How Would You Answer?
Based on Job 42:1-6, Psalm 34, Hebrews 7:23-28, Mark 10:46-52
How many questions do you think that you have been asked in the course of your life? As you ponder all of those questions, I suspect that there are only a handful or two that stick out to you; decisive questions whose answers have defined the trajectory of your life. Significant questions tend to be about big life choices such as marriage or divorce, jobs, joining or leaving an organization or group, deciding on the life road to travel, changing careers, becoming a parent, understanding who you are or wish to become, identifying life’s meaning and purpose, etc. Sometimes we are so overwhelmed by the significance of these questions that we wrestle with them a long time. Often, we have to live into the question in order to find the answer – to enter into the question with an open mind, seeking to discover what the answer to the question holds for us.
The Lewis Center at Wesley Theological Seminary produces a newsletter that hits my inbox every Wednesday. One of the sections of the newsletter is entitled, “The Right Question”. The sub-header for this section has this phrase: “Leaders do not need answers. Leaders must have the right questions.” It is a section that I go to each week to visualize and contemplate what other leaders in church life are asking of each other and of the folks that they shepherd. People around leaders always have questions that they want answered about an unknown and unknowable future. Leaders need to discern what is going on in life and seek the question whose answer will unlock the way forward. A question like, “What is the one thing that Madison County needs that we as a Charge can provide that will make a positive impact in the lives of our neighbors?”
Leaders need to ask the right questions. Our scriptures contain questions from two of the three persons of the Godhead – God and Jesus. Each of these divine persons asks a probing question or series of questions to humans, seeking for the human to declare the answer or answers. God and Jesus always ask the right questions because they are perfect leaders – the critical point for us is how would we answer them? Before we go farther, let us go to God now in prayer asking for humility and open mindedness so that we might answer truthfully God’s challenging questions…
The psalmist and the writer of the letter to the Hebrews echo each other. Psalm 34 sings, “…I sought the LORD and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears….” Similarly, the New Testament text says, “…he (Jesus) is able to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them….” Jesus, our perfect high priest, is ready and able to intercede on our behalf if we take our prayers through him to God. The question is then, if you truly believe this, why do you not seek the LORD with all your heart for the questions most on your mind?
Twice in the four-chapter questioning of Job God says, “…Gird up your loins like a man; I will question you, and you will declare to me….” We have Job’s second attempt to answer God in our reading today. Job declares to God, “…I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted…Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes….” God has helped Job see the truth and Job answers that he knows that God is God and that he is not. How would you answer this series of probing questions from God?
In the Gospels, Jesus often asks decisive questions to those seeking him out. In today’s scripture reading, a blind man by the name of Bartimaeus shouts out to Jesus asking for mercy. Jesus calls him over and asks him this question, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus states that he most wants to see again, and Jesus intercedes on his behalf saying, “Go; your faith has made you well.” We are told that immediately Bartimaeus regained his sight and then followed Jesus on the way.
One of the ways that I like to read the Bible is to imagine myself in the narrative. This way of experiencing the Bible was taught first by Ignatius of Loyola. When reading the Bible, imagine that you are actually in the story. What is the setting, is it day or night, hot or cold, sunny or cloudy, windy or still? What are the people in the story doing? With whom do you most identify – the main character(s), someone in the crowd, etc? How does the story make you feel when you are integrated into the telling? When I use this form of biblical reading, the stories come alive, and I am often struck by meaning and questions that I wouldn’t have otherwise encountered just reading the Bible like a novel.
What about this Gospel story of Bartimaeus from Mark? What would it be like for you to put yourself in the place of blind, begging Bartimaeus? Is this a simple healing story or is it something more? In Bartimaeus we find a person in need, who seems to understand deeply who Jesus really is. He’s not “just” Jesus of Nazareth – Bartimaeus calls him by his messianic title, “Son of David” and asks for mercy in that light. Up to this point in Mark, no one else has been able to “see” Jesus so completely. This is the only passage in which the title “son of David” appears in Mark, and it’s worth noting that Jesus does not silence him. Mark’s Jesus, who has been so secretive about his identity, not only allows Bartimaeus to refer to him this way but rewards his spiritual insight with the return of his physical sight.
Bartimaeus may not be the obvious model for a disciple, but this is how he’s presented to us in this passage. He is able to see Jesus for who he really is, he makes his way to Jesus with a reckless abandon that can’t be denied, and his approach includes an expectation of transformation. When he hears that Jesus has beckoned him to come, Bartimaeus throws off his cloak and comes quickly to Jesus. Someone in Bartimaeus’s position would ordinarily do well to keep his cloak, one of his few possessions close at hand, for fear of it being stolen – but Bartimaeus expects a change in his status. He knows that receiving the ability to see will restore him fully to society. It’s almost as if his casting off of the cloak is a public answer to a question not yet posed: Yes!! I do want to be made well!
O that we would see Jesus the way Bartimaeus does! See him as the Messiah, as the son of David with all of the salvific and political implications embodied in that title. When we meet Jesus, we too need to expect transformation, to go into this relationship with God fully committed to throwing off our own cloaks in order to be healed and then led to humble service. I am confident that Jesus is calling us, just as he called Bartimaeus. Our task is to decide how we would answer his question about what we really want from him; and whether we understand that there is something in all of us that Jesus can and will heal once we identify it.
However, most of us will not admit, even to ourselves, that we have areas of brokenness that require the love of God to heal and make whole. We put on a good face and show the world that we can hold up all by ourselves no matter what life throws our way. Until we can acknowledge our areas in need of God’s healing, we cannot formulate our response to Jesus when he asks us, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Bartimaeus shows us the way to develop the self-insight to answer the life changing question Jesus has for each of us. He shows us that when we answer truthfully, we can be healed. Bartimaeus shows us healing is not something to be selfishly enjoyed, rather it is a call to discipleship. Jesus tells him to go his own way because his faith has made him well, but Bartimaeus chooses instead to follow Jesus on the road. How will you answer Jesus when he asks you what you really want from him? There is no more important question for you to answer in this life! Amen and amen.