‘What do you want me to do for you?’, Jesus asked Bartimaeus. ‘Bar’ means ‘son of , just like the Scottish ‘Mac’, so Bar-Timaeus, son of Timeaus. Before he heals him, Jesus asks him what be wants him to do for him? There are many things that we THINK we want as we go through life. As children we THINK we want to be independent but when that day comes and we are suddenly left standing alone in our first little flat or, in my case, my miserable little room in the nurses’ home at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, it doesn’t seem quite such a good idea and it certainly isn’t as easy or as simple as we thought it would be. Suddenly the buck stops here, soon the bills start to appear and then the budgeting starts, soon the questions begin. Who fixes the broken window catch, or the busted fridge or the defective front door? What do I do when the heating breaks down or the power cuts out? Where is the stopcock? What happens if the roof leaks? Who pays for the phone and the electricity and the gas and the council tax? Most people’s Granny’s have said at least once, “Be careful what you wish for, you might get it!” We think we want to have a large family, dogs, cats, hens whatever and then when we get it we find we have no time for ourselves and wonder how life got to be so busy. If we can cast our minds back to when we were in our teens and having our dreams of what we wanted out of life, I wonder just how close we came to any of these dreams and whether it was all that we thought it might be.
Of course sometimes we get what we want and sometimes it is wonderful but it is never quite what we thought it would be like. Reality is always different from fantasy, for good or ill.
I think I may have told you this story before but it has stuck in my mind for many years as a salutary tale for ministers and for congregations alike. In one of my former parishes we had been told by the Presbytery that we had some big decisions to make about our future. There were six Churches of Scotland within walking distance of one another and we were all being told that this could not continue indefinitely. It was simply poor housekeeping. We decided this was a conversation that we needed help with and so we organised a congregational conference and we invited a well-known and competent facilitator to come and help us. At our first meeting she began by asking us to imagine that Jesus himself met with us and asked us three questions.
- What do you want me to do for you personally?
- What do you want me to do for your community?
- What do you want me to do for your congregation?
We were split into groups and each group was to consider the questions and come back with their answers to the facilitator. As you can imagine there were lots of different answers to the first question. Those who were unwell wanted to be made better; those who were struggling with housing or financial or family issues or unemployment wanted to have these things sorted. A long list was created on the whiteboard.
The second question with regard to the community was also a busy one as far as requests were concerned. More facilities, better housing, no vandalism, better schooling, more green spaces for the children to play in, less crime, no drugs, no betting shop and so on.
But when it came to the third question. “What do you want me to do for your congregation?” there was a silence and then one brave voice spoke up. “Actually, she said, we’re quite happy as we are.” Everyone laughed but my heart just sank. Jesus’s question to a community of faith was answered and the answer was an honest one. They could have asked for all sorts of things but given a few moments to talk about it and think about it, they realised that actually they liked things the way they were. The problem is that Jesus, when he comes to us, always demands a change. If we put our faith in Jesus Christ we cannot stay the same. The status quo is NOT an option.
Bartimaeus was calling out to Jesus and when he was brought to him, the first thing Jesus did was asked him what he wanted. For Bartimaeus it would mean a whole change of lifestyle. He would have to stop sitting and begging, for no one would give him a living in that way when he was able to work for himself. The transition from beggar to working man would not be an easy one. Bartimaeus knew what he wanted, told Jesus and Jesus healed him. He gave him his independence with all the responsibilities that that would hold.
Let’s have a wee look at the background to this story. Jesus was in Jericho, 15 miles from Jerusalem. The main road to Jerusalem ran right through the town and Jesus, a renowned local celebrity by this time, was on his way to celebrate the Passover in the Holy City, surrounded by his entourage of followers, men and women and possibly their children too. The street would have been busy with pilgrims getting ready to head for Jerusalem or simply watching to see who was passing. Every boy over the age of twelve years old living within 15 miles of Jerusalem was required to make the trip at Passover time so the place would have been literally heaving with people. Bartimaeus, sitting as he did at the gate, will have heard what was going on. The Galilean was coming, the one who had pitted his wits against the Temple and its corruption, the one who had spoken out against the prevailing authorities, the teacher who had healed many and who had said such revolutionary things. Bartimaeus set up such a shouting and commotion that no one could stop him. He wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass. It was his one chance to be healed and he just knew in his heart that Jesus could do it, even though he wasn’t very sure who Jesus was. That’s called faith! When those around him told him Jesus had heard, he didn’t hesitate for a moment. He leapt up, threw off his cloak so that he could move all the quicker, and came to Jesus’s side as quick as a flash. There was no way he was going to miss this chance. Certain chances only happen rarely in a lifetime. Bartimaeus didn’t want to miss this one. And when Jesus asked him the question he knew without a moment’s hesitation what he wanted.
This is our third in the series of meditations on the theme of stewardship. We’ve looked so far at the idea of being ‘called’ to a particular task by God. We’ve considered that we all have gifts that can be shared and we’ve talked about having responsibility for each other and about leadership, servant-hood and equality, for all are equal in God’s eyes and no job in Christ’s family should be elevated above another, all are to be made welcome. Today in this story of Bartimaeus and his meeting with Jesus, we can see reflected the three stages on discipleship, for if we are not disciples or followers or seekers after Jesus Christ then we are simply spectators and this is not worship but a show, an act, a performance and nothing else. And if that’s all it is then it’s a poor one and it simply won’t survive in a world where there are many more choices of things to do to fill a Sunday morning!
And the three stages?
- Need. Bartimaeus had it in bucketloads. He really needed to see Jesus, he skived, he struggled, he shouted, he prayed. Our faith begins with a burning need. A knowledge that there is something missing in our lives, an unfulfilled need.
- Faith. Bartimaeus had examined his life carefully, had had plenty of time to think about what he wanted. He didn’t understand everything about Jesus, he wasn’t sure who he was or what he was about but he just knew in his heart that Jesus could change his life and when Jesus asked him what he wanted he came straight out with it. “I want to see,” and Jesus healed him. But he healed him for a purpose.
- And that brings us to the third stage: Gratitude and loyalty. Bartimaeus, once healed, turned and followed Jesus. His needs met, his life changed, his faith rewarded, he turned and followed Jesus, not knowing where that would lead him.
Next week at our communion service we’ll reaffirm our faith and our desire to follow Jesus Christ as his people in this place. Our journey with Jesus will be and has been a rollercoaster, with lots of ups and downs, with many difficulties and many joys but the road of faith continues on its way.
I was talking to the children in the school last week about the Scots missionary Jane Haining who laid down her life for the Jewish children in her care during the Second World War and I’d like to finish with the words from her last postcard written in Auschwitz/Birkenau to her family which said simply this.
“There’s not much to report from here on the road to heaven.”