Jesus Welcomes the Oppressor, Part 1 [Taste & See #4]
Taste & See - Sermon #4 - Jesus Welcomes the Oppressor, Part 1
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • June 5, 2016 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor
We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. If this is your first time or 100th, we are honored that you are here today in our community.
Whether you arrived here this morning because of an Internet search, because you were invited, or because you already knew the way, we are grateful for you and for the gift of God that you bring with you into this space. Our simple prayer for you is that you would experience welcome, acceptance, peace, and space to have an encounter with the loving presence of the living God during your time with us this morning!
On his way to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, Jesus passes through the ancient city of Jericho. For any of us who grew up near or in the church that city name might ring some bells or maybe you are remembering its name from watching those VeggieTales movies. Jericho was a powerful walled city that is the first city that the nation of Israel led by God himself captures as they make their way from slavery in Egypt to a land that was promised. Fast-forwarding to our scripture text today in Luke 18:35-43 - Luke 19, we find Jesus along with his disciples on their way to Jerusalem passing through the ancient city of Jericho.
35As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” (Luke 18:35-37)
The people of the city head out to meet Jesus as approaches the city. This is like discovering on Twitter that your favorite celebrity is in town, you head out to get a an autograph, a snap or if you are lucky, a selfie. As the people rush by, a bling beggar calls out to to find out what’s going on. The crowd responds, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” We have to infer a little here, but I think it’s safe to say that the people had some idea of just who Jesus was as he made his way to Jericho.
In the ancient near east, beggars were a recognized part of the community and the community gave to the poor out of their obligation to God and the fulfillment and adherence to the Law of God. It was expected of every God-fearing person to give to the poor. The enterprising beggar understood this obligation, instead of playing the guilt trip on those with means,
“Please sir, I’m hungry, blind, and skill-less, spare some coin?”
The beggar called out, “Give to God!” instead. This was a perfect setup as it created an opportunity to stroke the pride of the giver because the beggar upon receiving coin would heap praise out-loud on the givers for all to hear. In exchange for the public praise, the giver might figure, “This is a such small sum to pay for all this praise!”
Lest we assume that being a beggar in the ancient world was a plum way to earn money, let’s remember that it was necessary for a beggar to have a visible handicap in order to survive.
38He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Turning to Mark’s gospel account of this same story, we discover that this beggar has a name, he’s known in this community. He’s name is Bartimaeus, he’s blind, but from Mark’s account we learn he’s able to walk.
Bartimaeus seeks comfort, he desires mercy.
39Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet...” (Luke 18:38-39)
The crowd responds to Bartimaeus pleas for mercy with derision and condemnation. Again using Mark’s telling of this story for a moment, the phrase “be quiet” can be translated, “shut your mouth!” If we use Mark’s translation, there seems to be an edge in the crowd’s rebuke.
It’s as if the crowd is saying,
“Bartimaeus, this isn’t the time or place for you to bother the master. You’re blind for a reason Bartimaeus, probably as God’s judgement on you or your parents for their sins, their missing of the mark. This is your lot in life. Stay in your lane! And shut up, will you!”
But Bartimaeus isn’t having it.
He doesn’t care one iota what the people think. It’s between him and Jesus at this point, so he raises his voice,
39...but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:38-39)
Jesus hears his plea, stops, and commands the same crowd trying to marginalize and silence Bartimaeus to escort Bartimaeus to him. If you have read this story before, why do you think the crowd rebukes Bartimaeus? If the crowd and Bartimaeus know who Jesus is, certinaly they also know that he is a healer, why not get Bartimaeus?
40Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. (Luke 18:40)
Then Jesus asks Bartimaeus a question,
41“What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” he replied. (Luke 18:41)
As we push into the text here, we might be surprised by the question Jesus puts to Bartimaeus. Clearly Bartimaeus is blind, so Jesus could just assume that what he wants is to see. What else would Bartimaeus want from the Master? Wasn’t it Jesus’s own kingdom agenda that included the recovery of sight for the blind?
18“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
Right here is an invitation for us to pause and take a moment to inspect how we see Jesus, or better yet, how we have been taught to see and understand him. As much as Jesus is kind, compassionate, and full of mercy, dude has an edge, remember he’s the one who’s calling us to following him into life through death.
23Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. Luke 9:23–24
Now watch this...
Though this question may seem too direct or even a little harsh on the surface, there's another way to enter into it. Jesus is asking a serious question, “What do you want me to do for you?” Implicit in that question is another one, “Are you ready to accept the consequences of what you want?” Jesus is asking Bartimaeus, “Are you ready to give up your livelihood, your income, your ability to sustain for yourself by begging?” Remember Bartimaeus, you don’t have a job or employable skills, what are you going to do with your newfound sight? This is a striking to me because as I read the text, I just assume that Bartimaeus would rather have his sight, instead of spending the rest of his life dependent on the generosity of others begging for bread. And this is where I had to come to terms with some things about Jesus. He wants us to have life, but we have to remember that those of us who seek our lives, will lose them (Luke 17:33). While grace may indeed be free, it’s not cheap, it’s costly. And for some of us, neigh, most of us, it will cost us everything to follow Jesus. And in one sense, Jesus is respecting Bartimaeus, not forcing healing on him, allowing him to choose, and therefore accept the consequences of his choice. Deep! The more I sat here, the more I saw. Bartimaeus hasn’t labored, so he has no skills. He owns no land. He has no education. What is he going to do now that he has his sight?
