to Jesus and His mercy alone.  That’s what Jesus focused on as He made His way to the cross.  As He walked those dusty roads, His focus was solely you and the mercy of God’s forgiveness and salvation.  So don’t get distracted.  Pray for the strong and faithful focus that looks to Christ, His cross, and mercy alone.  And there you’ll see your salvation.  In Jesus’ name...Amen. 

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