IN THE STEPS STOPS OF JESUS…INTERRUPTED WHILE TRAVELING
October 8, 2017
46Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
48Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in the world. Yet, through seemingly miraculous eye surgery, they are quite treatable. The surgeon makes a small incision to remove the thickened, clouded-over natural lens of the eye, and replaces it with an artificial ocular lens. The results are truly amazing, with many patients throwing away their glasses!
A colleague of mine had this procedure done this past summer. He said the only negative side effect of it all was that now he can see clearly how old he is when he looks in the mirror!
There are many Christians today who have developed a cataractedness of the heart. We no longer distinguish, we no longer recognize, we no longer are aware of the persons surrounding us who are in need of God’s saving, sacrificial, supportive love….love that we have to offer in great abundance. They remain outside our field of narrowing vision.
This morning our cataractedness is confronted as we explore a fascinating encounter outside the city gates of Jericho…
JESUS ENCOUNTERS A BLIND MAN
There’s a tingling excitement in the air as throngs of people roll out of the city gates of Jericho. They are headed 15 miles up the road to Jerusalem, to the Feast of the Passover, the major religious festival of the year.
Jesus and his disciples are in that parade of pilgrims. However, unlike his fellow pilgrims, Jesus is very much subdued. This is the final leg of his journey…to Jerusalem…and to the Cross.
Lining the side of this dusty road are the cast-offs of society: the poor, the diseased, the handicapped, the blind. With the lap of their garments forming a cloth collection bowl, they beg the well-heeled religious folk to throw a few coins their way.
No one really pays them any mind…they are simply a part of the passing landscape.
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The cry is shrill, piercing. Yep, it’s ol’ Bartimaeus, a blind man, a beggar, and a public nuisance of much renown, creating a ruckus on the side of the road. Various folk scream at him, “Shut up, you idiot!” But he will not shut up. With great persistence he shouts all the louder.
Jesus’ ears perk up. He hears the desperate voice of this destitute man. To all the other folk in the crowd, he is simply Jesus of Nazareth. To Bartimaeus, he is the Son of David, the long-awaited Messiah. Somehow this poor blind man has grasped the true identity of Jesus when no one around him has a clue!
And this brings us to some bothersome questions:
IS THERE A CATARACT BLINDING MY PERCEPTION?
My wife Valerie and I have two very distinct driving styles: when she’s behind the wheel it’s as if she has tunnel vision–she focuses intently on the road in front of her and nothing more–with a two-handed death grip on the steering wheel and sitting straight-up, rigid as a railroad tie, dutifully obeying all traffic rules.
She notices nothing around her–no scenery, no people, absolutely nothing. She will occasionally even drive right on by Kohl’s.
I, on the other hand, like to do the “Low Rider” thing–seatback reclined, right arm draped on the headrest next door, my eyes constantly scanning the scenery on either side of the road, just chilling and enjoying the ride.
I must admit my way of operating a motor vehicle has produced a few more tickets and accidents over the years.
Yet, when it comes to operating as a believer, God compels us to be much more attentive of the people who populate our surroundings. Sometimes we have this immense cataract blinding our perception of those who need to experience God’s abiding love from us the most.
Two words to take note of– Jesus stops!
We often talk about walking in the steps of Jesus. But as we have explored over these past six Sundays, it is in the stops of Jesus, the interruptions, where most of his ministry takes place. The disruptions, the disturbances, to our Lord’s daily routine routinely provide the stage where some amazing interventions happen.
Jesus stops for Bartimaeus.
Jesus always has this keen perception of people who stand in need of God’s grace. And out of this huge crowd he hears and senses the need of a poor blind beggar, a man who matters to no one else. Jesus stops, and his stopping is a way of saying, “You count, Bartimaeus! You matter! You are somebody! You are a child of God!
My friends, for us to claim we are followers of Christ means that we get cured of our cataractedness, that we notice and value all persons and children of God.
That’s hard to do. Remember when Linus and Lucy are having this conversation after she has bopped him over the head. “Lucy, I thought you said you loved the world…that wasn’t very loving.” “You big dummy, the world I love, it’s people I can’t stand!”
Sometimes that cynical nature overcomes us as well. And we no longer perceive the struggles of those around us. We no longer notice, we no longer care.
I can remember my journeys years ago as a seminary student all over the streets of downtown Washington, DC. I used to be appalled as business persons and government workers routinely stepped across homeless persons on their way down sidewalks and around subway stations. Stepped right across them, like they were a piece of debris in the way!
After a couple of years there, though, I too was stepping over the homeless folk, not even noticing them.
And that’s sad…very sad…when we no longer perceive the plight of a fellow human being.
Jesus perceives a fellow human being in need, who has endured a lifetime of pain, and Jesus stops. Do I ever stop? Or do I have a cataract blinding my perception?
IS THERE A CATARACT BLINDING MY RECEPTION?
Yes, suddenly, Jesus stops. He turns around. Somehow over the noise of the crowd, He has heard the poignant cry of Bartimaeus. Jesus calls for him. “Take heart, Bartimaeus,” the bystanders shout. “Get up quickly, the Master is calling for you!” Then Bartimaeus throws his garment aside….coins scatter everywhere. He jumps up and with the help of others he makes his way through the crowd and is received into the presence of Jesus.
Notice here that Jesus is not presumptuous or arrogant. There is no Benny Hinn showmanship. Jesus never romps and stomps and slaps folk on the forehead. He does not force himself on people. He does not pompously pronounce what Bartimaeus needs.
No, Jesus is very low key. Very quietly, very graciously, very gently– He asks Bartimaeus the question: “What do you want me to do for you?” And Bartimaeus replies, “Master, I want to see.”
Then Jesus says to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.”
And Bartimaeus promptly goes Jesus’ way….
Isn’t it quite fascinating how the King of Kings and Lord of Lords receives this blind beggar with utmost respect and humility, and responds promptly to his need.
Could it be that Jesus is calling you and me to do the same? To live with perception and reception–with keen hearts seeing the needs of others, and then rolling up our sleeves and responding to those needs?
I always like the straight-shooting style of James: 14What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
Perceive and receive others in the comforting, compelling name of Jesus Christ….that’s what it’s about.
One afternoon at UVA Medical Center I got off the elevator on the wrong floor. And I heard the most beautiful, calming music coming from down a hallway. It was emanating from the pediatric unit. And it sounded live, not recorded. My curiosity got the best of me, so I investigated the source of that music. It was an elderly lady playing a harp….and that soothing music wafted through the entire floor.
I asked a nurse what it was all about. She said this dear lady was a retired music teacher and former performer with the local symphony. One day, as she was visiting her grandchild on that unit, she noticed the kids crying during the afternoon because they could not settle down in a strange place for their naps.
It was a cacophony of wailing–creating stress everywhere–on the kids, parents and nursing staff.
So this woman asked if she could bring her harp in and play. They dimmed the lights in the hallways and rooms as she began to pluck the strings of her harp. And within a matter of minutes that soothing music calmed the entire unit, with children sleeping peacefully and soundly. It was indeed the most beautiful scene I had ever witnessed in a hospital.
You come across such God moments in the most obscure places…on a hospital floor….on a football field:
Ft. Defiance HS’s football coach, Dan Rolfe, came to that school in 2009. He had the daunting task of putting together an effective coaching staff.
One of the teachers who welcomed Rolfe to Ft. Defiance was our neighbor, Bonnie Ball, a Spanish teacher who also moonlighted as the team’s statistician. As Rolfe became acquainted with Bonnie, he also made an amazing discovery–her retired husband Ron had been a legendary hall-of-fame coach here in the Shenandoah Valley–having had many winning seasons at Stuarts Draft and Wilson Memorial High Schools.