Now let me push in here for just a moment...
What if Jesus is asking Bartimaeus, if it is better for him to stay just where he is?
I know this doesn’t make much sense? Especially in light of Jesus’ kingdom agenda as found in Luke 4. It seems to me that Jesus is really asking a very compassionate question,
“What do you want me to do for you?” and its twin,
“Are you able to accept what that will create in your life?”
I’ve struggled with this realization as I’ve process the acts of justice we may perform for others. Without excusing our invitation to be merciful and kind, how often we do think through the consequences of our acts of justice for others? That’s the invitation I see here in Jesus’ interaction with Bartimaeus. Do you know what you are asking for, Bartimaeus?
40Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41“What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord, I want to see,” he replied. (Luke 18:40–41)
Did you notice that Bartimaeus changes the title with which he addresses Jesus? He starts his interaction with Jesus using the messianic title, “Son of David.” As he continues to engage Jesus, he shifts to Lord. It’s personal now. We may miss with our modern eyes what’s happening here, but when Bartimaues shifts to calling Jesus, Lord. There’s surrender that’s happening. There’s an acknowledgement happening. It’s a recognition of exactly who Jesus is. Jesus is more than someone who is just operating in a vocation, an expectation, a role. He represents the Creator God in the earth and this has become a Bartimaeus and Jesus moment. The kingdom is breaking out right in front of Jesus, it’s no longer academic, theoretical, it’s real. Bartimaeus is right at the edge of the kingdom, and his eyes are opened to Jesus as Lord, he has a vision of the kingdom, and he steps into the his new kind of “seeing.”
42Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” 43Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God. (Luke 18:42–43)
I wrestle almost every time I hear the scriptures declare that it was “your faith” that healed you, because I’m like, then, is Jesus really needed at all? If all I need is faith to be heal, then where does Jesus fit in? So, I think it’s helpful that Luke helps us decode that statement by allowing us to observe that Bartimaeus’s faith had three components:
Bartimaeus has faith that Jesus has the power of God to heal him of his blindness.
Bartimaeus believes that Jesus has compassion on the poor, which includes him.
Bartimaeus is confident that Jesus is the Son of David, that he is the messiah sent into the world to rescue the world from the disastrous effects of our participation in the rebellion and he accepts Jesus as his “Lord.”
There is something significant that transpired when Bartimaeus realizes that he is seen. Sit with that for a moment. Think back to the moment you realized your own agency.
When the King asks him what he wants... something happens... he’s not just a beggar, he’s someone of value and worth, he matters. Think back to the moment you realized your voice. It seems as if that act of acknowledgement and mercy, that act of being known transforms Bartimaeus. The eyes of his heart, as it were, are opened to recognizing Jesus as King and that Jesus’ Kingdom is authentic, real. Maybe Bartimaeus also realizes something else, that the Empire, the Emperor are a just a parody of the real thing. And the real thing is right in front of him. It seems that even as Bartimaeus receives his physical sight, his is also given the faith to see, what I like to call prophetic imagination–imaging of a reality we hope for, not just what we can see. He steps in faith into Jesus’ kingdom, which bring the promised good news for the poor, the blind, and the oppressed into his reality. Bartimaeus is willing to give up his former self, his former way of life that was stable, known, albeit, difficult, to follow a King who sees him and knows him.
Bartimaeus is saved because healing is a part of God’s salvation for creation. And the crowd’s reaction is also significant. This is why I wanted to preach this as a two-part sermon, in this part of the story the crowd after initial rebuking and condemning Bartimaeus shift to praising God because of Bartimaeus persistence and tenacious pursuit of Jesus. Jesus corrects the crowd by extending grace to him, effectively giving the crowd a gentle slap on the wrist. But you may want to be here next week as we continue the story because while the crowd is willing to praise God when God heals the oppressed, they option shifts quickly when it’s the oppressor that receives grace, mercy, and acceptance.
1.) I want to invite us to consider Bartimaeus as our tutor and ask ourselves if Jesus was here this morning, what would want from him? Are you willing to risk joining us in the prayer station this morning and partnering with one of our trained prayer ministers to ask together the Lord of Harvest to hear your request and extend mercy and grace to you?
2.) Let’s try a lectio divina exercise using this scripture in Luke 18, where instead of Bartimaeus, it is us who are seen by Jesus. What if we placed ourselves in the story instead of Bartimaeus and Jesus is asking us “What do you want me to do for you?” What would you say? If you are willing use the blue prayer card in front of you to capture your response and we will join you in prayer this week asking God for what you note.