Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 24 October 2021.
• First Reading: Jeremiah 31: 7-9 (See, I will bring them from the ends of the earth)
• Psalm 126
• Epistle: Hebrews 7: 23-28 (Jesus lives for ever, has a permanent priesthood)
• Gospel: Mark 10: 46b-52 (Cry of blind Bartimaeus: ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’)
One aspect of our society is the freedom to form interest groups to promote our interests. They may be for sport, politics or an area of trade and employment. It can be a charity or a demand.
But they are all there to promote our particular interest. That may mean demanding or at least calling for favours, resisting restrictions and of course encouraging others to join with us.
Often these interests clash, and the resulting debates can be unedifying. Sometimes they are in different parts of the same progressive cause but still at odds with one another.
The central point is that they are there for their members, supporters, readers of promotional material and of course, subscribers.
Yet the thing about our lessons is that they are not about the paid-up supporters of what God has been and is still doing.
In Jeremiah, the call is made to those who are of Israel but are in exile – exiled by the same Lord who now appeals to them to hope and trust in Him.
They are far from home, children of those exiled from the Promised Land for their disobedience and yet now called on to renew their hope and their trust.
God had not abandoned them but saw their plight and heard their pleas. Now He would answer and He would answer mightily. Now He called on them to seek Him in their prayers and worship for they were not alone or abandoned or forsaken.
And the call of Jeremiah was for the whole community – not just the fit and healthy, or those who had made a reasonable living in the land.
It was for all – even the sick and the disabled, those with child and who were nursing. Nobody was to be excluded and God was looking at each of them and all of them together.
In our own era, we would note how the land of Israel was repopulated during the 19 century and was able to receive the survivors of the European concentration camps of the 1940s and from the gulags of the 1980s.
All were of the line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all were inheritors of the promises of God. And God was never going to abandon them.
In the gospel the same scene is also shown but it is much more personal.
Now it was Jesus on the way to the cross in Jerusalem and passing through Jericho. He had already greeted Zacchaeus and restored him to the family of Israel and now here was a blind man begging at the roadside.
Blind and begging – but not bereft of faith or hope. He already knew of Jesus and had heard of His approach. Now was his opportunity and he would not let it go.
And so Bartimaeus called out to Jesus, loudly and insistently. Jesus was the Son of David and Bartimaeus had kinship with Him as a Son of Israel. He already had an ownership in Jesus and this was the time to assert it.
He was not afraid of making a scene – in fact that was precisely what he was doing to the embarrassment of those around him. He refused to be silent when he could call out for the mercy of the Lord. His call – His prayer was determined and he would continue at it as long as he had to.
And yes, Jesus heard him and called for him. Interestingly He did not presume on Bartimaeus’ need or plea. He gave him the space and the time to express himself. Bartimaeus would make his own plea for mercy – and he asked for his sight.
He had understood what it was to see but he wanted its experience for himself.
But more than that, even though he was calling to Jesus as the Son of David and claiming that kinship with Him, Bartimaeus was not claiming any personal merit.
He was not proclaiming any good works or that his suffering made him any more deserving than anyone else. That would be the stuff of a campaign by an interest group but it was not the appeal of Bartimaeus.
Rather, he was calling out to Jesus as the Son of David and he was appealing only for mercy. No restoration of rights or vengeance on his enemies.
It was the very simplicity of Bartimaeus’ prayer that had its effect. No special pleading or campaigning or accusation of others.
We also have the same access to Jesus that Bartimaeus had. Sometimes the answers come with astonishing speed and sometimes we have to wait for them.
But Bartimaeus’ plea was simple and easily repeated. It applies to anyone in any situation or need. It can be profoundly personal, or a matter of relationships. It can be medical or emotional.
It can be in the area of seeking personal forgiveness or it can be for the grace to forgive another.
What Bartimaeus prays for himself, he also encourages us to pray: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.