Sermon: Jesus is Calling You

October 24, 2021
Access Sunday (observed)

Jeremiah 31:7-9
Mark 10:46-52

by Eric Anderson

The election was over, and the little flock of ‘apapane had chosen their new head ‘apapane. It wasn’t really a job of great power, but it certainly showed the deep respect the flock bore for that bird. It usually went to the best singer among them.

One ‘apapane among them was absolutely sure that he was the best singer – he’d been told so by many of them – and he was furious that an old female had been elected rather than him. She hardly sang at all any more. She flew only when necessary. Age had brought with it fading eyesight.

“Honestly,” he said aloud on more than one occasion, “how is she going to lead us when she can’t see? How is she going to teach us if she won’t sing? How will our feathers gleam when hers fade? How is she leader of the flock and not me?”

His grandmother overheard him one day and said, “Come with me.” They flew, of course, straight to the branch where the new head ‘apapane was perched.

That old bird turned her beak toward him and said, “So you should be head ‘apapane and not me?”

Faced with a direct question like that, which he hadn’t expected, all he could say was, “Yes.”

“Can you smell the three ohi’a trees upwind?” she asked. He couldn’t. “The sweetest nectar is in the smallest one, but there are more insects to eat in the middle one,” she told him.

“How can you smell that?” he asked.

“I can’t,” she said with an ‘apapane smile. “But I can send other ‘apapane of the flock to find out, and I can listen to what they tell me. Now, great singer. Do you know this song?” she asked, and sang a soft run of notes. He thought he’d heard it from time to time, but he couldn’t say he knew it. “That is one of the oldest songs of our flock,” she told him. “We have taught it to the fledglings for generations. Your grandmother here has sung it to you.

“Do you know this song?” she asked, and this time he was sure he’d never heard those soft notes like that before. “Your mate sang this new song two days ago, just a branch away from you. I was listening, and I asked her to teach it to me, so I can teach it to the fledglings to come.”

She took a breath and said, “You are a mighty singer. To lead, you must also know the songs as well as the other singers. And you must learn this song we learned from the great birds who travel so far:

“Is a fish of no worth because it cannot walk?
Is a seal of no worth because it cannot fly?
Is a bird of no worth because it cannot run?
Is a life of no worth because it is not like yours?”

This is the last healing story in the Gospel of Mark – not counting Jesus’ resurrection, that is. It’s set in Jericho, the city at the foot of the range of hills crowned by the city of Jerusalem. Jesus’ next steps would take him up that road to Jerusalem itself, because the very next thing to happen in Mark’s gospel is Jesus’ triumphant entry riding a donkey to shouts of “Hosanna!”

But not before he has heard from Bartimaeus, who raised his voice and wouldn’t be deterred. D. Mark Davis calls it an attempted “anti-healing” at LeftBehindAndLovingIt: “The crowd was trying to make the blind man mute.” As Karoline Lewis observes at Working Preacher, “’Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly.’ Thank God. Literally. Bartimaeus won’t be told to shut up. Good for him. I like this guy.”

We also find that Jesus chose to ask him a question. Bartimaeus had shouted “Son of David, have mercy on me!” but that’s not a specific request. He was blind, true, but he might have wanted some other mercy. Jesus did not make the assumption. He asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”

People who live with disabilities will recognize the pattern here. They get shushed a lot – or rebuked, which is the translation used elsewhere in Mark for the word rendered as “sternly ordered” here. Don’t make noise. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t get in the way. We’ll help you on our terms. We’ll tell you how we’ll help. We’ll tell you what you need.

Jesus didn’t do that.

In fact, it’s Bartimaeus who shows the initiative all through this story. He heard it was Jesus of Nazareth. He started to shout. He kept shouting. He sprang up and came to Jesus. He told Jesus what he wanted. And Jesus granted it.

Looked at in another way, Jesus didn’t have to. Bartimaeus already perceived more clearly than most of those surrounding him, including the closest friends of Jesus himself. Bartimaeus called for “the Son of David.” It’s an odd way to address Jesus, in fact. Only Bartimaeus addressed Jesus that way in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus himself used the phrase in the discussion about whether the Messiah was the son of David when teaching in the Temple in Mark 12. It’s a title for the Messiah, for the royal figure who was to restore the nation of Israel, overthrowing the Herodian monarchy and expelling the Roman occupiers. It was a dangerous thing to shout, which may have been why the crowd rebuked Bartimaeus so eagerly. They may have tried to protect him – disabled people will recognize that, too.

It was a really odd way to address Jesus the healer, however. In Mark’s Gospel, Bartimaeus was the first to connect Jesus’ Messiahship with his healing power. He was the first to recognize that Jesus as Messiah is different from what most expected. He was the first to realize that perhaps, just perhaps, the Messiah might disappoint the revolutionaries while bringing an impact that went beyond what we can see in the world.

Bartimaeus, told “He is calling you,” tossed his cloak aside. It’s an odd detail for Mark to note – but remember that Jesus had instructed his disciples not to travel with two tunics. Bartimaeus, without such instruction, shed his second garment to answer Jesus’ call.

I’m a little surprised that when Bartimaeus said, “My teacher, let me see again,” that Jesus didn’t say, “My friend, you see better than all the rest.”

As Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman writes at Working Preacher, “at the end of this account, we do not find a typical reaction to a healing miracle where the person healed or the crowd witnessing the miracle respond with awe or praise. Instead, we are only told that, ‘Immediately he regained his sight and followed [Jesus] on the way.’ (10:50) And where is this way headed? In the very next passage we find Jesus entering Jerusalem and starting the chain of events that will end up at the cross. Bartimaeus truly exemplifies the disciple who sees where the way ahead leads and yet follows and believes Jesus.”

So here’s the sticky part. Jesus is also calling you.

That might be because you’ve been calling Jesus. I’ve been calling Jesus for eighteen months about this pandemic, and I suspect I’m not alone. I’ve been calling Jesus about other things, too. The world has given us many reasons to seek the aid of David’s heir the healer.

Jesus may ask the awkward question, “What do you want me to do for you?” Just before this in Mark’s Gospel, he asked that question and James and John said, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” (10:37) That… didn’t go over well, not with Jesus, and not with the other ten of Jesus’ closest followers. So when you answer that awkward question, “What do you want me to do for you?” the answer may very well be, “No.” Or it may be a question about what you’re willing to take on as Jesus’ follower, and that’s a more awkward question yet.

Take heart, get up, Jesus is calling you.

It doesn’t matter whether your eyes can see or not, and it doesn’t matter whether that changes after you answer Jesus’ summons. It matters that you answer the call. It doesn’t matter whether you fully perceive what’s coming – Bartimaeus followed the Jesus he recognized as Messiah. I’m pretty sure he would not have predicted Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. I’m pretty sure he was as amazed as anyone at the resurrection. It was enough to recognize that Jesus’ power was a healing power. For us, it is enough to recognize Jesus’ power to heal, to reconcile, and to forgive.

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got an extra cloak or not. It doesn’t matter whether others think you should be called or not. It doesn’t matter because Jesus is calling you, and the way to Jesus is not blocked by anything more than human ignorance and folly.

Jesus is calling you whatever the condition of your body or mind, to follow and to serve, to rejoice and to lead, to heal and to be healed.


The poem “Is a fish of no worth?” was originally written for worship of September 5, 2021.

Watch the Recorded Sermon

Does the prepared text above match the sermon as delivered? No. It never does.

The image is The Healing of the Blind Man of Jericho by Rembrandt (ca. 1659) – : Home : Info : Pic, Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on October 24, 2021

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