October 17, 2021
St. John’s United Church of Christ, Union, Illinois
Oh Lord I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in.
We want to be in the crowd, the followers of Jesus. We want to be counted among the faithful. We like to be near Jesus, to be seen walking with Jesus. We’re insiders, and we like it that way. As insiders, however, we sometimes build barriers to separate us from the outsiders, or at least we do our best to ignore them.
Thus, we find Bartimaeus sitting by the side of the road. A blind beggar, he is not with the crowd. He is stuck, helpless, needy. He resembles the homeless vet on the corner asking for a handout. Trapped on the edge of society, on the way out of town, on the margins, Bartimaeus is not one of us. We may feel pity toward his circumstances, or even drop a coin or two in his cup, but there’s just not much we can do.
If we were asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51), would we have an answer? We might ask Jesus to end COVID, or cure cancer, or stop war. We might ask for something more personal, like help overcoming addiction, repairing a broken relationship, or finding a new job or new direction in life.
James and John, when asked what they wanted replied, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (Mark 10:37). Bold, presumptuous, and confident of their place, the disciples whose needs are met seek glory in the hereafter. Quite the contrast from the beggar with real needs who asks only for mercy.
When our basic needs are met, do we, like the crowd outside of Jericho, become complacent, focused on the road ahead and staying with the group, ignoring those on the outside crying to get in? Here the crowd is leaving Jericho, heading for Jerusalem, so intent on moving on that they sternly command Bartimaeus to be quiet. They may have thought: we don’t have time for this. We have a long way to go, and our leader is too busy.
The thing is, their leader was Jesus. Yes, his time is limited, there are many places to go and people to see. Mark’s Gospel tells a story in motion, moving from scene to scene rapidly, on the road, always going somewhere. We’re often busy too, with not enough time to get all the things done. And we know that getting a group of people moving to go anywhere can be a big challenge. Yet in this moment, hearing the cry for mercy, Jesus stood still.
“Call him here” (Mark 10:49). With this command, Jesus stops the whole show, directing the crowd to stop and pay attention when they would otherwise have just kept moving. In this moment Jesus also directs them to be the disciples they’re supposed to be. In this moment he opens their eyes to the needs of one who is outside the group, restoring their sight so that they can see the human being in need of mercy, in need of healing that can only come from Jesus.
There is no lecture here. The crowd is not scolded for their blindness to the needs of another. They are not shamed for their lack of faithfulness. They are simply shown what it means to be in ministry. Stop, pay heed to the cry for help, give mercy and grace in the moment. The journey will wait. Jerusalem isn’t going anywhere. We’ll get there eventually. But if we pass by this person who needs our help, then what are we even doing?
The miracle here is that Bartimaeus receives his sight. The miracle is also that the crowd receives theirs as well. Yes, we’re on a journey, and it is good to go together, to be close to Jesus on the way. But if we leave behind those on the outside of the crowd, on the margins, if we ignore the ones whose needs cry out for our mercy, then we have lost the mission. If we rush around trying to accomplish so much, trying to keep up with the crowd, to be part of the number of the saints, we’ll miss what matters. We’ll miss the one who cries out, the one for whom faith is a matter of life and death, the one who throws off his cloak and springs up at the chance to come to Jesus.
It is good to be part of that number. It is wonderful to be counted among the faithful. But we are called to be more than a crowd following Jesus. We are called to be ministers in his name. It is in the encounters with the blind who want to see, the deaf who want to hear, the lame who want to walk, and the leper who wants to be cleansed that we truly come close to Jesus. It is in answering the cry for mercy, shining the light of hope, opening our hearts to give love that we find ourselves walking in the steps of Christ. When all around us is busy flowing on, may we have the faith to stand still and listen, to open our eyes and see. Amen.
 The scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 African-American spiritual, author unknown.