Homily, Bartimaeus’ Desire
Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 25B), 2021
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
The Rev. Derek M Larson, TSSF
Today’s Lectionary Readings:
“What do you want me to do for you?”
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Last week in our Rector’s Forum I started our conversation with a question: what do you desire. This morning I want to start with that same question. What do you want—what do you desire today? Take a moment and maybe come up with 3 or 4 things. What do you desire? It could be anything, perhaps its a simple cup of coffee? Or a raise at work? Or a closer relationship with a family member. Or a Tesla. Maybe it’s just the end of this long pandemic. What do you desire?
Over the last few weeks we’ve been making our way through the Gospel of Mark as Jesus and his disciples journey throughout the countryside around Galilee and today we’ve just about come to the end of that journey. Here just before Jesus enters Jerusalem we encounter three stories about desire. So hold that list of desires in your mind as we reflect on these stories.
We heard the first story two weeks ago. A rich man comes kneeling before Jesus with a desire for eternal life. Seeing his own righteousness he asked, “Is there anything I haven’t done yet to inherit eternal life?” But when Jesus told him he had to sell everything and give to the poor, his desire for eternal life was crowded out by his desire for wealth, for things of comfort, for stuff. In your mind’s eye can you imagine him at Jesus’ words looking down at his expensive cloak, and perhaps the rings on his fingers, unable to give them up.
Last week we heard the second story. Two disciples of Jesus, James and John, came to Jesus with a desire to be close to him. Seeing their own proximity to Jesus as disciples, they asked him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But their desire for closeness with Jesus was crowded out by their desire for position and power. And Jesus had to correct them saying, “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” In your mind’s eye can you imagine James and John’s hope for purple cloaks of royalty fading as Jesus offered a different vision.
And today we hear the third story. A man named Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, called out to Jesus as he passed with his desire. But rather than seeing his own righteousness or status among Jesus’ elect, Bartimaeus, seeing his own brokenness, asks, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” His desire was almost crowded out by those around him who hushed him, but in his persistence, he was able to get Jesus’ attention who asked him point blank, “What do you desire? What do you want me to do for you?” “I want healing. I want restoration.” In our mind’s eye can you imagine Bartimaeus kneeling before Jesus almost naked, his tattered cloak having been thrown off in the attempt to get to Jesus, when Jesus said, “Go, your faith has made you well,” his desire being fulfilled.
Out of these three stories we have the most unexpected and surprising of heroes. In the first story, despite all of his righteousness and wealth, the hero is not the rich man who doesn’t even have a name in the story. In the second story, despite being two of the closest and most passionate of Jesus’ followers, the heroes are not James and John whose pride only causes frustration among the other disciples. No, this morning Bartimaeus is our hero. Bartimaeus, the blind and humble beggar from the street corner. Bartimaeus who was so insignificant he was hushed by those around him. Bartimaeus who could have been so easily overlooked but whom Mark cites by name in this passage, a name which in Aramaic literally means, “Son of Honor.” Bartimaeus is our hero. And so it is Bartimaeus’ desire which was fulfilled.
And why? Because while the desires of the rich man and James and John reached from above, Bartimaeus’ reached from below. The rich man’s desire was clothed in self-righteousness and personal comfort. James and John’s desire was clothed in power and position. But Bartimaeus’ desire was clothed in nothing but humility, having literally thrown off his cloak, asking not for comfort or status but mercy. And having come from a place of humility, it was Bartimaeus’ desire that was most authentic, coming from the very depths of his soul. And because of its depth, it could not be crowded out by the many voices of other desires.
See these three stories are also stories about us. Within each of us are many competing desires. Within each of us lives a rich man, a James and John, and a Bartimaeus. And so when Jesus calls for us and asks us, “what do you want me to do for you” the question is, whose voice within will speak? With which desire will we answer Jesus?
This month we’ve been reflecting over the course of the last few weeks on our relationship with God in regard to our possessions. And if we talk about our possessions, we are inevitably talking about our desires, because the things that we possess flow out of the things that we desire. As Jesus said in another place, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” And so if we want generosity to flow out of our lives, we have to pay attention to our desires.
I invite you to take your bulletin and open it up to the inside page of the front cover where you will see our Generosity Statement. If you go down just a few lines you’ll see the statement that says, “Generosity requires us to examine what is meaningful in our lives, where we place our priorities, and how we nurture those priorities.” In other words, generosity requires us to pay attention to our desires and what flows out of them.
Generosity does not require us to get rid of our desires. That’s why Jesus asked Bartimaeus what it was he wanted. But it does require us to carefully consider what our desires are and how we nurture them.
When we feed our shallow desires, focusing primarily on ourselves, as in the case of the rich man and the disciples, we nurture in our lives an assumption of scarcity and competition. But when we feed the desires which humbly rise from the depths of our soul, naked and with brokness exposed, abundant generosity grows and we begin to see healing and restoration, and we begin to more fully participate in helping Jesus bring healing and restoration to those around us. Notice that while the rich man went away grieving, Bartimaeus joined Jesus on the path to Jerusalem. Our deepest, most authentic desires lead us not only to our own healing but to the healing of the world.
Within each of us is the rich man, James and John, and Bartimaeus. Within each of us are many competing desires. Which will speak the loudest? Will our desire for eternal life be crowded out by our desire for comfort and wealth? Will our desire to be near Jesus be crowded out by our desire for power and position? Or will our desire for healing and restoration flow from the depths of our soul in humility?
To let Bartimaeus speak in us is a bold and counter cultural thing to do. Many voices inside of us will try to hush him. But Jesus wants to hear Bartimaeus’ desire. Jesus wants to hear your most authentic and humble desire that it might be fulfilled. So, let Bartimaeus speak. Let Bartimaeus speak. Let Bartimaeus speak in you. Amen.