Mark 10: 46-52
Every day that we get to live in this place, something else strikes me as beautiful or amazing, and reminds me how incredibly lucky I am! Drinks around the fire-pit, conversations with new friends, clear blue skies, another vegan cake to try, and yesterday it was the stunning display of poppies in our grounds. They’re simply beautiful, aren’t they? And they’re everywhere! And yesterday, what really struck me was this one little poppy, popping out of the concrete outside the garage door.
Have you looked closely at a poppy lately? Their petals are paper thin, and their stalks are whispy and easy to snap – especially when they are small and young – and yet, something inside this plant is so strong, so tenacious, that it can burrow its way through inches of concrete and push its little poppy head through and out into sunlight. Now, to me, that speaks volumes about the intricate care and concern of the Creator – the commitment of a tiny plant, to reach the surface and survive, says a great deal about the Divine, but it also says something to me about the man we met in this morning’s gospel passage. The tenacity of the poppy resonates somehow with the ballsy blind Bartimaeus.
Bartimaeus, unashamedly and purposefully rejects his place in society, shouts aloud, refuses to be silenced, throws off his begging cloak and runs to Jesus. And what does he ask for? Yes, he asks to be able to see again. But what is it that he first asks for? Mercy. He asks for mercy.
Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me. Again he says it; son of David, have mercy on me. As tenacious, bold and ballsy as those poppies, Bartimaeus throws himself at the feet of the one he is declaring as King and begs for mercy.
The healing of the blind man is amazing, miraculous, the bit of the story we always focus on, but this week I’ve been unable to get away from this desperate cry for mercy. It’s the same cry we have heard from Job these last few weeks; it’s the same cry the wretched psalmist writes of, it’s the same gift that each priest – since the dawn of time – begs for, because we can’t follow this calling in our own strength – it’s there in each one of our readings; Son of David, Creator God, Holy One, have mercy.
And I wonder if this gift of mercy is one of our best kept secrets.
I wonder if mercy is what the world today, what the people of our parish, are really searching for. Because what does mercy look like, with skin on?
In our gospel reading, showing mercy meant the blind could see.
But if we were to greet everyone we met, or every person we heard about, with mercy, what transformation might occur?
When we see through the eyes of mercy, we become agents of reconciliation and forgiveness, the homeless are given somewhere to live, the lonely find company, the hungry receive food, the stranger knows warm welcome. When we choose to act with mercy the poor no longer languish in poverty, the naked get to wear the best clothes, the chains of oppression are broken, there is no us and them, just one community, one family. Could we be merciful people? Could we be known for our mercy?
And what about if we place ourselves on that roadside, in that cloak of Bartimaeus? What about when we are the ones who need mercy? Might we begin to recognise again, or for the first time, our absolute dependence upon the mercy of the One we are tentatively trying to follow, and, perhaps even more exposing, our very need of the mercy of one another? Imagine if we forgot about ourselves, cared much less about what people thought, and threw off our proverbial cloaks, leapt to our proverbial feet and cried out ‘Lord, friends, have mercy on me’.
It was through the request (demand, even) for mercy that Bartimaeus regained his sight. Just consider, what might our Lord restore to us if we were to ask the same?
Going back to those poppies: they won’t be stopped. They refuse to be tamed. They will spring up wherever the heck they want to, like it or not. And formerly blind Bartimaeus was the same. He wouldn’t be shushed or held back. He wouldn’t stay seated or keep quiet.
Son of David, have mercy on me, let me see again.
We would do well to take lessons from the poppies and the beggar and throw ourselves on that same mercy, with tenacity and determination, asking for God’s mercy whilst also asking for our eyes to be opened to those around us who also need that same gift that we know and need.
Greater minds than mine, down through many centuries, have taken the words, of this social outcast and have used them as meditative prayer, repeating over and over; Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Books are written about what has come to be known as the Jesus prayer – bishops, monks, and many others swear by it. So, I invite you now to spend a few minutes praying those words silently too, one alongside another, as we ask God to have mercy upon us, and to give us the grace we need to extend that gift of mercy towards others.
Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen.