Sunday, October 25th, 2015 – 22nd Sunday after Pentecost
Gower Christian Church, Gower, MO
Scriptures: Hebrews 7:23-28, Mark 10:46-52
Hymns: “Wonderful Words of Life”, “Alleluia, Sing to Jesus”, “The Solid Rock (My Hope Is Built)”, “Amazing Grace”, “Be Thou My Vision”, “Let Us Break Bread Together”, “Mighty to Save”, “Seek Ye First”
Shut Up and Go Away!
There is a long and proud tradition in the United States military and federal law enforcement communities of people being told to shut up and go away, just to be proven to be right later on. For example, FBI agent Kenneth Williams sending a memo to FBI headquarters in July of 2001, warning of the possibility of students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, AZ, using aircraft as suicide weapons. Or US Ambassador to Japan Joseph C. Grew warning President Franklin D. Roosevelt in January of 1941 of the possibility of the Japanese Navy launching a sneak attack against the Hawaiian Islands, all while Admiral Husband Kimmel was warning the Department of the Navy that Pearl Harbor was significantly deficient in its defenses against such an attack.
Perhaps one of the most infamous incidences of this inglorious tradition is the case of General Billy Mitchell, the man considered to be the father of the United States Air Force. Now, to be sure, Mitchell was a troublemaker from the very beginning. He had no problem with hounding his superiors and Congress to achieve his goals, and it would eventually lead to his downfall. With that in mind, Billy Mitchell was one of the earliest proponents of the idea of aircraft carriers. He believed that the Navy should steer its focus away from battleships and concentrate instead on aviation, saying that battleships were essentially defenseless against airborne attack, whereas an aircraft carrier could not only defend itself, but strike back.
In the early 1920s, Mitchell carried out a series of tests that involved bombing derelict World War I battleships. The nature of the tests was supposed to be such that the Navy would be able to get usable data out of them, but Mitchell had them bombed so thoroughly that they all either sank or were so thoroughly damaged as to be utterly un-analyzable. Mitchell used this as proof that battleships were obsolete and needed to be replaced with aircraft carriers, a sentiment that he was not afraid to share with anybody who would listen.
His superiors did not take kindly to this, and in 1926, Mitchell ended up being court-martialed for gross insubordination. He was found guilty by the panel of judges, and sentenced to five years suspension from active duty with half-pay. He chose instead to resign, and was never the same man afterwards. He died in 1936, just 56 years old, a broken and bitter man.
Of course, things were different back in Biblical times. Back in the time of Christ, Jesus’ followers were good people who wanted to live their lives according to his will and help everybody they saw. They would never try to turn anybody away, nor would they turn their backs on their –
Wait, who am I kidding? Two words to dispel this hooey: JUDAS ISCARIOT.
So anyway, Jesus is heading out from Jericho toward Jerusalem, which I have to say seems like an interesting choice on his part, considering there’s another place in the Gospels where he told a parable about some poor unfortunate nameless individual getting the tar whupped out of him on that same road. It seems to me, you know, that if you tell a story like that, and then later you decide to go for a walk in the exact same place, you’re kind of just asking for trouble. Am I right?
But nah. Jesus was the Son of God. He wasn’t concerned about such things. He was concerned about people who went out of their way to block people from getting to him. “It would be better to tie a millstone around your neck and throw yourself into the river than to lead one of my children astray,” he had said just a chapter or so earlier. And so, one would think that the people around him, the ones following him, would perhaps not go out of their way to keep people from getting to him.
If that were the case, then one would think incorrectly.
You see, as Jesus went out on this road, there was a blind beggar by the name of Bartimaeus sitting there. Now, perhaps his parents rejected him and gave him up to an orphanage when he was born because he was blind, or perhaps the author of the Gospel of Mark was just not terribly creative with coming up with names, because Bartimaeus is not actually a name in Hebrew. All it means is “son of Timaeus”, which the story goes on to tell us in the very next breath. “His name was Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus.” I’m not sure why Mark felt it necessary to put that redundancy in, but no matter. The fact of the matter is, this was a blind man who essentially had no name, which meant that he was effectively nobody.
So as Jesus and his entourage went cruising on down the road, Bartimaeus caught wind of what was going on, and he shouted out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Now, it is important to understand the significance of what Bartimaeus says here. All throughout the Gospels, Jesus is referred to as the Son of Man, the Son of God, a rabbi, a prophet, and by Peter as the Messiah. What we have to understand, though, is that Peter was the only one EXCEPT for Bartimaeus who publicly confessed that particular point. Yes, Bartimaeus specifically called Jesus out as the Messiah by calling him the Son of David.
The prophecies that are read to us again and again every year at Christmastime remind us that the Messiah will come from the royal lineage of David, a “shoot from the stump of Jesse”, as it says in Isaiah 11:1. And however Bartimaeus grew up – whether it was with his parents, or if it was in an orphanage – he would’ve been read the stories of the coming Messiah as a child. Somehow, he took those childhood memories, and in this moment processed them into a realization that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, who was walking past, was the Messiah. And so he cried out again, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Incredible what a blind man could see that so many others could not.