Sadly, over the past decade Ron has been battling Alzheimer’s. His short-term memory is all but gone. But, as Dan Rolfe soon found out, Ron Ball’s football knowledge, forged over a lifetime of dedicated coaching, had remained keen as ever. That long-term memory was still very much alive. And so Dan Rolfe invited Ball to be his assistant coach, overseeing the offensive and defensive linemen.
Coach Ball developed an instant rapport and respect with Ft. Defiance’s scrappy but undersized kids. He fine-tuned their techniques. He instilled within them discipline that had not know before. He worked their butts off. He inspired them to be more than they thought they could possibly be. Most importantly, he taught them life lessons that would serve them way beyond high school.
Coach Ball has been uplifted by all the outpouring of encouragement he has received from across the valley over these past seasons–opposing coaches, former players, as well as his current kids. He says he has been blessed tremendously…for he thought that with his condition he would never have had the opportunity to work with young people again. It has given him a new lease on life.
And Ron and Bonnie Ball have been eternally grateful to the head coach of the Ft. Defiance Indians, Dan Rolfe, for having taken notice of Ron and offering him an opportunity to relive his calling as a Christian and as a human being–to mold the lives of young people through the game of football.
Hats off to Dan Rolfe for his perception and reception of a man who had been discarded along the roadside of life.
Sadly, most of us no longer distinguish, we no longer recognize, we no longer are aware of the persons surrounding us who are in need of God’s saving, sacrificial, supportive love….love that we have to offer in great abundance. They remain outside our field of narrowing vision.
We have become too self-centered to perceive the needs of others, much less receive them with that healing, hopeful, eternity-filled love.
We possess a pervasive cataractedness of the heart.
May God do corrective surgery on our hearts.
Bartimaeus cried out for help. Jesus heard him, and Jesus helped him become whole again. And Jesus calls us to do the same.
Jonathan Smith is likely to spend the rest of his life with a bullet lodged in the left side of his neck, a never-ending reminder of America’s deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Smith, a 30-year-old copy machine repairman, was shot Sunday night while trying to help save people after a gunman opened fire on the crowd at the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival in Las Vegas, killing 58 persons.
Jonathan was there with his brother, Louis…they were celebrating Louis’ 43rd birthday at the concert. They had scored seats up near the stage, and were having a fantastic time listening to Jason Aldean.
When the gunshots started, Smith initially thought they were fireworks. But then the music stopped. The lights went out. And Jonathan and Louis realized what was happening as they heard the rapid firing and the ricocheting and saw people being shot. Louis grabbed some family members and ran. Jonathan was looking for his nieces who had been nearby, but could not find them.
He witnessed teenagers all around him cowering in shock and fear. He kept shouting, “Active shooter, active shooter, let’s go! We have to run.” But they would not budge. And so he began grabbing them and dragging them out of that chaos toward a row of cars parked in a handicapped area near the stage. It was there that they found cover. He ran back and forth several times, pulling people to safety.
A few young girls were not fully hidden. He ran to them and pushed them beneath the vehicle. It was then that a bullet struck him in the neck, fracturing his collarbone, cracking a rib, bruising a lung, eventually lodging in his neck.
An off-duty saw him go down and ran to offer assistance, keeping pressure on the wound. By then he was having trouble breathing. The officer managed to flag down a fellow in a pickup truck. The driver loaded Jonathan in the bedof the pickup and transported him to a hospital emergency room, where received treatment.
Since then, dozens of persons have contacted Jonathan Smith, calling him a hero for having saved them or their family members from the line of fire. He humbly deflects the praise and tells them how grateful to God he is that he and they made it out safely!
Friends, thank God you and I will most likely never find ourselves in such a desperate, despairing, horrific scene as Jonathan Smith. But each day presents opportunities to perceive persons with needs, and to receive them with the healing, hopeful, eternity-filled love of Christ.
May we find the courage and compassion to stop!