There’s a seen in the former TV show “Everybody Loves Raymond” in which the Barone family has some friends from Italy visiting their house. And they are enjoying the food and company, and they all immediately begin speaking in Italian. They are laughing and having a great time, but Ray’s wife, Deborah — who is obviously not Italian and doesn’t speak the language — is feeling completely left out. No one notices, as her expression of her polite smile changes to boredom, then sadness, as she feels completely ignored because she cannot speak the language. Finally, one of the guests — an old Italian woman — notices, and begins to teach Deborah the words of a song they are singing. Immediately, Deborah smiles again and is able to feel a part of the group. Do you know this feeling? Have you ever had to go to a party or event in which you don’t really know anyone? And worse, the people there have something in common, and you have nothing in common with them? You agree to go as a plus-one with a friend to a wedding, and you’re sitting around the table and everyone is talking about “that time in college” or “remember that summer when we all went to the beach?” And you just sit there smiling politely, yet you want to just call a cab or an Uber and get out of there. It’s not a great feeling, is it? Bartimeaus The story of bling Bartimeaus is much like this that we just read in Mark 10:46-52. Jesus and a large gathering of his followers are in Jericho — about 20 miles northeast of Jerusalem, where he will be crucified. As they are walking along, a blind beggar begins to shout to Jesus: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And what do Jesus’s disciples do? They yell at the man to be quiet and not bother Jesus. Remember last week when we talked about that Inner Circle? How the circle is built not to be inside, but to keep others outside… The disciples are once again excluding Bartimeaus — he simply has no voice in this society because of his disability. Yet Bartimeaus yells still more loudly: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus tells the disciples to have him come over to him. Jesus asks Bartimeaus what he wants. He wants to see… Bartimeaus believes that if Jesus could just hear him — that is acknowledge him — then he could be healed. Jesus — in his last healing in Mark — tells Bartimeaus :Your faith has made you well. And Bartimeaus was able to see. Listen We wouldn’t do that in today’s culture, would we? If there was a blind person crying out because they needed help, we wouldn’t tell them to hush up, would we? There was a day when we treated those with disabilities poorly, but certainly not today, right? We’ve come a long way.
Despite that their vision is fine, they don’t really see Bartimeaus, do they? They ignore him. They want him to go away. To be invisible… But they also don’t truly see — that is, comprehend — what Jesus has been teaching, do they? Q3: What has Jesus been teaching? Jesus has been teaching inclusion. Inclusion of the “other.” Not just those with physical maladies — like the blind, deaf, bleeding, lame and those experiencing skin conditions or seizures… And not just those with emotional or mental disabilities — what back then might have been called “demon possessed” — depressed, bipolar, schizophrenic… And certainly those others that Jesus included were from different religions, cultures, ethnicities and beliefs. Healing for Jesus meant loving everyone. Loving everyone means hearing them. Listening to them. Listening to their very needs. Ignoring, isolating and telling others to be quiet is telling them they don’t deserve a voice. They don’t deserve to be loved. And — worse — that they don’t deserve Jesus. That last one? Oh, that’s a sin. “Love one another as I have first loved you…” John 13.35 “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12.30 The rub That’s the rub, isn’t it? I was telling some friends recently about my friend, Craig, who lived in South Carolina. Craig was black. I say was because Craig died a few years back. But in Beaufort, South Carolina, he was the first black student allowed into a formerly segregated public school — in 1973, But that first year, before he could be allowed in, the school district, his mom had to write a letter stating why Craig should be allowed into the school. That wasn’t equal. And Craig’s family protested, saying that if white students didn’t have to write essays to get in, then Craig shouldn’t have to either. And they held Craig out for that first year. The next year, the school district did away with the policy, and Craig was allowed into the school. I wonder how hard that must have been for Craig. Being there around people who don’t want you there. Certainly, no child should ever have to carry the burden of that worry in their lives. But I imagine being Craig in that moment. I don’t know if I would have been so strong. He was, though. He certainly was. For so long, the message was clear to him: “You don’t count.” “You are invisible.” “We don’t see you.” “Be quiet!” As we know from history, it’s easy to hate and hurt those who don’t have a face, a name or a voice… And so we need to consider what happens when we disregard people in our world today and what that means about our own faith when fail to hear the voiceless. Bartimeaus, by no fault of his own, was blind. My friend, Craig, by no fault of his own was born black in a racist world. We might walk past the this very church on any given night and see someone wrestling with an addiction sitting on the steps. We’ve certainly found alcohol cans and even hypodermic needles on this property. Our prisons and jails are filled with people we don’t want to see, don’t want to know, don’t want to help. Sometimes it’s their own fault; others, someone else’s fault. Sometimes, it’s our culture and society. We want to keep strangers away. We want to keep the other on the other side of that inner circle. Who are the lost and broken in spirit? If we say, “Well, they aren’t my neighbor,” then we don’t have to love them, do we? But that’s not what Jesus says, is it? That’s not what Jesus does in this story about Bartimeaus. What does the stranger look like in our community? I know many of them. I invite them here, to this place. It’s not enough to simply write a check, is it? That’s not what Jesus asks. Or commands. Because the command is love. Not tolerate. Bartimeaus wasn’t loved. Neither was Craig. Except Jesus loved both Bartimeaus and Craig. They both followed Jesus all their days. And Jesus loves the prisoner, the criminal, the addict, the abuser, just as he loved the leper, the prostitute, the criminal and the demon-possessed. This story of Bartimeaus shows us that when we truly listen to the cry of the stranger, we actually learn something about Jesus. Do you see that? Just as the disciples standing there around Bartimeaus on that wonderful day learned something about Jesus. We do too. We learn about the priorities and the compassion of God. And we’re to make Bartimeaus and Craig and every stranger a priority in our lives. To love them as ourselves, as Jesus says. We are to be compassionate to the broken and lost and suffering and voiceless, here on the doorsteps of the church in the middle of the night, and there suffering halfway around the world today. We all are worthy of Christ’s attention. Because Christ makes us worthy of his. #