Look at what I’ve got for you!
Look what I can do for you!
Give me a minute of your life, my friend, and I’ll tell you how I can make you smarter, better looking, younger, older, sexier, taller, shorter, fatter, or thinner.
Give me your money—$10 or $100 or $1000 or $10,000, and I’ll give you the best fried chicken you’ve ever tasted, I’ll make you rich, I’ll redo your bathroom, train your dog, educate your child, take 10 years off your apparent age, bring your groceries to your house within a 30 minute window, guaranteed, and make the world safe for democracy, according to your own specific political position.
Does any of this sound familiar?
At any moment, someone is trying to sell us something...anything we might possibly want—or think we want—or don’t know yet that we’re supposed to want.
I don’t watch TV very often, but one night last week, I decided just to flip through the channels and see what was happening. I have basic cable—only 81 channels—but it still took a while. As I flipped, it seemed to me that there were a bunch more commercials than programming going on. I got curious, so I did a fast flip through all the channels. I counted 28 channels with advertisements in progress. And by that I mean paid messages with a name—a product or service—and a price attached. Each of the other channels was also attempting to sell something—an opinion, a perspective, or maybe just another way to look at life.
I know that this is not news to you. Every moment of the day, if we have any contact with the world outside our homes, we are bombarded with messages of all kinds, by television, radio, the internet, telemarketing, newspapers and magazines. Many of these messages—most of these messages—are carefully crafted to persuade us to a change in opinion or feeling or to a specific action.
And this message is no different. It also has a purpose: to direct your attention to one phrase in this gospel we’ve just heard.
There are many ways this sermon could go. This gospel is a rich text with many lessons and parallels to offer us...many of which we’ve all heard during our church-going lives.
I could talk about this gospel in relation to the bumper sticker I saw last week. As I read it, I was startled, then I chuckled, then I was left with a kind of sadness that’s still with me. The bumper sticker had a simple message: Are you illiterate? Write for our free brochure.
I could talk about that bumper sticker in relation to this gospel of healing and talk about how all of us sometimes fail to help a situation because we make assumptions and then offer to help in a way that can’t be understood and by providing tools that can’t be used. But that’s not the purpose of this message.
I could talk about God’s presence in salvation history. About how God existed before the darkness was created and about how it was commonly believed in Jesus’ time that the darkness is a special place of God’s existence. And that this belief led people to believe that the blind have a special sight in connection with holy. And I might talk about how this blind Bartimaeus saw Jesus differently than other people did. But that’s not the purpose of this message.
I could talk about the phrase, “Have mercy on me,” and how it meant, in Jesus’ time, that the person calling out had a claim on the person being addressed, that something was somehow owed, that the person was asking for something that was perhaps already owned. But that’s not the purpose of this message.
I could talk about the fact that Bartimaeus took part in the regaining of his sight—that he had placed himself on the road where Jesus would walk—that he called out to Jesus. I could point out that he knew what he wanted and wouldn’t be silenced by the people around him. And I could talk about how difficult it is to ask for what we want in this life. Oh, I don’t mean that it’s difficult to ask for the things that don’t count. That’s easy to do. If the answer is no, there’s not much loss, so there’s not much risk. But when we ask for the things that really matter, the things that mean the most to us—that’s different, isn’t it? And I could talk about that difference, but that’s not the purpose of this message.
The purpose of this message is to direct your attention to Jesus’ question to Bartimaeus:
What do you want me to do for you?
What do you want me to do for you?
Our day to day experience often includes words such as “How can I help you?” “Have you decided what you would like?” and my personal favorite: “Did anything work for you?”
We hear those words frequently—scripted words that give a sense of connection,
words that obscure the real questions: “How much are you going to spend?”
“How are you going to change?”
These are words that have a price, words that imply that we can only receive when we’re prepared to give something in return, words that reinforce the message that we need to change something about ourselves in order to be acceptable.
But that’s not what happened with Jesus and Bartimaeus on that road that
day. Jesus asked Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?”
Bartimaeus replied: “Let me see again.”
And Jesus looked at him, just as he looked at the rich young man, just as he looked at James and John. He looked at him and he loved him. He said, “Go, your faith has made you well.”
And immediately Bartimaeus regained his sight.
Jesus didn’t say, “I’ll let you see again so that you can
He didn’t say, “I’ll let you see again so that you can do good works in my name.”
He didn’t say, “I’ll let you see again so that you will be made whole.”
He didn’t even say, “I’ll let you see again so that you can glorify God.”
Jesus just looked at Bartimaeus and loved him, just as he was, with all his
human faults. He looked at him and loved him and gave to him with all his heart,
with all the generosity of the God who sent him. There was no bargain struck
that day on the road from Jericho.
And there’s no price tag on God’s love.
We can’t buy it and we can’t earn it—we can’t even steal it. And the Good News of Jesus Christ is that we don’t have to.
All we have to do is be willing to receive it.
Thanks be to God.
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