By Bill Carroll
I love Bartimaeus. I love him especially for his persistence. When the disciples try to shut him up, he keeps on crying out to Jesus. Like the widow in the parable of the unjust judge, Bartimaeus teaches us an important lesson–to keep crying out to God and ask for what we really need. While the disciples see Bartimaeus as a pest and a problem, Jesus sees Bartimaeus. Jesus hears his cries for help and asks the disciples to “Call him over here.”
No matter what the problem is, Jesus sees US and hears our cries. In all things (large and small), Jesus acts in the Name of the liberator God of Exodus, who hears the children of Israel groaning under slavery and acts to set them free. Jesus removes the walls we build to keep God and our neighbors at a safe distance. He acts to overcome our divisions–to create justice, mercy, and restored relationships. He acts to restore our shared humanity, which we damage (but never destroy) by our sin. For Jesus has come to join us in our flesh. He joins us in our frail and vulnerable flesh–in all our places of poverty, woundedness, and need.
When the disciples bring Bartimaeus to Jesus, he takes the time to ask him what he wants. He doesn’t impose a solution from the outside. Jesus takes the time to learn what our needs look like to us. The Son of God comes among us to fulfill the deepest desires of our hearts. God is closer to us than we are to ourselves. In fact, we are often divided from ourselves by sin. We have fallen in love with the things that are killing us.
In today’s Gospel, our Lord comes alongside Bartimaeus and asks him what he needs. And Bartimaeus, for his part, responds in faith. Bartimaeus finds love, strength, and wholeness in Jesus. And then he follows Jesus on the Way. We too are called to follow the Way of Jesus. That’s the earliest name for us. Before we were ever known as Christians, we were called followers of the Way. Jesus is himself the Way.
In his sermon at the royal wedding–and long before–our Presiding Bishop has been consistently preaching about following the Way of Love. “If it’s not about love,” he reminds us, “it’s not about God.” Because God is love. That’s what this Jesus Movement he keeps mentioning is all about. The Jesus Movement nothing new. Just basic, New Testament Christianity. Following Jesus in the power of the Spirit and sharing his love with our neighbors. And Jesus doesn’t just tell us to love our neighbors. He shows us. Just look at how he is with other people. Jesus shows us how to share our bread with them. How to practice God’s mercy and justice with them. In a word, how to love them.
There has never been a greater need for Jesus and his love. We see it all around us. We can see the hatred, mistrust, and divisions. We can feel the fear. We are reminded of the real violence at the root of our fears by the shooting in Pittsburgh, where a man shouting anti-Semitic slogans shot and killed Jews gathered for Sabbath worship, as well as several police officers. Yes, brothers and sisters, there has never been a greater need for the Way of Love.
Last summer, at the Episcopal Youth Event in Oklahoma City, I got to hear our Presiding Bishop preach. Speaking to several hundred youth from around the country and around the world, including my own daughter, Bishop Curry said something that has stuck with me ever since. “If you want to change the world,” he said, “follow Jesus.”
The theme of that conference was “Path to Peace,” both because the youth were gathered in Oklahoma City, where our state and our country experienced a horrific act of violence, when the Murrah Federal Building was bombed, and because of the many shootings in schools, nightclubs, houses of worship, and other public places that have formed the backdrop of childhood for so many of our young people.
Later that same week, I got to hear our own Bishop, Bishop Ed Konieczny, speaking to those same youth at the National Memorial, one of the holiest places in our great state (a sign of our determination to remember the dead and the wounded and of the strength and resilience and neighbor-love that helped us rebuild on the other side of violence), where we had gathered by candlelight for worship. And Bishop Ed told those youth essentially the same thing our Presiding Bishop had said: “You have the power,” he told those youth, “You have the power. As baptized followers of Jesus, you have the power to make a difference. You have the power to change our communities. You have the power to change our world.”
Brothers and sisters, today I have a similar message for you. Person by person, city by city, nation by nation, Jesus has given us the power to share his love and change our world. Today, he is sending us out into our neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools. Out into all the places we live our lives. He sending us out with a message and gift of love to share. Violence, division, and hatred don’t have to be the way. In the power of the Spirit of love, we can turn our hearts back to each other and back to God.
And so, this morning when so many in our country are mourning and in tears, Jesus calls us to weep with those who weep, and then to roll up our sleeves and get to work. He calls us to renew our ties of solidarity with our fellow human beings, and today especially with the Jews and their houses of worship. We must repent of our own history of anti-Semitism and violence against Jews, and in the words of the Bishop of Pittsburgh, the Rt. Rev. Dorsey McConnell, “reject this hatred in the strongest possible words and actions, and to refute in every way, in every forum, the philosophical foundations of anti-Semitism wherever they have gained a foothold in our churches and our society.”
In particular, Jesus calls us to overcome evil with its opposite. To love our neighbors–ALL of them. To counter division with community and isolation with solidarity. To counter despair with a practical, this-worldly hope. To counter lies with truth. To counter apathy and cynicism with responsibility and holding people accountable. To counter violence by working actively for peace. To counter hatred with LOVE.
For God is our Creator and Redeemer. God sent prophets and sages to show us a better way. And God so loved the world.