Leavers’ service 1st of June 2023
Upper Church, Mirfield
The Rev’d Dr Dorothea H. Bertschmann
Mark 10: 46-52
‘Take heart, get up – he is calling you!’
I love the story of Bartimäus. And I love the way it is illustrated in my favourite children’s bible, by the Dutch artist Kees de Kort.
Page after page we see blind Bartimäus crying louder and louder: Son of David, have mercy on me! And his face becomes redder and redder, until he looks like this:
I have heard of children who are actually a bit scared by the intensity of this picture.
There is this man, who cannot see a thing, and his face seems to be one big, loud cry.
He cries until he has no voice left. He cries until his face is the colour of a ripe tomato.
It is embarrassing. It is shocking. What does he want?
Jesus has visited the city and is on his way out, they meet the blind beggar sitting by the road, possibly near the city gates.
Bartimäus addresses Jesus, the Nazarene with the messianic title: ‘Son of David’. He addresses Jesus like royalty. But his behaviour would not fit very well into royal protocol.
It is embarrassing. That is at least what many people in the crowd around Jesus feel.
They rebuke Bartimäus, they tell him very directly to shut up. The great prophet has been to Jericho and is directing his attention elsewhere now. No need to scream and yell after him.
But Bartimäus calls out even louder: ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’
He is past embarrassment and etiquette. He is desperate for help, he needs this Messiah’s compassion.
Last week our retreat leader Fr Stephen talked about how we are to find our voice in ministry.
I don’t know what you made of that. Whether you thought about finding a prophetic voice, or a poetic voice. A caring voice or a radical voice. A voice with a megaphone or a soft, soothing voice. I am pretty sure you did not think about a face-as-red-as-a-tomato voice.
But in a way Bartimäus with his red face confronts us with the human voice at a very elementary level. It shows us the human voice in its raw neediness. Most people begin life with a cry – and everybody is usually very pleased to hear it. Some people end life with a cry – Jesus is one of them. As toddlers and teenagers we throw tantrums but then we learn to rein it in – thankfully, hopefully! But the neediness does not go away. This deep, deep cry to be seen, to be loved, to be given importance and dignity. It is in all of us, and makes us so loveable, so precious – but also so dangerous at times. Woe is us if that cry goes unheard. Woe is us, if we bury it underneath a role, no matter how holy and important that role may be.
Among the wise advice Fr Stephen gave us was to pray the Jesus prayer, to pray it with our breath: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.’
We don’t have to shout it, but like Bartimäus we have to persevere in bringing our neediness before the Lord.
Bartimäus is being heard at last. Truly heard. Properly heard. He is heard by Jesus himself who stands still. Whatever the royal protocol of this day, whatever Jesus’ itinerary – now, at this moment he only hears this loud cry and allows it to stop him in his tracks.
Bartimäus has been heard, his cry has been recognised as the deep cry of misery and need.
I find it interesting that Jesus dispatches some people to go and fetch Bartimäus instead of calling him directly.
‘Call him’ he says. And they call the blind man saying: ‘He is calling you.’ One wonders whether St Mark has never heard about Grammarly or The-saw-res. But there is a bit of a theme here: The people around Jesus are called to call others to him, in his name, with his authority. ‘Take heart, get up – He is calling you.’ We don’t have to sort them out ourselves. Just call out to them that they have been called. How good is that?
From how the text flows we are meant to assume that the people thus dispatched are the same people who are frowning at and berating poor Bartimäus. We do not know whether Jesus’ disciples took part in the berating, though it would not surprise me, as Mark does not paint a very flattering picture of the 12 in his gospel. I find it sobering but also encouraging how God’s people and especially God’s chosen or if you like, ordained workforce can get it so spectacularly wrong in the Bible – only to be given another chance to get it right. Like that hapless priest Eli at the Shiloh sanctuary, who mistakes a woman who is praying in despair for a drunk party girl. Two minutes later he fully rises to his priestly vocation and speaks a word of life-giving power into that woman’s life.
