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Proper 30, Year B

What Do You Want Me to Do For You?

Readings: Job 42:1-6, 10-17; Psalm 34:1-8; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

It is said that when you lose one sense the other senses are heightened. Those who are blind begin to see in other ways. I certainly noticed that in Jewel, my dog who was blind. It was amazing to see how well she could navigate without being able to see. Most of us who are sighted fail to see even what is right before our eyes. We may see, but we don’t perceive. Or we see what we want to see.

An elderly woman boarded a plane one day. As the stewardess helped her to her seat she kept thinking, “As if I’m not busy enough! Now I’ll have to spend the whole trip helping her.” The businessman seated beside her noticed her wallet bulging with pictures. “She’ll be talking incessantly about her grandchildren,” he thought to himself as he pulled out his paper. The teenager in the window seat put on his earphones and ignored her completely. Following the flight, they all picked up their luggage and walked out into the lounge. There was a huge crowd gathered to greet the old woman. “What an honour it is for us to have an artist like you visiting us.”

The disciples often had trouble with their perception. James and John, for example, had a problem with seeing. They spent three years with Jesus and still didn’t really understand who he was.

On the other hand, an old blind beggar had no trouble seeing at all. He knew everyone who passed by his stretch of road on the outskirts of Jericho. He heard their feet shuffling along in the dust. He heard the sighs of relief as they drank deeply of the cool water from the well. As certain people approached his hand automatically stretched out in anticipation for the coin that would be dropped into his palm. As others came by he shrank into his cloak.

He heard stories that stirred a deep longing within him. Stories of a miracle worker! A healer! So even in the midst of the crowds heading toward the oasis he recognized Jesus and his disciples as they came down the road. He began to call out, “Have mercy on me."

"Be quiet!" Others on the road ordered. But it did no good. He just shouted louder. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped when he heard the man's plea. "Call him here," he said to them. Bartimaeus did not need any further invitation. He threw off his cloak and sprang to his feet.

"What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asked hiim. He had been waiting all of his life for someone to ask that question. He knew exactly what to ask for. He was desperately in need. He had lost everything, even his name. Son of Timaeus, they called him. Those around him had compassion on him in a way. They often threw him a few coins to keep him quiet; but underneath it all, he knew that they blamed him for his troubles. But this was Jesus. The miracle worker! Standing before him. Here was the one who could lift his life out of defeat. It was his one chance. And he seized the opportunity. He asked for healing, "My teacher, let me see again."

And Jesus said to him, "Go. Your faith has made you well." He could see. He became whole. He followed Jesus. A healing took place that day. A deep healing! But far more than that, a transformation! Bartimaeus began to follow Jesus. He became a disciple.

Job's story is similar, for Job too lost everything. All he could do was to cry out to God in his need and hope that God would hear and respond. God’s answer was like that of a loving parent. God could not make the hurt go away. But God could offer a hug. A hug made it possible to bear any amount of suffering. It transformed Job. “Before, I knew you only by hearsay,” he said to God, “but now, having seen with my eyes, I retract what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes.” He witnessed God’s glory. He understood the meaning of his suffering. He felt the compassion of God. He experienced God walking with him.

“What do you want me to do for you?” God asks us on our faith journey. “What do you need? Do you have a longing in your life that just does not seem to be satisfied? Do you dare to ask me to respond to that longing? Can you name your need?” We all come to God with different needs. It may be a need born of desperation. It may be a sudden awareness of our neediness and an equally sudden response to God. It may be a gradual approach, tentative at first and then growing. We may still be searching for what it all means.

That question, "What do you want me to do for you?" is the central drama in our Christian life. We each respond in our own way. And as long as it is central in our lives, then the church lives. It is the root of our Christian vision. It includes all of us; rich and poor, blind and sighted, powerful and weak.

Naming our need is so important. It is the reason why twelve step programs work. The first step is to name the problem. “My name is … and I am an alcoholic.” Until they are able to take the beginning step, there is no recovery.

Victims of abuse too need to name their experience. It is freeing to tell your story and be believed. The greatest affirmation any victim can receive is to be asked as Jesus asked Bartimaeus, “What do you need?” It can be the beginning of healing. It can do far more than any amount of compensation.

Over the years, our aboriginal people have articulated their need for the Church to make amends for the years of abuse they endured. When Michael Peers, the then Primate gave an apology on behalf of the Anglican Church it was a significant step in healing the blindness of centuries of abuse. “I accept,” he said, “and I confess before God and you, our failures in the residential schools. We failed you. We failed ourselves. We failed God.” It was a beginning that is transforming the life of the Church. That work goes on through our National Church still as we hear and respond to the stories of abuse.

That hope springs from the experience of South Africa since the end of apartheid. Desmond Tutu’s prophetic voice speaks profoundly about the sweetness of liberation. He firmly believes that liberation came about through God’s faithful people who had a vision of what that blinded society should be like, and who were unwilling to give up that vision. He saw it as an expression of the faith and prayers of Christians throughout the world.

And somewhere along the way we need to turn that question around. We need to say to God, “What do you need from me?” We need to commit ourselves to God, responding to God's call. It is a question that we need to ask on a personal level, but also as a community of faith. Do we have a vision for our church and for our society? What is the answer to what many say is the post Christian era? What is the answer to the violence in our society? How do we reach out to people who may never have had any contact with the Christian faith? How do we make our church "user friendly" for those who may never have been in a church? How do we help our young people live a Christian life in a system that often reacts in embarrassment at the mere mention of the Christian faith?

It is about opening our blind eyes. It is about seeing and perceiving. It begins with recognizing our own need. It continues with our prayer of faith that gives us a vision for all of creation. As long as that is central the Church lives. Jesus can heal a blind society. He can heal a disintegrating civilization. Through our vision, through our reaching out to those in need, through our commitment to the gospel, through our eyes. Open our eyes, Lord. We want to see Jesus.
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