Context matters. This was a lesson shared consistently in all my homiletics and exegesis class. Context gives clues on authorial intent and guides interpretive streams. Certainly this is true when we read God’s word. It is also true how God’s word reads us. Our context affects what we hear and how we hear it. I realized this truth on Sunday, as I experienced a wonderfully designed worship service, heard the story of Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52) reading, and listened to a well-crafted sermon (thank you Cassidy). Given that I am in the midst of charge conferences, my spirit was guided to thinking about how this text applies to pastors and other church leaders.
In the Gospel lesson, Jesus, his disciples and a large crowd were heading to Jerusalem. It was a parade of purpose, expectation and hope. In the majority of charge conferences, the time of sharing how members have experienced God’s work in and through the church have been nothing short of amazing. The celebrations of perseverance, missional opportunities and surprising blessings have been incredibly uplifting. For some, testimonies of gratitude are shared because their families have been spared from the effects of COVID. Others have found deeper connections as they reached out in their loneliness. Still others discovered deep seated hope as their needs have been met, sometimes in miraculous ways. We understand the joy-filled crowd surrounding Jesus.
Unfortunately, Bartimaeus was left on the sidelines. It’s hard to feel like everyone else is marching to the beat of joy while you are languishing in despair. We all know people who right now feel like Bartimaeus. Perhaps it might even be you. For every testimony of praise, there are others who are sighing laments. Some families have faced debilitating and lingering illness, even death in this season of pandemic. Some people have felt more disconnected than ever before. Others are teetering on or drowning in despair. Still others feel like they are battling opposing forces at every turn. Being on the sideline is isolating and discouraging.
While this is the start of the story, it certainly doesn’t end there. The situation begins to change when Bartimaeus cried out to Jesus. He recognized his need and the One who could satisfy it. Granted, the initial reaction to his calls for mercy were not well received. Instead of offering help, there were those in the crowd that attempted to silence his pleas.
Those who are suffering on the sidelines of parades of praise know what this is like. There are times when we feel silenced by others, as if our feelings, needs and worries don’t matter. Occasionally, there are people who are so focused on accentuating the positive that they allow no space for anything negative. There are other moments when we censor our own inner voice. As church leaders, we can internalize a belief that we are to help others, but to seek help ourselves is somehow an indictment against our spirituality. Or we believe that seeking help is somehow selfish. Please hear this clearly: certainly God loves your congregation and your community. God loves you and cares about you as well.
In the end, Jesus does hear the cries of Bartimaeus and he responds with mercy and kindness. His question, “What do you want me to do for you” is important. Jesus wants to know what our deepest needs are. We need not be afraid to share the hurts, worries and brokenness we carry. Jesus has the power to bring healing, peace and wholeness to our lives. While it was the embodied Jesus that healed Bartimaeus, the healing Jesus shares with us may come through different means. Certainly there is the mysterious and miraculous work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and our situations. But God also meets us through divinely appointed instruments of grace.
If you are on the sidelines of the parade of joy, take heart. Cry out to God, who hears and responds. And if you are in the parade, take time to listen for those who have been behind, and bring them to the Savior who cares.
If you would like to view past editions of Moments with Mike, follow this link: https://corridordistrictnc.org/category/from-the-ds/