Jesus healing blind Bartimaeus, Johann Heinrich Stöver, 1861
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We can learn many things from our readings this morning, but one thing we can learn from the gospel today is this: that Jesus’s world was pretty noisy. I think it’s often a little hard to think of Jesus being surrounded by a lot of noise. Often, I think, we picture Jesus surrounded by a small group of disciples who are all quiet and with open ears, ready to drink in what Jesus is saying. I remember seeing a movie about Jesus’s life a while back, and most of the scenes were in this rocky landscape, no trees or villages or roadways around, and everyone was poised so very dramatically around Jesus. The Lord himself was sitting on a rock and, with a very kind and low voice, he taught them. It was like someone giving a lecture in the middle of a library: everything was quiet, calm, and ordered.
But we learn from our gospel reading this morning that Jesus’s world was pretty different: it was noisy. Here we find Jesus in Jericho, walking through the streets with a big crowd, and everyone’s talking at once. But it’s not just Jesus’s followers, but other folks as well: there are probably people around wondering what the crowd is doing or who they’re following. And there are probably farmers or merchants or other travelers who are just going about their normal, day-to-day business. They don’t know to be quiet so they can hear Jesus teaching; they’re worried about their cattle that they’re bringing to market, or the recent up-turn in the price of eggs, or whose daughter is marrying whose son. And here comes this crowd, and they can’t see who’s at the center of it, and it’s probably in the way it’s so big, so there are surely people grumbling about traffic, too. They don’t hear anything Jesus is saying, if he’s saying anything at that moment, and they certainly don’t have time for the blind guy on the side of the road, who’s calling out to someone named Jesus and is only adding to the noise and the confusion.
And somehow in all this mess, in all this noise, this blind beggar Bartimaeus, knows that someone important is there in the center of the crowd. How did he know Jesus was there? Perhaps through all the noise and the tumult, all the confusion of voices, Bartimaeus caught the name Jesus flitting by. And something rises up in him, some Spirit, that tells Bartimaeus that this man, this Jesus, can help him. And so he calls out to Jesus, but his voice is caught up in the storm of voices. Then he calls louder, then louder, then louder still, until, finally, he’s shouting the name JESUS SON OF DAVID! HAVE MERCY ON ME! And even when he’s rebuked, he calls out again, “Jesus, son of David!” Until, at last, Jesus hears him, and turns to him, calls him to himself, and heals him.
Now this is a pretty dramatic scene, and it’s especially potent after our reading last week. Remember, last week we looked at how Jesus dealt with his disciples’ anger. James and John try to weasel their way into Jesus’s good graces, and the other disciples surround them and start an argument. Jesus’s response, if you remember, is to call them to himself, to place himself, and not James and John, nor the disciples’ anger, at the center. And it is only then, with Jesus as the center, does healing begin.
And now, here, in our reading this morning, in the very next scene in Mark’s gospel, we see this lesson played out in the flesh. Jesus is at the center of a large group, just like the Sun at the center of the solar system. Here are the disciples, like Mercy and Venus and the Earth, close about him and getting a bit singed from the heat. Then there’s the larger crowd, around them, like Jupiter and Saturn and the gas giants. And all around them are still more: here is Pluto and the other dwarf planets, who no one really cares about much, but are still circling about this bright figure at their center. Maybe, just maybe, the disciples have figured this one out, and they’ve done what Jesus so powerfully called them to do.
But have they? The thing is, perhaps they’ve put Jesus at their center but not Jesus at the center. They’ve put Jesus at the center of their group, but they haven’t internalized his teaching. Jesus is still just a symbol, just an image that founds and supports their group. He’s something like a foundation stone, something in the side of a building with a year on it that, every once and a while, you look at and smile at, then forget. They haven’t really understood what it means when the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Even though they’re in this inner circle with Jesus in their midst, they still don’t get this teaching that is so central.
But Bartimaeus does. Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, who’s at the edge of this whole solar system of people, he’s the one who calls out in a loud voice the name of Jesus. He’s the one who calls out, “Jesus, son of David”, not son of Joseph, nor even son of Mary, which might have been enough, but son of David. And it’s Bartimaeus who understands, Bartimaeus, who is at the very fringe of the crowd, of this circle around Jesus, it’s Bartimaeus who gets that Jesus’s ministry isn’t about some hierarchy of positions but about mercy and love and healing. Here’s this guy who no one wants at all, but who understands so much. And he’s the one who’s healed, and given his sight, and follows Jesus on the way.
Why is it that Jesus heals us? Why is it that, when Jesus is at the center of our lives – at it’s true center – we are healed? Well, it really depends on what we mean by center. It’s not like our center of gravity, so that when we’re walking on a balance beam or doing aerobics, we have to make sure that we’re poised along some point inside ourselves that keeps changing depending where our arms and legs are. And it’s not some physical center either, so that we should put up a cross in the direct center of our home, or our altar in the center of the church, because things in the middle are best. No, for this “center” that Jesus calls us to is not at the center of our bodies, or our church, or our lives. Jesus calls us not to our center, but to the center. And this is what heals us.
For we are called not just to put Jesus at the center of our lives, but to realize and see that Jesus Christ is the center of all Creation. Jesus is at the center of my life, but only because he’s the center of your life, and your life, and your life. Jesus is the center of my life, but only because he’s the center of Bishop Michael’s life, and St. Francis of Assisi’s life, and at the center of the life of some medieval farmer who no one knew but who lived a good, long, and happy life with God. And Jesus is the center of my life, but only because he’s the center of the life of the big, red tree outside our house, and the life of those elk up near Reedsport, and the life of a seal Helene saw the other day out in the ocean. Christ is the center of all creation, from tiny little one-celled organisms here on Earth to some new galaxy 40 billion light years away that scientists are only seeing little glimmers of. And I don’t say this to be sentimental. All things – all things – are founded on Jesus Christ, to God the Father, through the Holy Spirit.
And knowing this, seeing that Christ is the center of all Creation, causes us to live a bit differently. It causes us to seek out God not only in our own prayer or life of faith, but in the lives of others. It causes us to look for God beyond our circle because it is we, not God, who draws lines. It causes the entire gravity of our lives and our hope to shift, so that we hear folks like Bartimaeus and remember that Christ is in him, too. And it causes us to live a life of freedom and love, loosed from anger and fear and hatred. For our center is Jesus Christ, and from him flows all goodness and life.