Scripture Reading: Mark 10:32-52

Eyes are a funny thing. With our eyes we can see so much. We can be in awe of the majesty of clouds-sky-heart-peace-love1God’s creation. We can add colour to a black and white page in a colouring book and make it beautiful. We can read books and gain knowledge. We can even communicate through our eyes.

Yet they are also a very sensitive organ in our body. Get stuck by a finger and our eyes don’t function properly for a few minutes. It hurts! Get a speck of something in our eye and it itches and drives us nuts until we can get it out.

Walk out of a darkroom into bright sunlight and we are blinded until our eyes can adjust. Then walk from the brightness back into the dark room and we can’t see at all, again, until our eyes adjust.

Our eyes also give us a certain amount of information and community. How often do we want to share in an experience with someone by saying, “Let me see!”

Or how often do we say, “I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes!”

Eyes are important. Our sight is important. And for those of us who have the ability to see, for us to lose it would be a huge adjustment for us.

Sight is key theme of our reading this morning from Mark 10. It’s another busy reading from Mark with a number of stories packed into 20 verses. We might wonder why not break this reading up into a number of sections, but I think there’s more connection to the stories than we might actually realize after a first look at it.

The reading begins with a reminder. It starts “They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem.”

Why is this a reminder? This is putting to our attention that Jesus has an ultimate destination. Jesus is on a journey which has an end. That end is in Jerusalem.

If we jump back to Mark 8, we can see Jesus had a similar encounter as to what we read today. In the town of Bethsaida, Jesus encountered a blind man, and Jesus healed him. He gave him back his sight.

After Jesus did this, they returned to the road and Jesus began to teach his disciples about what was to come. In Mark 8:31, it says, “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

This is the first time Jesus shared his ultimate destination with his disciples. It didn’t go over well. Peter tried to rebuke Jesus for even saying this. Jesus would have none of it, because Peter was setting his sight on earthly things and not heavenly things. The disciples didn’t get it.

There was also a second time. In Mark 9:31, shortly after the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountaintop, he tells his disciples, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” And in verse 32, immediately following, it says this about his disciples, “But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.”

It shows how little the disciples understand the teachings of Jesus. Because in the next few verses after Jesus tells them a second time, the disciples are fighting over who is the greatest follower of Jesus. They still don’t get it.

And finally today, Jesus teaches a third and final time about his death and what will come of it. We read it this morning, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” (Mark 10:33-34)

Jerusalem: the city they are approaching, looming over them on the top of the hill that lies directly in their path. This is where Jesus says it will happen.

And how do the disciples respond? James and John come up to Jesus and want to make a request. It’s interesting because they first say, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

Now isn’t that a way to start a conversation?

A little bold maybe? An expectation? A demand? I know if someone came to me and said, “Pastor, I want you to do for me whatever I ask of you” I know I’d be a little put off about what was about to come out of their mouth.

I’d most certainly be cautious as to how I respond to this person, if not down right defensive. If someone expects something from you, before they even tell you what it is, it certainly would put you in an awkward spot. Don’t you think?

But instead, what does Jesus say? He says, “What do you want me to do for you?”

I wonder how he said it. I know how I’d say it. It might not be in the very best tone, that’s for sure. But he’s better than I am, so he probably had a lot more loving, listening tone than I would have.

So they’ve set up and expectation, and what do they ask? “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

James and John are considered to be in the inner circle, along with Peter, of the disciples. They are two of the three who went up to the top of the mountain and witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus. They appear to have been closer to Jesus than the other disciples. They should know how Jesus would react better than anyone else.

And yet they still asked the question. And right after Jesus tells them he’s going to die!

I picture Jesus sighing… maybe a facepalm in there too, as he once again has to explain how things work.

They just don’t get it.

Jesus tries to explain it one more time,

“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them. That should have gotten the disciples attention. Obviously no one wants to be lorded over, least of all by someone who takes on the position because they want it, no matter how you feel about it.

Jesus tells them, if you want to be great… be a servant. You want to be in first place, the top position in heaven… be a slave to everyone else. Serve everyone before yourself. Not an easy ask by any means!

Jesus backs it up with one more comment. He came to serve, not be served. He came as a ransom!

