“Mercy and Healing” Colchester Federated Church, October 24, 2021, Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost (Mark 10:46-52)

There’s a great book by Theology Professor Harvey Cox called When Jesus Came to Harvard: Making Moral Choices Today.  Professor Cox joined the faculty at Harvard University in the early 1980s and was asked to teach a course on Jesus in the newly introduced Moral Reasoning part of Harvard’s undergraduate curriculum.  This was because Harvard couldn’t ignore any longer a growing embarrassment—that they were hearing about “insider trading, sleazy legal practices, doctors more interested in profits than patients, and scientists who fudged data” from some of their own graduates.[1]  The faculty pondered if something was missing in this Ivy League education that they were giving their students since it appeared that their graduates were becoming experts on facts but not on values.  The faculty decided that their students needed to take at least one class on moral reasoning in order to graduate.  Hence Professor Cox came to Harvard to teach Jesus and the Moral Life.

Professor Cox taught his students the stories that Jesus taught and the stories that were told about Jesus.  Of course, he had to teach Harvard undergrads about the healing stories that we can find throughout the pages of the New Testament.  Now some of us sitting here today may understand these stories literally and others may understand them metaphorically.  Imagine how these stories of miraculous healings might sound to someone who has never heard them before because they didn’t grow up religious or someone who comes from a different faith tradition entirely.  Jesus does a lot of healing in the Gospels.  Professor Cox explained to his students that he felt Jesus’ approach to healing was the right one.  Because Jesus didn’t refuse help to anyone who needed it.  Jesus was motivated by compassion, not by publicity and he often told those who were healed to keep it a secret.  Jesus didn’t scold someone whose lifestyle could have contributed to their ailment.  Jesus didn’t even charge anything—he healed for free!  Because maybe Jesus understood that social isolation is one of the worst things about being sick.  Part of Jesus’ healing technique was helping the person become part of their society again.  Jesus recognized that disease was part of a larger disorder that affected the individual person, yet he didn’t speculate about that.  Jesus just went ahead and healed anybody who came to him for help.  Finally, Jesus didn’t understand his healing to be isolated miracles solely for that person in need, he saw healings as glimpses of God’s realm—a whole new order of things that can be understood by those who have the eyes to see and the ears to hear what is before them.[2]

So here’s Professor Cox teaching these undergraduate students at Harvard of all places all about Jesus’ healing stories.  What amazed him was how it was the premedical and public health students who often were the most eager to discuss these stories.  All of the students were far more receptive than he imagined they would be.  In fact, some students even began to share their own stories of sickness and healing once they started talking about what Jesus was up to.  He writes, “Even the students with the wheelchairs and the guide dogs joined in.  Some said this was their first chance to talk about something quite personal to them, but which many of their friends avoided bringing up because they were afraid it might seem awkward.  All in all, I came to see that trying to understand what Jesus was stating and doing without paying attention to the healing that played such a central role in his work short-circuits the meaning of his life.”[3]

Jesus was many things to many people.  And Jesus was a healer.  This morning’s text from Mark Chapter 10 is about a person being blind and then seeing.  It’s the story of Blind Bartimaeus—the final story of Jesus’ miraculous healings in the Gospel of Mark before his entry into Jerusalem near the end of his ministry and before his crucifixion and resurrection.  Though this story also focuses on the blindness of the disciples and ironically Blind Bartimaeus being the one who really sees Jesus.  Jesus’ encounter with Blind Bartimaeus shows the inadequacies of the disciples and the new social order Jesus created in his ministry.  Again, it shows this glimpse of God’s realm. 

The Gospel of Mark is known for Jesus’ call to radical discipleship. These calls happen as early as Chapter 1!  Jesus proclaims, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people” calling Simon, Andrew, James, and John to abandon their boats and fishing nets and become his companions immediately.[4]  We’re so optimistic for the disciples, thinking that these twelve people will help Jesus in preaching a new message to the people of Israel and the Gentiles in surrounding lands.  Yet by the final chapters, Mark shows Jesus crucified and abandoned—with the ultimate betrayal coming from one of his own.

The story of Blind Bartimaeus shows the failure and even inadequacies of the disciples.  They’ve seen the mighty works performed by Jesus throughout the Gospel and still don’t get it.  The disciples are contrasted with Bartimaeus who is literally blind, but sees Jesus as the Messiah.  The disciples are spiritually blind and continue to be blind to the transformation that Jesus is offering.  On the way out of Jericho, Bartimaeus cries out for Jesus to have mercy on him.  Yet “many scolded him, telling him to be quiet.”[5]   It wouldn’t be uncharacteristic for the disciples to be among those who ordered silence.  Earlier they spoke sternly to the people who brought children to Jesus for him to bless. 

Ultimately, it’s Bartimaeus’ faith that makes him well.  When Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” he says, “Teacher, I want to see.”[6]  Although visually impaired, Bartimaeus comes to see in every sense of the word by working with Jesus to experience wholeness.  Jesus heals him, and he heals him for free.  Bartimaeus responds to this act of mercy and healing by keeping the faith and following Jesus wholeheartedly.

We can also clearly see the new community created by Jesus, a community that embodies radical hospitality.  If Jesus is called to serve others, this must be true of Jesus’ disciples in every time and in every place.  Jesus gets criticized for associating with lepers, beggars, prostitutes, cripples, tax collectors, people possessed by demons, and many who sinned in the eyes of the religious authorities.  Jesus shows his followers that God’s values are different than good “pious” people may imagine.  We would hope that by the end of his life his own disciples would get that message loud and clear, only they don’t in Mark’s Gospel.  And then the attention turns to us.  Do we get it?  Do we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear and the minds to understand and the hearts to follow?  Jesus was a healer, and maybe he can heal the broken places in us too.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Harvey Cox, When Jesus Came to Harvard: Making Moral Choices Today, 3.
[2] Cox, When Jesus Came to Harvard: Making Moral Choices Today, 183.
[3] Cox, When Jesus Came to Harvard: Making Moral Choices Today, 183-184.
[4] Mark 1:17, NRSV.
[5] Mark 10:48, CEB.
[6] Mark 10:51, CEB.

Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash