Grace and Gratitude

by the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

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Today is the day of our annual pledge ingathering, a sort of Stewardship Sunday. We fill out little cards each year, promising to support the church, and we offer these cards to God as a token of our gratitude. Likewise, Fr. Webber has donated an altar pillow to the church out of gratitude for the many years that God gave him with his wife Peg. After the Creed today, we will be dedicating this offering. (And if you are wondering what an altar pillow is, think of it as an overstuffed book stand.) At first glance, today’s Gospel story of the healing of blind Bartimaeus seems like a bad fit for a day devoted to stewardship and gratitude. Well, folks, first glances can be deceiving!

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As today’s Gospel story begins, Jesus and his disciples, along with a considerable crowd, are leaving the city of Jericho, and a blind man, called Bartimaeus, is sitting begging at the side of the road. Now, in first-century Palestine, to be stricken by blindness was considered the ultimate catastrophe, because along with it came complete dependence on others. By their social standards, it was deeply shameful for an adult to be so helpless. Moreover, beggars of any sort were relegated to the bottom rung of the social ladder, having neither status nor honor. Being both a blind man and a beggar, Bartimaeus had two strikes against him.

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Then, one fateful day, Bartimaeus hears Jesus of Nazareth passing by and starts shouting out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Now, the phrase “Son of David” was a well-known title of the Messiah. Somehow this blind man had discerned Jesus’ true identity as the Messiah of God, something that even his closest disciples had just figured out. The people tell Bartimaeus to be quiet. After all, his repeatedly crying out that Jesus is the Messiah is not only annoying, but it is bound to cause trouble with the authorities. But Bartimaeus is truly desperate, and he knows that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So he shouts out again and again, giving it everything he’s got, “Son of David, have mercy on me! Son of David, have mercy on me!” One thing is already apparent: Bartimaeus is persistent!

Eventually, Bartimaeus succeeds in getting Jesus’ attention. Jesus stops in his tracks and tells the people to summon the man, which they do. They say to Bartimaeus, “Don’t be afraid. Get up. He is calling you.” And what does this blind beggar do? He throws away his cloak, jumps up, and heads for Jesus. Here, the translation that we heard read today is somewhat misleading. He doesn’t throw off his cloak. He throws it away. You see, he probably wasn’t wearing it at the time; in those days, beggars normally sat with their cloaks spread out on the ground before them to collect coins from passers-by. So by throwing away his cloak, Bartimaeus was discarding not only a garment that he could ill afford to replace, but also all the money that he had collected that day to live on. As in the parable of the pearl of great price, Bartimaeus was willing to give up everything for the one thing he really wanted, the one thing he really needed. In an act of faith fueled by desperation, he literally threw away his livelihood in order to come to Jesus.

Then, Bartimaeus draws near to Jesus. And Jesus asks him the very same question that he asked James and John in last week’s Gospel story, “What do you want me to do for you?” And while James and John asked for honor and status, this blind beggar asks for something that he truly needs—his sight. He says to Jesus, “Rabbouni, my master, let me see again.”

Jesus’ response to Bartimaeus’ request is somewhat abrupt. He says to the beggar, “Go away! Your faith has saved you.” Immediately the blind man regains his sight. And if we take Jesus at his word, Bartimaeus gains something considerably greater than his sight, namely, his salvation.

So, how does the story end? Well, instead of obeying Jesus’ command to depart, Bartimaeus keeps following Jesus on the way. In our minds, we might envision Bartimaeus tagging along behind Jesus, hopping and skipping with joy, as they head down the road to Jerusalem. But something more is being hinted at, I think. For, in Greek, the word translated “way” can mean either a real road, or it can mean the path of Christian discipleship. And in this case, I think, both meanings are intended.

Today’s Gospel reading resembles the story of the curing of the ten lepers in Luke’s Gospel. There, Jesus sends the ten lepers away to show themselves to the priests, and on the way, they are cured. But one disobeys Jesus’ instructions and turns back to thank him. And Jesus declares him saved.

At this point, I am ready to say why I think this Gospel story is, in fact, fitting for this Stewardship Sunday. Because it deals with gratitude, even though the word is never mentioned! Bartimaeus becomes a disciple neither out of a sense of duty nor in response to an appeal, but out of sheer gratitude. And that should be the main motivator for our generosity to the church as well. Yes, pledging is a duty. Yes, you got a letter from Joni Davidson and me urging you to make an annual pledge. But honestly, there is only one real reason for filling out that pledge card each year—gratitude to God! For everyone here, without exception, has been blessed by God with uncountably many blessings. You are alive. You live on an amazing planet in an amazing city—and occasionally you even get to see a blue sky! You have people who care about you and support you. And you have a God who loves you so much that he gave his only Son, so that you might have eternal life. Now, that is something to be truly grateful for. Wouldn’t you agree?

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© 2018 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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