And it was those others who told him to shut up and go away. Jesus couldn’t be bothered with this pathetic blind beggar on the side of the road, after all. He was a VERY busy man, with things to do, places to go, people to see! After all, wasn’t that why his entourage was there? To keep him from being bothered by the hoi polloi as he made his way throughout Israel, teaching, preaching, and healing? He had no time for this unwashed blind man at the side of the road.
Now, to what degree is that true of modern churches? How often do churches today try to keep the unwashed commoners away from Jesus? How often do churches close their doors to the homeless, send the beggars away, make the undesirables of society feel unwelcome?
A perfect example of it is something that happened to me when I was a year and a half old. Now, I’ve told this story to a few of you before, but it bears repeating in this context. You see, my parents were both faithful Roman Catholics. Both had been raised in the church – my dad an altar boy, my mom a rebellious teenager who believed that women should be able to serve in the priesthood and was positive that there had been a conspiracy to assassinate Pope John XXIII for the Vatican II reforms. They had married in the Church, attended mass faithfully in Tucson, and when we moved to Phoenix in early 1983, went to the Catholic parish just a few blocks from their house, as instructed by Church guidance.
So it was on the first Sunday that they went that they took their little rambunctious, talkative toddler into church with them, sitting in the back, where they were sure to not cause any sort of disturbance. And yet, even though that little boy named Jimmy – the name of a sure troublemaker if ever there was one – was well-behaved all through service, they garnered dirty looks from the old ladies of the church, and at the end of the service, it was suggested that maybe the following week, my mom should sit in the cry room with me during church.
Someday, you’ll meet my parents, and you’ll understand just why that did not go over well. Someday, I’ll tell you the story of my mom’s epic battle about baby me with America West Airlines, and you’ll REALLY understand why that did not go over well. But suffice it to say, in that moment, things went poorly for that particular Catholic parish, in that the young family who really should have joined that church was told to shut up and go away. And go away they did, with a door flier leading them, just a couple of weeks later, to Phoenix Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the congregation that they would join a few months later, and the congregation which, after moving and becoming Foothills Christian Church, would ordain that little toddler some thirty years later.
To think. I could’ve been a Catholic priest.
Actually, now that I think about it, I’m pretty thankful those old ladies ran us off. But I digress.
You see, telling those who are different to shut up and go away is not something that has gone away from the church. But Jesus personally had no truck with that idea whatsoever. He stopped in his path on that Jericho road, and he told his followers, “Bring him to me.”
Properly chastised, they went to Bartimaeus, and said, “Take heart, Jesus wants to see you.”
Yes, Bartimaeus, the blind beggar with no name, the one who called out to the man he KNEW to be his Messiah, was lifted up out of the dirt, and brought to Jesus. He who was nobody became somebody in that moment, as the one sent to be Savior to all the world singled him out, and said, “Bring him to me.”
And so Bartimaeus was brought to Jesus, and Jesus placed his hands on him, and Bartimaeus was healed. He could see.
Now at this point in nearly every other healing story in the Gospels, the one who is healed goes away, and tells others about Jesus, this amazing healer. But not Bartimaeus. No, he stays with Jesus. He becomes one of his followers. He knew that this man was his Messiah when he could not see, and now that he can see, he cannot help but follow after him wherever he should go. In the span of a few minutes, he went from being a nobody in the dirt who could not see and was told to shut up and go away, to being a follower of Christ who would be lifted up from that point forward as part of the amazing story of the Son of God.
This is not just an amazing story of healing. This is a call to each of us who follow Christ, a call to look toward those who are seemingly nobodies, those who we would never consider as being part of our churches, and instead of telling them to shut up and go away, invite them to take heart, and come to meet Christ. And it is a call to do it now, because for some, if we cast them aside and wait to invite them in until later, it may be too late.
It was too late for Billy Mitchell.
Billy Mitchell never saw the fruits of his efforts. Five years after his death, the Japanese Navy used aircraft flying off of aircraft carriers to attack and sink multiple battleships at Pearl Harbor. From that point forward through the rest of World War II, the US Navy couldn’t build aircraft carriers fast enough. Indeed, Mitchell’s ultimate vindication came in early 1942, when Lt. Colonel Jimmy Doolittle led a daring raid on Tokyo, flying Army Air Corps medium bombers off of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet.
The Doolittle Raid didn’t do a great deal of damage to Japanese forces, but it was a huge morale booster to American forces and proved to the Empire that America could strike them anytime and anywhere. And the bombers used in that raid? B-25 Mitchells, named after Billy Mitchell himself.
We must be careful who we tell to shut up and go away. We may be talking to somebody who needs to be accepted. We may be talking to a future leader of the church. Indeed, as it is said in the thirteenth chapter of Hebrews, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some have entertained angels without even knowing it.”
We have been called to embrace all of God’s children that we see. So let us call forth the blind man, and let him encounter the Son of David so that he, too, may see.