Monday, October 22, 2012

Next Stop: Jerusalem!

The season after Pentecost is coming to a close in a few weeks. Several things give that away. First, it’s almost November, the first Sunday of which is usually observed as All Saints’ Sunday. In most years, there are only three Sundays after that before Advent starts. Second, we’re up to Proper 25 this week, and there are only 29 “propers” (or appropriate, appointed lessons) for this season, so we must be close Finally, we can tell that we’re almost finished because this Sunday’s gospel lesson (Mark 10:46-52) also signals that Jesus’ life is coming to a close.

As Mark tells the story of Jesus’ ministry, he only includes one trip to Jerusalem—the final, triumphant, and tragic one. And, right before Jesus enters the city (Palm Sunday), Mark tells us the story of blind Bartimaeus. If you flip the page in your bible, you’ll see that the very next verse (11:1) begins, “Now when they drew near to Jerusalem…” So this is it. This is the very last story before the intensity of Jesus’ last days begins. The pattern of the Christian year is to take us through Jesus’ ministry during the season after Pentecost, leading us back to the cross in time for the final Sunday of the season. Although a conversation about it will have to wait for a few Sundays, in recent years, that Sunday has been called “Christ the King,” and we can see the tension between Christ’s kingship (expressed through the cross) and the kingships of the world (usually expressed through earthly power).

But back this Sunday’s reading. Mark gives us one last intentionally evangelistic moment before the chaos in Jerusalem unfolds. And this is the first time in Mark’s gospel that someone who is healed is invited to follow Jesus. Usually (think of the demon-possessed man who lived by the tombs), Jesus says, “No, you can’t follow me. Stay here.” But this time Bartimaeus gets up and walks the last few miles behind Jesus and into Jerusalem. Why Bartimaeus? Why now?

Every preacher who has had to preach more than once in the last six weeks is familiar with the “cost of discipleship” theme that seems to pervade Mark 9 & 10. We’ve had terribly uninviting lessons like “pluck out your eye” and “divorce + remarriage = adultery” and “sell everything you have.” If we’re going to treat this gospel lesson for what it really is—the last reading in this series—we can’t ignore that focus on how much it costs to follow Jesus.

Bartimaeus is in the unique position of literally following Jesus for a few steps (verses) before reaching Jerusalem. (Actually, Jericho isabout 34 miles away, but Mark doesn’t care. He’s never really been a good geography student, and he’s not going to allow this detail to get in the way of a good story.) Unlike all of the other would-be disciples, Bartimaeus won’t have a chance to get distracted. If he’s going to follow Jesus, it will be to the end. The rest may have only been interested in walking the path for a little while before letting disillusionment set it. This time, Bartimaeus won’t have a chance to get distracted. His discipleship leads straight to rejection, pain, torture, and death.

How long is it on our own path of discipleship before we reach adversity? For the last two chapters of Mark, Jesus has been getting his closest followers ready for the trouble that awaits them. And, if we’ve been taking his words seriously, he’s been getting us ready as well. If we’re going to follow him now, it will be through the hardship he’s been describing. Like Bartimaeus, some of us never get the chance to walk a comfortable road as disciples. Others walk a long way before we reach trouble. Either way, we are promised that the path won’t be easy. 

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