On the Most Intimate Question
October 24, 2021
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced. Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb. May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
Today’s sermon is titled On the Most Intimate Question.
It was probably in the middle school years when my friends and I each started a running list of qualities and attributes of a perfect boyfriend. We believed that if we were very specific and if we put all of our heart and soul and mind into the process, we would have a better chance of finding what we were wishing for. One friend kept her list under her pillow. I remember how devastated she was when her mother found it while taking up the laundry and threw it away, never to be seen again.
This practice of putting down in writing exactly what I am wishing for is something I have used at various times in my life. Some of you will remember some ten years ago when my family and I began the process of searching for our first house to buy. There was a house for sale right across the street from the barn apartment we were renting and it seemed like the perfect place for us. I clearly remember asking for prayers from the congregation and then how sad and dismayed I was when it did not work out to buy that house we had been dreaming of. After sulking for a few days, I decided to employ my middle school practice once again but this time I invited the rest of the family to join me. We used construction paper to make a three-dimensional orange house that fit in the palm of my hand. The roof could be removed to reveal the empty inside of the house. Beside the model of the house we left a blue piece of construction paper, scissors, and a pen. Whenever anyone had an idea about what they wanted our new house to offer us, they wrote it down, cut it out, and lifted the roof to place it in…sometimes with a little prayer if it was something really important.
The slips of blue paper words like “bathtub, climbing tree, woodstove, shelves, high ceilings, moss, light, wood floors, indoor plumbing (I remember writing that one), near friends, moss, stream or river, and LOVE (just like that, in all capital letters). The times I prayed over that little orange house are countless. Months went by and word spread through church and town that we were looking. One day Andy Freeman, at the Dublin General Store, said to me, “I know the house that would be perfect for you.” It was not for sale, but I knew and admired the owner of the house. I made a phone call and that started the process that changed our lives forever and ever.
In the excitement of it all, I forgot about the little orange house until it was time for us to pack up our things and move. Before I placed it in a box, I emptied out all the blue scraps of paper (27 of them) onto the table and sorted them into two piles. One pile for all the things our new home offered and one pile for what it did not. When I was done, there was one big pile and one lone scrap of blue paper beside it. That one scrap says “skylights” and I thought to myself, “we can make that happen.” And we did.
I have used this practice for clarifying my desires for other things besides shelter. I have made similar lists for employment and for a mate. I have suggested it to others, too. But until this past week, I did not realize that there is a biblical basis for this practice.
In our reading for today, I heard a question that I also heard in last week’s reading, also from the tenth chapter of Mark. Last week Jesus asked his squabbling disciples, “What do you want me to do for you?” Again, this week, Jesus asks the blind man, Bartimeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” After two weeks with the same question, I can ignore it no longer…and what a question it is! This is perhaps the most intimate question we could be asked, and perhaps the most intimate question we can ask of others: What do you want me to do for you?
In this question there is no judgement and no hint of rhetoric. “What do you want me to do for you?,” Jesus asks. We assume that Bartimeus would want his sight restored, but Jesus makes no such assumption. Assumptions are, by their very nature, rhetorical and judgemental. In making assumptions we place ourselves in the place of knowing something about someone or some situation and, if we are honest with ourselves, it is an unwise practice to assume.
In Jesus’s question there is no assumption. He does not assume to know what this man needs or desires most of all and somehow his tenderness breaks my heart open a little bit more. Jesus asks the intimate question, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Friends, I invite you to join me in imagining ourselves in the place of Bartimeus. Allow me to tell you what little I know about him. His name, Bartimeus (bar Timeus) literally means, “son of Timeus.” Timeus is a Greek name that means “highly prized” (probably because it is derived from the word time). The scriptures say that Bartimeus is blind and a beggar. We have no clue about his age. In over 50 illustrations I viewed, he is depicted as middle-aged or older. Let’s imagine him instead as a boy of 15 because Bartimeus is loud, he readily ignores the bystanders who try to silence him, and he is bold in his conviction that Jesus is someone truly extraordinary; he calls out to him, repeatedly, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Bartimeus is not only calling to Jesus, he is proclaiming his identity as the long-awaited Messiah from the lineage of King David.
This boy is fervently asking for Jesus and asking for mercy. He has likely been told that his blindness was a result of his sin or his parent’s sin or even his ancestor’s sin; this is how such things were explained, cruel as it was. I hope that Baritmeus does not really believe that, though. His persistence in calling for Jesus wins him an audience and Baritmeus, probably for the first time in his life is truly acknowledged and asked a question that in itself holds the power of healing, “What do you want me to do for you?” Imagine, Friends, the impact of such a question if you were a young, blind, beggar living on the streets of Jericho.
In closing now, I ask, “What if you were asked the same question?” Could you articulate what you want? Is it clear in your mind? Is it already shaped in your heart? What do you want the light of the world to do for you?…I invite you, Friend, I invite you to join me in considering an answer to that most intimate question. I invite you to join me in searching your heart and mind and soul for an answer, or two, and find the words to express it and then be bold enough to write the words. The question is an offer and in answering we open ourselves to receive what is offered to us. So be it. Amen.
God of All Things, You move through us at times like the light from a candle flame…gently, warmly, casting a golden glow of comfort and peace. At other times, we are cracked open, unexpectedly shaken, stripped of our comfort and complacency and thrust into a fiery awareness of human suffering that we would just as soon avoid. Through gentle flame and raging fires, and through depths of unfathomable darkness, You call to us in voices familiar and strange…sometimes whispering, sometimes urging, “Come home, come close.” Open our senses to hear your calling, Lord; empower us to care for ourselves…body, mind and spirit as befits a child of God. Help us, we pray, to feel deserving of such love. Turn us, Lord, continually back to you, through these words Jesus gave us so long ago…Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.
I leave you with these words from 2nd Timothy, chapter 1;
“God calls us to a holy life not because of anything we have done, but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.”
Go in peace. Amen.