From Jericho to Jerusalem (Sermon)

“From Jericho to Jerusalem”
Mark 10:46-52
Allen Huff
Jonesborough Presbyterian Church
10/28/18

46They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

49Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.”

And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”

50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.

51Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.”

52Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. (NRSV)

         2000 years ago, Jericho, which lies about 20 miles east of Jerusalem, had already occupied a mythic place in Jewish memory for some 1400 years.

         Let’s recall the story: After Moses’ death, Joshua assumes leadership of the Israelites, and inaugurates the era of the judges. The book of Joshua records the pivotal experiences of what becomes, officially, the post-Exodus period for Israel. And according to Joshua, Jericho is the first community that the Israelites encounter after entering the Promised Land for the first time. And this once-enslaved and oppressed people wastes no time in casting its long-suffering shadow on others. They not only destroy the city of Jericho, they kill every living thing in it. And they do so believing that their brutality honors and pleases God. “They devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys.” (Joshua 6:21) The word of the Lord, thanks be to God?

         Now, I understand the dangers of judging extremely different cultures against each other, but why is it that we tend to gloss over transparent terrorism simply because a story appears in scripture? As if even God ignores the sixth commandment when we, in God’s name, kill outside our tribes?

         The period of the judges gives way to the era of the kings, which quickly culminates in the rise of David. While this new era is equally as violent as that of the judges, God does promise that the Messiah, a one-of-a-kind deliverer, will rise from the house of David. It will, however, take many generations of unfaithfulness, death-dealing, and exile before this person arrives and reveals the deep and dynamic message of Shalom – the message of eternal and whole-making peace – that forms the foundation of Jewish scripture and memory.

         So, with all that as backdrop, here’s the scene: Jesus and his disciples have been in Jericho. They’re about to leave for Jerusalem, a name which means something like “foundation of peace.”It’s Passover time, and for all its spiritual roots and implications, Passover is also thoroughly political. Whether he knows it or not, Caesar is the new Pharaoh. And he probably does know that the Jews worship a God who, they claim, led them out of Egypt, through the Exodus, into the Promised Land, gave them King David, and who will send someone from David’s line to deliver them once and for all. That means that every year during Passover, the Romans are on high alert.

         Then, as Jesus and his disciples leave Jericho, surrounded by a stew of Jewish excitement and Roman anxiety, a blind beggar becomes aware that Jesus is nearby.

         “Jesus, Son of David,” he cries, “have mercy on me!”

         Shut up! say the people around him.

         Their rebuke is urgent and fearful. If a Roman soldier hears someone use the title Son of David, and runs that up the chain of command, there will be trouble. Son of Davidis messianic language. The average Roman recruit may not know that, but it only takes one person with a little knowledge or suspicion to fan the flames. And if Rome overreacts, Jericho could become a place in which the descendants of those whom Joshua led will die as brutally as their ancestors had killed.

         Unphased, Bartimaeus cries out even louder, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

         This time Jesus calls him over. What do you want? Jesus asks.

         I want to see, says Bartimaeus.

         Fair enough, says Jesus. There, you can see.

         Today’s story is fairly straightforward – even the part about the healing. It’s the stories around the story that make this event memorable. Bartimaeus uses the messianic title, Son of David – in Jericho – as Jesus heads toward Jerusalem – for Passover.

         While discussing this text during Sunday school last week, someone helped us focus on Son of David. And it’s not simply Bartimaeus’ use of the title, but the fact that Jesus responds to it so openly. Throughout the gospel of Mark, Jesus tells everyone from demons to disciples to keep quiet about his identity. But in Jericho, twenty miles from Jerusalem, just days before Passover, when called Son of Davidby a blind beggar, Jesus says, That’s me. Then he turns and enters Jerusalem with triumphal fanfare reminiscent of that used by the Hebrews to topple the walls of Jericho a millennium-and-a-half earlier.

         Jesus is God’s truly unique and remarkable servant. And to virtually everyone’s chagrin, he reveals that the Messiah is not what judges, kings, and nations long for – because the LORD is not a God of brutality and nationalistic conceit.

         What follows in Jerusalem during Passover is a flurry of religious and political collusion. The Jewish leaders incite fear and fury in their people, and they demand that Rome execute Jesus who claims to be the Messiah, but who loves the unlovable, touches the untouchable, welcomes the stranger, and, in the minds of the Pharisees, plays fast and loose with the Law. Rome isn’t really afraid of Jesus, but killing someone is easy enough. And it’s one hell of a visual aid in the endless propaganda war to protect power and status.

         What power-blind folks like Caesar can’t foresee or understand is that Jesus’ death leads to his resurrection. And his resurrection elucidates his life. And his life, death, resurrection, and new life, declare that the selfish fears and desires of kings and nations are short-sighted, and that their tenures of domination are as temporary as the eras of the Hebrewjudges and kings – especially when they worship the kind of violence used to destroy Jericho. Don’t we know now that not even the great and glorious Rome would survive the culture she created for herself?

         So, where in all this heavy stuff is the Good News?

         Jesus says to Bartimaeus, “Your faith has made you well.” Many people hear stories like this and conclude that either the story is fiction or they just don’t have enough faith for Jesus to help them. For the most part, the Church has endorsed the latter. It’s relatively easy and safe to distance oneself from suffering by blaming those who suffer. But what if the faith that heals Bartimaeus isn’t his faith that Jesus can heal physical blindness so much as his faith that Jesus is the Son of David?

         After all, isn’t that what Jesus wants in disciples? The bold vision that sees, regardless of eyesight, the truth about who he is, about what his life means for us, and what our lives mean to him? In the stories leading up to this moment, it’s clear that Jesus’ disciples don’t understand what messiahship means. They tried to tell Jesus what he will and won’t do as Messiah, and they’ve argued among themselves about who’s the greatest.

         Even among disciples, blindness often masquerades as fatalistic reliance on violence. So, in the name of God and in the name of Rome, someone is always ready to “devote to destruction” anyone we label a threat. Enslaved to worldly logic, someone is always ready to plaster on the side of their van, “Kill your enemy and those who rob you then take them to Everglade [sic] for gators.”2Or to post on social media, ironically enough: “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”3

         But Bartimaeus – the newest and truest disciple – gets it. So, when Jesus enters Jerusalem, he does so with at least one pair of eyes that sees him, recognizes him, and trusts him.

         Sometimes we live healed lives, sometimes not so much. And in all our Jerichos, Jesus remains close to the Bartimaeus within us. He waits for us to see him through our darkness, to call out to him, and trust him: The Son of David.

         The one in whom God is most fully and graciously revealed.

         The one who saves us not simply from sin but for lives of new-sighted witness, worship, and celebration.

         The one who says, “Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more.” (Luke 12:4)

         The one whose cross, through the miracle of Easter, reveals the fundamental impotence of human violence, and the redeeming power of God’s eternal love for us and for all Creation.

1 https://www.biblehub.com/hebrew/3389.htm

2From Cesar Sayoc’s van: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/a-white-van-laden-with-stickers-is-at-center-of-bombing-investigation/ar-BBOWX9y?li=BBnbcA1

3Robert Bowers’ Gab post before committing mass murder in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg, PA: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/what-we-know-about-robert-bowers-suspect-in-pittsburgh-synagogue-shooting/ar-BBOYLjR?li=BBnb7Kz

*To read sermons, newsletters, and other posts from earlier years, please visit: https://pastorallentn.blogspot.com.

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