“On the way” with Jesus
Our gospel lesson today tells us about Jesus healing a blind man. But don’t be fooled, this story is about much, much more than a simple healing.
In the first place, Jesus and his disciples came to JERICHO. Do you remember Jericho? Jericho is where the Israelites had won a great victory over the Canaanites because of their faith. They had marched around and around Jericho until that city’s walls had miraculously fallen down. A great obstacle had been overcome. So the setting of today’s gospel lesson tells us that great faith is going be a part of today’s lesson.
Jesus and his disciples were on their final journey to Jerusalem. They had been on the road (“on the way” with Jesus) a long time—48 years, by my reckoning. But, as far as they had come, their greatest challenge was ahead of them. Many of Jesus’ disciples had first been John the Baptist’s disciples, so they were about to experience their second interim ministry period. Their leader was about to leave them, and they were going to discover the joys and challenges of owning leadership of their community.
Now when I say “Jesus and his disciples” were on their way to Jerusalem, chances are that you will think of Jesus and the Twelve: Peter, James, John, and the boys. You know, the ones with all those churches named after them. However, there were a lot of disciples following Jesus to Jerusalem. Back in chapter eight Mark tells us that Jesus had invited ALL who hung around him to “take up their cross” and follow him. And they did. They were “on the way” with Jesus, which was an early Christian metaphor for “following Jesus.” They were “on the way.” They had worship. They had Bible studies. They might even have had Quest groups.
Women were among those who followed Jesus; if you skip ahead to chapter 15, you will find that Mary Magdalene and other women had followed Jesus to Jerusalem. Verse 41 tells us that these women were the ones who were bankrolling Jesus’ ministry. So at a minimum they were PLEDGERS. I’ll let you decide whether the women who followed Jesus were his disciples. What I want you to notice is that there were a whole lot of people following Jesus, probably 70 or so of them—just about the same number in our congregation today—this is just a few more people than we have pledges.
Those people were following Jesus, but they were afraid of what “take up your cross” meant. Just a few verses before our gospel lesson today we learned that “They were on the way, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.” So Jesus was fearless, but those who were with him were very scared.
On this trip, Jesus had told them three times about what would happen to him in Jerusalem. Do you remember? Peter had scoffed and had gotten himself rebuked. Next, the disciples hadn’t known what Jesus meant, but had been afraid to ask. Then, when Jesus had told them the third time about his coming death, the disciples’ response had been to ask Jesus for glory for themselves. The disciples hadn’t understand the situation they faced. Or maybe they did. Their situation was too terrible, the possible outcomes too dire, to contemplate.
So here they were, outside Jericho, marching ahead as best they knew how. And who did Jesus and his disciples encounter but a blind man sitting by the roadside begging. We are talking about an inconsequential person, a BEGGAR. We are talking about a blind man, who people then judged to be a SINNER. We are talking about a man who kept shouting to Jesus for mercy, a PERSISTENT nuisance.
Jesus walked on by the man. We don’t know why. Maybe Jesus simply didn’t hear the man SHOUTING to him at the top of his lungs: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on ME.” Maybe Jesus wanted to spend his remaining time with his disciples ensuring that they understood his message. Maybe Jesus wanted to see what his disciples would do on their own, to see if they had understood about NOT GETTING IN THE WAY when people wanted to approach him.
So what happened when Jesus’ disciples encountered an inconsequential beggar who was shouting at the top of his lungs: “Jesus, Son of David, have MERCY on me?” They told the man to “Be quiet,” to “shut up.” They were STILL vetting potential members, to see if they were enough like them to join. The disciples were about to have to shoulder for themselves the burden of their survival, and they not only were not bringing people to Jesus, they were getting in the way of the one who was screaming at the top of his lungs for Jesus to heal him.
So what did Jesus do? “He stopped.” Jesus instructed them, “Call him here.” I think that there was a gesture that went with the words, a gesture that pointed to his heart. “Call him here (from your heart).” “Call him here [pointing around the church], to Jesus.” Call him.”
This is a new test! The last time Jesus had instructed his disciples to do something, he had told them to feed the five thousand hungry people who had no food. They had looked at him blankly, and then one of the money-men pointed out just how many tens of thousands of dollars they were over-spent on their budget. THAT TIME Jesus had needed to show them how to feed five-thousand hungry people with no money and no food (like we did here yesterday). Do you remember what Jesus did first? He “looked up to heaven,” then took the bread, blessed the bread, broke the bread, and gave the bread to all to eat. We recognize those last four acts as the Eucharistic meal, the meal that we are about to share. But I want you to notice that this miracle began with Jesus “looking up to heaven.”
You’ll see why in a minute. But first we need to notice that the disciples aced THIS test! Our lesson says, “And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take courage; get up, HE is calling you.”
Whoa. Jesus didn’t have to show his disciples how to call the man. Not only did they relay Jesus’ immediate message, they added a word they had learned from Jesus when they had been cowering in a boat during a storm. “Take courage!” Our translation renders this, “Take heart,” as if this were a pre-modern version of “Have a good day.” NO! This is “take courage,” or “have faith,” take the kind of sustenance that only God can provide: “rely on God;” ACT while relying on God.
Do you know that this is the ONLY place in the entire New Testament where someone other than Jesus Christ said this word, “Take courage?” Just outside Jericho, the disciples had learned to tell others about Jesus, and bring them to him.
The blind man’s response was immediate and spectacular. He threw off his cloak—probably the only thing this poor beggar owned—leaving all, and he came to Jesus. And when this blind man made his way through the throng that surrounded Jesus, what do you think he asked Jesus to do for him? This blind man told Jesus that he “wanted to look up.” Our translation renders this, “let me see again,” but this is the same word that Jesus had used when he got ready to distribute the first Eucharist to the five thousand. Just in case there was any doubt, after Jesus restored the man’s eyesight, our scripture lesson says that this formerly blind man followed Jesus “on the way.” What we have here, folks, is a new disciple.
Jesus was still heading to his death in Jerusalem. The disciples were still following him, some fearfully, but others undoubtedly having taken the very courage that they urged on Bartimaeus. They were deciding just how far they would follow Jesus. Would they follow Jesus to the very end, and beyond? There, in Jerusalem, the disciples were going to each have to decide for themselves how they would respond to Jesus’ death.
Isn’t this the very position that we, here at the Church of the Resurrection, are in? We have just left Jericho, and are heading for Jerusalem, “on the way” with Jesus. Who will you be in this story? Who will you tell about THE Resurrection? Who will you tell about THIS Resurrection?
 Mark 8:34
 In biblical Greek, the same word means both “road” and “way.”
 Quest groups are discipleship groups that meet in this parish.
 Mark 15:40-41
 Mark 10:32
 Mark 6:30-44