Image taken from the Coit Tower in San Francisco murals commemorating the Work Progress Administration 1934
In the culture in which I was raised, making a fuss was considered as something that could only invite personal embarrassment. If you made a fuss, in effect you were drawing attention to yourself, and drawing attention was tantamount to inviting social judgment. Consequently, I am someone who hardly ever makes a fuss, at least, not in public. The one exception is in high-end restaurants. Here I have learned to overcome my conditioning when I am encountered by an attitude of condescension, the kind of attitude that with concealed subtlety communicates that it’s a privilege for me to be eating in this prestigious restaurant while paying through the nose for the privilege of being condescended to. This being the exception, I often find myself hotly ruminating in my mind –repeatedly going over what I should have said to this or that person, in this or that situation, had I been less inhibited by my fear of drawing attention to myself making a fuss.
As we travel through the enveloping cool of autumn, a season that always conjures up for me the opening lines of Keats’ Ode to Autumn:
SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness! Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; Conspiring with him how to load and bless With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
I am mindful of autumn as a season of renewal – taking spiritual inventory of all the blessings of life.
Last week my sermon took the form of an extended meditation on the inner conflict we experience between the fear of scarcity and the experience of abundance. I commended that passage from Matthew where Jesus tells us that where our treasure is – there also we will find our heart. Paradoxically, the spiritual life is not about money yet financial generosity is one of the key fruits of the spiritual life. What we choose to do or not do with the resources God entrusts us with – proclaims our values to the world. What we invest value in -we also draw value from.
The story of Bartimaeus son of Timaeus takes place on the outskirts of the historic city of Jericho. This is a multilayered story in a sequence of multilayered stories that Mark offers us concerning Jesus’ road-trip to Jerusalem. Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is for those who travel with him – the road to discipleship. Mark recounts several incidents along the way that highlight the tensions within us as we hear the call to discipleship.
Mark chronicles events of blindness and clear-sightedness, of fear and hope, of the fear of not being seen and the desire to be see too much. Like all these experiences the healing of the physically blind becomes the metaphor for another kind of blindness, that of the mind and heart; a blindness repeatedly displayed by the disciples.
Bartimaeus is a blind man, his blindness leaving him not simply poor materially, but according to the prevailing religious attitudes of his time, poor spiritually as well. The 1st-century conventional religious view was of blindness or any kind of illness as punishment for sin. Bartimaeus has placed himself by the roadside so as not to be missed by Jesus as he passes. When he hears Jesus approaching, he begins to make a fuss, and as others try with some severity to silence him, the crescendo of his fuss-making only increases.
Bartimaeus sits by the roadside on the outskirts of Jericho, which in the 6th chapter of the Book of Joshua we are told was the first town to fall to the Israelites who leveled its walls by making a huge commotion of feet tramping, trumpets blaring, and voices shouting. On the roadside, on the outskirts of Jericho, Bartimaeus sits making a commotion as he calls repeatedly: Son of David, have mercy on me!
Jesus, moving amidst the throng of people is halted in his tracks by Bartimaeus’ use of this historic phrase Son of David – an early recognition of Jesus’ messianic secret. Turning around he looks for the source of the voice and spying Bartimaeus he says call him to me. Bartimaeus wastes no time. Mark loves to describe action using the continuous present form of the verb as a way of communicating a sense of immediacy for the reader. He tells us that throwing off his cloak, Bartimaeus sprang up and came to Jesus.
Jesus asks him the proverbial discipleship question: What do you want me to do for you? Compare Bartimaeus’ response to that of James and John to the same question, reported by Mark in last week’s incident along the road. Bartimaeus with simplicity says: My rabbi, let me see again!
Whenever we respond to the call of discipleship, Jesus simply asks us: what do you want me to do for you? Unlike Bartimaeus, we will often not know how to answer. For me, the point of this story lies in my recognition that Bartimaeus receives his sight through an experience of realignment.
Realignment describes the opening of the heart and mind through investing emotional significance in a person, an object, a cause or an activity. Bartimaeus becomes deeply invested in the one his heart has been yearning for. The intensity of his yearning heart creates a moment in which he experiences a profound realignment of his world.
To obtain that which our hearts yearn for requires such a realignment. Realignment results when stepping outside of our sense of social conformity we risk making a fuss, and maybe weathering the storm of public rebuke in doing so. Bartimaeus’ heart moves from yearning via commotion-making to investment in the one for whom he has been longing. Through becoming invested in Jesus, he now enters upon the experience of discipleship.
It’s not a coincidence that the renewal of our stewardship falls within the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. In this season we are invited to give thanks as we review and reflect on our spiritual priorities. In this season when -giving thanks for the fruits that load the wines that run around and through our lives – we open to the possibility for spiritual and emotional realignment.
Jesus asks what do you want me to do for you? Yearning and longing for what- maybe we don’t quite know – but longing to discover. The possibility for personal and communal realignment is in the autumn air. Can you sense it?