Proper 25B, October 25, 2015 – by The Rev. Linda Goertz
“Mercy, have mercy on me!”
Sometimes it feels like life just pummels us, simply squeezes every ounce of stamina, joy, and hope, right out of us. Sometimes it’s huge — a hurricane, earthquake or flood; the warfare and chaos that Syrian refugees are fleeing; Job reeling from one disaster after another. Sometimes it’s simply the drip, drip, drip of nothing going right day after day, a constant critic, an aching emptiness, a dull, tired hopelessness.
We cry out in pain, “Why is this happening to me?” Where is goodness in all this? Where can I find relief? Is that Good News ever going to come?
We ask this at times in our own lives, the lives of those we love, and the lives of others we see suffering all around us. How I wish I had some easy answers or tidy explanations for all of us. But I don’t.
Job’s so-called comforters and friends thought they had answers: he must have sinned, they said; he needs to confess his wrongdoing; this is all to teach him some lesson; God needed another angel in heaven, and on and on. Some people think – and unfortunately proclaim to the world — that natural disasters or illnesses are punishment for this or that sin. Some people even feel they deserve bad things – and that’s a sad and terrible – and untrue – burden to carry.
What’s worse, some of us don’t even think we have a right to cry out about it. “Oh, it’s not THAT bad; others have it worse; who am I to complain; God — or my family or my country — expects me to suck it up, be brave, suffer silently.”
How I love Bartimaeus! He’s brave enough to actually put it all out there. There he is, begging at the gate, knowing that every passerby believes – assumes! – that he’s got something really ugly and WRONG inside him: why else would he have been afflicted with blindness? He must deserve it. Bartimaeus gets this every single day, over and over, and yet he still can hear the news that Jesus is near. The faith that’s somehow managed to stay and grow inside him is the thing that helps him see his chance to meet Jesus.
And he starts yelling. Savior Messiah Rescuer save me! Have mercy on me! I’m in misery and I need help! And all the Nervous Nellies around him, the “good” citizens who would rather die than make a fuss and who are just so EMBARRASSED on Bartimaeus’ behalf – they all try to shush him but he just keeps on calling out, Have mercy, have mercy, have mercy.
That’s what Jesus pays attention to – the absolute truth of just where we are. If we are drowning, if our world is ending, if we are in bitter anguish, do you think God doesn’t want to hear that? Doesn’t want to be with, to suffer with us?
Isn’t that what Job, too, does all through that long, long book of his? God, speak to me! Help me know! I’m suffering. And God DOES speak to Job, does show him something so profound and mighty that Job has no words for it, only a deep yielding to that mystery.
Many of us struggle with Job’s yielding – why is it enough that God’s immensity is revealed? Why are there no answers given? Is Job giving up, or did something beyond explanation, beyond words, happen when Job was face to face with God? All you can tell is that everything has changed.
Everything changes for Bartimaeus too; Jesus hears his heartfelt cry and stands stock-still, invites him close, asks him face to face, what do you want? Let me see, says Bartimaeus. Let me see, said Job. Let us see you. Let us know with the clarity of light that you are here, that you are WITH us.
And that part-hope, part-belief, part-insane and painful honesty is what transforms and heals Bartimaeus and Job and us and, please God, somehow, some way, our shattered, grieving, world. Heals us so that we can finally see the Holy One before us, inviting us to follow.
“Following” means that we may need to begin crying out again over new ills and pains – the ones we can finally see in the world. We’re going to be called to demand light and healing for others. We’ll have to unseal our silences, stand before the gates of power, wherever they are, and demand justice, demand an end to violence and oppression and manipulation. Because once we start following the Healer, we are on that mission. And it will – He will — transform us.
Now this is the moment where, for the past several Sundays, we’ve had someone from the congregation share words about stewardship. But that isn’t happening today – even though next Sunday is when all our financial pledges are being gathered in. I’m not going to talk about the money you could be giving for the sake of the budget. I’m especially not going to be one of Job’s dubious friends who might assure you that if you give sufficient money, you will receive Special Blessings from God personally. It doesn’t work that way.
When we follow Jesus, we are asked to give in other, more demanding ways. No-longer-blind Bartimaeus may have had a few surprises ahead as he followed Jesus. It turns out that we’re going to be asked – by God’s own self, in God’s own way – to give of our true selves in concrete and possibly even tedious ways, to shout out for mercy for others and then to deal with the consequences of those demands for mercy. We’re going to be asked to wash other people’s dirty dishes and to pay attention to the quiet person who doesn’t know how to cry for mercy herself yet; asked to sit with someone who doesn’t smell very good and is confused; to faithfully attend government meetings that go on too long and maybe accomplish only a tiny bit of good, or even none, and church meetings that are much the same. To cook a meal for the shut-in who’s not very rewarding to visit; to listen with the ear of the heart to the complainer; to get up a little early when we just want to sleep in to make the coffee that welcomes the newcomer. We’re asked to visit the prisoners, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, AND stay late to lock the doors in the building. Because sometimes – sometimes —that’s what mercy looks like. That’s what healing looks like. That’s what giving really looks like.
Yes, let’s give money as we are able, so the good work can keep on growing. But don’t let’s stop there and call it good. Let’s give ourselves. Amen.