Jesus turns people who only hear the nuisance, who only hear the embarrassment and noise into messengers of grace: ‘Go and call him.’
And now Bartimäus is being heard and addressed by Jesus himself: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ It is perhaps fortunate that Bartimäus is from Jericho not from Yorkshire. Or he might have snapped: ‘What does it look like to you, mate?’
It seems to be a rather superfluous and almost cruel question even if Bartimäus is not as noticeably blind as in my children’s Bible. But in my view Jesus gives such dignity to the man by asking this. He turns him from an object in need of healing into a subject. Now I hope we all know that we should never drag a blind person across the road before we know for certain that crossing the road is what they want to do. We must not help others to feel good about ourselves or to tick off our good deed of the day. But even if we are more subtle than an eager scout it can be easy to jump to conclusions, to make a decision what it is that this person in front of us needs.
Jesus gives Bartimäus the dignity of a person with a will and desires. He invites him to give voice to them in his presence. I think it is of the greatest importance that we know the desires of our own heart, that we know the longing of our heart. That does not mean that we always have to act on them, or that we always know best what we need. But it is important to acknowledge them in the presence of him ‘to whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hidden.’ I hope that you have people in your life, perhaps your spiritual director, who give you that space, to explore, to give voice to what is in your heart.
‘What do you want me to do for you?’ ’Lord, that I can see again.’
And then Bartimäus sees, sees the world around him, the sunlight, the flowers, all the beautiful people – he sees Jesus’ face.
PICTURE 2 – a bit shell-shocked but with such awe and wonder.
There is one more detail in this story which has always fascinated me. Bartimäus throws off his cloak before he jumps on his feet and comes to Jesus. (As you can see on the picture, he is in his T-Shirt now). Maybe we think yeah, I took mine off, too, when it got a tad too warm recently. But throwing off your cloak is like dropping your phone in our day and age: There goes my life!
A cloak is probably Bartimäus’ most precious belonging. In Deuteronomy 24 we read that when somebody takes a poor person’s cloak as a pledge, as a pawn you have to bring it back before sunset ‘so that he may sleep in his own cloak and bless you.’ Bartimäus casts aside his cloak, his precious cloak and I wonder whether he went back to pick it up later: ‘Sorry Lord, I just need to nip round to that street again before I follow you.’
Or did he not need it anymore? Mother Theresa used to say: ‘If Jesus is all you have you will find that Jesus is all you need.’ I have to admit I usually think: ‘I am not sure I want to find out….’ But perhaps you had this experience, too, that something which you needed like a beggar his cloak suddenly or quietly lost its importance. One day you realise that you do not have to hold on to a grudge anymore. Or to a right you claim. Or to a deeply held conviction. To rules you value, because they offer security. To the rejection of rules because you value freedom. Suddenly you don’t need these things anymore, not just the problematic ones, but the genuinely good and important stuff. Because Jesus has called you.
Today the church remembers Justin Martyr who is among the many women and men who willingly and often joyfully accepted torture and death rather than denying Christ. Who cast aside life itself, like a cloak. It is easy to shudder at what looks like unhealthy masochism and contempt for God’s gift of life. And it is easy to feel slightly wanting with the comfortable lives we enjoy. It can be tempting to make up for the lack of suffering by talking darkly about the sacrifices we endure in our ministries – though all that happened was that the organist resisted our choice of hymns.
What first and foremost unites us with the martyrs is not the suffering – real or imagined. What unites us with the martyrs is the joy to be called by Christ himself – ‘Take heart, get up, he is calling you.’
And so, as you go away from here dear students, to your ordinations, your curacies, your summer placements and holidays, may you be given the gift of attentive and compassionate listening. May you be given the grace to give voice to your own neediness, your yearning and sighing.
And may you never ever lose heart, not in the face of tough times, not in the face of your own heart-breaking weakness and faithlessness.
And from time to time, in God’s own timing, may it be given to you to joyfully throw off your cloak, all that is good but no longer needed, to run to Jesus and follow him on the way.
‘Take heart, get up, he is calling you.’