What is a ransom? It’s a payment for freedom. Someone coughs up a payment, usually money, and lots of it, so that someone can be set free.

Jesus says he’s the ransom for many people.

A ransom he pays with himself… his life.

Are the disciples willing to go that far to get a seat of privilege with Jesus? Are they willing to be a ransom? Are they willing to lay down their lives just like Jesus is about to do.

I’m sure it was very quiet for the next few miles of the journey before they stopped in the town of Jericho. This was something they had to seriously think about.

We don’t know what Jesus did in Jericho, but as they were leaving, there was a great crowd, as you would expect, and a blind man named Bartimaeus was sitting by the road. He heard the murmurs in the crowd that Jesus was passing by and he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

The more the crowd tried to shush him, the louder he cried out! Until finally Jesus said, “Call him.”

And so they did. He threw off his cloak and sprung up… imagine for a second… a blind man jumping up. Not exactly the safest move he could have made in that moment.

As Bartimaeus comes to him, Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Let’s stop here for a second. Jesus asks Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?”

What did Jesus ask James and John when they came to him?

He said, “What do you want me to do for you?”

The exact same question.

James and John asked for privilege. They ask for status, a higher status.

What did Bartimaeus ask for?

Scripture says, “And the blind man said to him, ‘Rabbi, let me recover my sight.’”

Bartimaeus already has a status in the town. He’s blind. He’s discriminated against. He’s told to shut up when he asks for help.

So he asks Jesus to take that status from him. He’s asking for mercy.

What a contrast in responses in these two instances. In both cases the seekers come to Jesus looking for something.

For the disciples they have been with Jesus for some time. They are recognized as part of his inner circle, as special people. And then they ask for more. They walk up to Jesus uninvited and demand to be rewarded for their reputations as followers of Jesus.

Bartimaeus is invited, and asks Jesus to take away what he is known for. He wants Jesus to give him a new start. To take away the blindness is to take away everything Bartimaeus is known for.

Bartimaeus is asking to be stripped of his identity and asking for a chance to build a new life. A life only Jesus can give.

It begins with restoring his sight.

James and John, and the rest of the disciples, have been traveling with Jesus for three years. They have seen things no one else has ever seen. They have seen people restored to health. They have seen demons cast out. They have seen people brought back to life! They have heard teachings about who Jesus is and how to get into the kingdom of heaven.

Yet do they really see?

Do they really see who Jesus is? Given their actions to the direct teachings Jesus offers them… we have no choice but to say no. They must be blind to not see this.

Sure they have their eyesight. They have been witness to these many things, but they are spiritually blind. In the presence of God himself, the disciples don’t see the gift they have been given. All they can see is a great reward.

And they want more. They expect more.

And here we have Bartimaeus. A poor man who cannot see. Who has lost his sight. Yet when Jesus is near, it’s only him who can see what Jesus truly has to offer.

Physically blind, he clearly sees the gift God has placed right in front of him. A chance for a new life.

A chance to be saved from the misery he finds himself in. A chance to be restored to wholeness… not just through the restoration of his sight, but restored to wholeness in his entire life… spiritually and physically.

Bartimaeus was saved by his faith. But it wasn’t his eyesight which was saved, it was his eternal life. He could already see Jesus, he didn’t need his eyes to tell him who he was.

Bartimaeus had faith God would restore his life through an act of mercy.

Not pity. Not forgiveness. Not a pat on the back.

An act of mercy.

We all need some mercy in our lives. There are things we wish we could get rid of. Things which have us wanting to cry out, “Jesus have mercy on me!”

He will. And he does.

Jesus has great mercy for us. Why else would he say he has come to be our ransom?

HE is OUR ransom!

He has laid down his life for us.

He takes mercy on us and offers his life for ours.

Why? So that we can know God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s mercy in our lives.

So we can be made whole in our spirit by coming into relationship with him.

This is the love of God offered to us.

Jesus Christ offers us wholeness, mercy and grace…

And a love beyond what we can ever truly know or deserve.

Let us receive this mercy and grace.

Let us know the love of God more fully in our lives.

Not with an expectation of deserving something better, but in an act of humble service, allowing God to speak into our lives and give us hope, love, and new life.

A new life only He can give.