Proper 25 (30), Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
24 October 2021
One of the great gifts of being a pastor is the people I meet, you included, which is one reason why I am here this morning and not at convention.
When a group from Peace Lutheran Church in Abbotsford was serving breakfast to the homeless at Jubilee Park, we met a number of people we otherwise would not have met. There was Lynne who lived in a tent somewhere in Ravine Park and who told me of having been abused as a child and now as a middle age homeless woman she told me what it was like when merchants did not want her on the sidewalk in from of their store and told her to move on.
Another person was Marguerite, a United Church member who joined our little group because her granddaughter had run away many years ago and had not been heard from since. But what drove Marguerite was not grief but love. She was always cheerful and even in her eighties seemed to have an abundance of energy.
Part of that energy she used to wash Gunnar’s clothes.
Gunnar was the name he told me, but he also went by another name I cannot recall. It was hard to tell his age for the long beard he had. Gunnar was what we call entrenched. He had probably lived on the street for years. A shopping cart contained all of his possessions. Shopping carts full of worldly belongings are not an uncommon sight for city dwellers. We may scoff at those belongings and simply consider them a nuisance, wondering why anyone would hold on to that stuff, especially when in the middle of a block someone is slowly moving their shopping cart across a road, but to those who live on the street, the contents of their shopping carts are all that is left of a previous life they have lived. In fact, having to leave a shopping cart unattended outside is often a reason for a homeless person not to enter a shelter.
In Gunnar’s case, the shopping cart contained a lot of clothes and none of them were clean. Marguerite took them home, washed them, and brought them back to Gunnar.
In our Gospel reading we meet Bartimaeus, a blind man who sits by the road and calls for Jesus’ attention. He shouts. Mark tells us that many tell him to be quiet, not to create a scene. Maybe not so unlike the homeless person with the shopping cart that holds up traffic, or seems to demand undue attention, after all, should we not pay more attention to those with accomplishments than to those who seem without?
But Jesus notices Bartimaeus and instructs those accompanying him (disciples and crowds) to call him to come near. Those who first shushed him now encourage him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”
Mark says that Bartimaeus sprang up, threw off his cloak, and came to Jesus. There is excitement here. Bartimaeus has been noticed, not as a nuisance but as a person. He throws off his cloak and comes to Jesus.
Remember Gunnar and anyone you have ever seen pushing a shopping cart with all their worldly belongings. Those belongings may mean nothing to us but they mean everything to the person who is homeless, for it is all they have.
And so it is remarkable that Bartimaeus throws off his cloak. For his cloak would be his only possession, and the thing that protects him against the cold and against the weather, for like Jesus, Bartimaeus has no place to lay his head.
A few verses earlier in chapter 10 a man had come running up to Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit eternal, abundant life. Jesus reminds him of the commandments, which he says he has been keeping since his youth. Mark continues and says, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
We know that story and we know that he went away grieving, for he had many possessions and they kept him from following Jesus.
Bartimaeus throws off his cloak, and Jesus may ask us what the cloak is we are holding on to, that we cannot do without.
At one time the cloak may have been that we weren’t Catholic. You know my mother-in-law grew up in a Catholic boarding school and when she met the mother of her first boyfriend, she was asked whether she was one of those Catholics.
Perhaps today it is more the fact that we aren’t Evangelical in the political sense, at least in the way that Evangelicals make the news.
This cloak would be finding our identity in what we are not, rather that in what we are and it involves some feelings of superiority which can be hard to let go off.
For some of us our cloak may be our political convictions. We know how the world could be a better place, if only people listened to us. Ironically, this may not make us to be good listeners to others, including perhaps to the voice of God; for if we know everything, we don’t need to listen.
Our cloak maybe that we are an upstanding citizen, pay our taxes on time, and give to the cancer society.
Many of those things are not necessarily bad things. But what if they hold us back from calling out to Jesus and from following Jesus?
Our cloak may also be that we somehow consider the Christian faith as a kind of insurance against the unknown. An insurance that does not cost us very much, going to church on Sundays, our offering, and possibly a little volunteering.
When Jesus sends for Bartimaeus, Bartimaeus throws off his cloak, a little like Gunnar let go of his possessions for Marguerite to wash them. First he had to trust to let go.
Bartimaeus throws off his cloak, comes to Jesus, and as he is healed he never looks back to his cloak but begins to follow Jesus.
Bartimaeus, does what the so-called “rich young ruler” was unable to do.
There is a Christian practice that speaks of self-emptying, of letting go.
Jesus though he was in the form of God emptied himself and took on our nature. Followers of Jesus are called to follow Jesus in this self-emptying, so that our lives would more and more conform to the God’s image in us.
God’s grace can only be received by those who know they need it. At Holy Communion we come to God with empty hands to let our hands, and hearts, and lives be filled.
Bartimaeus gave up his cloak and followed. May we do the same; every day.