taking the words of Jesus seriously

A Merciful Awakening: A Short Sermon on Mark 10:46-52

46 They 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. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then 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.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me. Bartimaeus cries out. He is blind and his deep desire is to see again. And yet the heart of this story goes beyond physical blindness. Bartimaeus’ encounter with Jesus is a conversion experience, an experience of transformation—and not just for Bartimaeus, but for the whole community, the whole large crowd that surrounds Jesus and follows him on the road. And they all need it.

Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus on a long shot. He runs to Jesus with a request no one else has been able to answer. And what follows is a moment of healing. So much is revealed about who Jesus is and the kind of transformation he can bring to a community. At the end of it all, Bartimaeus finds Jesus so compelling that he drops whatever else he might have been planning to do that day—or for the next several days, at least—to follow him.

I think about this story, and I think about the time we’re living in. In some sense, we’re living in a time of collective transformation, a time of collective awakening. We can relate to this passage not just as individuals in need of various kinds of healing from Jesus, but also as whole communities, going through a time of collective upheaval, together.

These last few years in the U.S. have been a time of racial reckoning. Many of us are being awakened to realities that have always been there but that we have not understood that we have not been able or willing to engage with. Realities like deeply ingrained racism and white supremacy, patriarchy and misogyny, historical and ongoing violence against indigenous peoples, and lack of concern for the environment—which impacts us all, and disproportionately impacts people of color and the materially poor. There is a lot that is being revealed, a lot that we are awakening to—sometimes for the first time entirely; sometimes in new ways.

I think about Mark 10:46-52 and I wonder: Where is God in this awakening? What would it mean to see Jesus as the one who heals and transforms, today as he did on the road out of Jericho? What difference does it make in our collective awakening to know that there’s a loving God in the picture?

Bartimaeus’ cry to Jesus is a cry for mercy. He shouts out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” He repeats this twice. He cries it out even more loudly when other people order him sternly to be quiet. He keeps shouting out, “Have mercy on me.”

Jesus’ posture toward Bartimaeus, then, is full of mercy. His words, his actions—and his whole being as it relates to Bartimaeus—are all a gift of mercy. I wonder if our collective awakening, too, is God’s gift of mercy to us.

For those of us who are being transformed by new-to-us revelations of long-present realities, this awakening journey is surely God’s mercy to us. It isn’t good for us to be unaware of actual history, ignorant of present realities of oppression, oblivious to marginalized people’s experiences. Some of these things might make us uncomfortable when we are made aware of them. But we need to be made aware. It’s part of our healing, our transformation, our wholeness.

And, just as surely, this collective awakening is God’s mercy toward those who have been oppressed and marginalized. As some people become more aware, others are no longer ignored. As privileged people learn how much they don’t know, the realities of those who live on the underside of power structures start to be known more broadly—sometimes for the first time. Their needs become recognized—and also their gifts. Their full humanity becomes recognized. And, in that recognition, there is a possibility for change. There is a possibility for justice.

SIGN: RED LETTER CHRISTIAN PLEDGE 

Bartimaeus cries out, “have mercy on me!”—and Jesus does. Jesus stops and calls to him. Or, more precisely, Jesus asks his followers to call to him, and they do so. They tell him, “take heart.” Or in alternate translations, “take courage,” or “do not be afraid.”

Transformation does indeed call for courage. It may be a gift God gives, but it’s also a process we choose to keep digging into. And in this difficult journey, we need communities full of people who can say to one another—as the crowd did, after some prompting from Jesus—take heart. Take courage. Don’t be afraid. God is calling to you, inviting you into something good. We’re in this together. And God is with us.

Bartimaeus knew he needed mercy from Jesus. We too need mercy, in our collective awakening. Some people know things others don’t know yet. It might be easy to compare and to judge. But we all need mercy on this journey. We need mercy from God, and we need mercy from one another. We need the kind of mercy that finds us where we are, invites us into transformation, and does it all in love.

In another gospel story, in John 9, Jesus encounters a different blind person. His disciples ask him, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answers, “No one sinned.” In other words: It isn’t his fault, or his parents’ fault. It’s no one’s fault.

That’s a powerful statement. No one sinned. I wonder if our collective time of awakening could be seen in a similar way. Perhaps the things we aren’t aware of—as long as we’re not willfully choosing to remain in blissful ignorance—aren’t always our fault. Often, it’s the air we have breathed for a long time. Our need for awakening isn’t something to be ashamed of.

This is good news—because when we’re ashamed of something, we try to hide it. We try to cover it up in different ways and keep people from seeing it. We might bluster around trying to prove how woke we are. We might engage in a kind of performative allyship that’s more about our own image than actually trying to live in solidarity with the marginalized.

But our need for revelation is nothing to be ashamed of, or to hide. We are all in need of God’s mercy and healing. If awakening is a gift from God, it isn’t something we get to brag about, or have to try to prove, or try to one-up others with. It’s a transformative journey we’re all on together. We may need transformation in different degrees, and in different ways—but we all need transformation, and we’re all being transformed. And we all need one other for that, in community.

When we see God in our time of collective awakening, we see that God’s revelations are God’s grace to us—God’s gift, God’s mercy. God frees us from shame about our unawareness, so we are free to stop trying to hide it. God invites us, in this collective awakening, to be a community full of mercy to one another, knowing we’re all on a journey together. God invites us to be a community where we help one another “take heart” and “take courage” when the journey is difficult. May God form our churches into these kinds of communities.

About The Author

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Liz Cooledge Jenkins is a writer, preacher, chaplain, and former college campus minister with degrees from Stanford University (BS) and Fuller Theological Seminary (MDiv). She regularly shares justice-minded biblical reflections, super chill book reviews, poems, and more at lizcooledgejenkins.com. When not writing or reading, you can find her swimming, hiking, attempting to grow vegetables, and/or drinking a lot of tea; you can also find her on FB (Liz Cooledge Jenkins, Writer) and Instagram (@lizcoolj).

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