Sermon October 24 ~ Healing of Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52)        Rev. Betsy Hogan

Did you ever wonder how many ads you’re exposed to every day? Maybe not. But just in case, I have done this research for you. I did it on the internet, and I was exposed to at least a dozen ads while doing it. Which percentage-wise makes sense, because the generally accepted number for the average North American seems to be about 3000. We’re exposed to about 3000 ads in various forms every day. Which is a lot of ads.

Most of them, of course, never really enter our consciousness. As to whether they enter our SUB-consciousness, I suppose that’s worth wondering… A few become cultural touchstones – in this multi-channel universe, common ads are more likely to be broadly known than particular tv shows. Some even wind up being favourites! And people share them around because they're so powerful, or inspiring, or even just funny.

Others, of course, we're glad to see the end of. When the Olympics is finally over, or the election's finally happened...

But I think the weirdest and most disconcerting ads are those that have been "chosen" specifically for us, by the tiny little workers that live inside our computers. With their tiny little algorithms that attempt to send us ads meant to appeal precisely to what they think we must want. Sometimes based disconcertingly on our search histories.... But often based on kind of a general stereotype connected to our gender and age.

Which is still, frankly, a little disconcerting -- but it can also just be infuriating. Because the stereotypes can be infuriating. My computer, for example, believes that as a fifty-four year old woman my greatest concern is obviously losing weight. Also preparing for a secure retirement – and my computer also thinks it's probably time for me to consider wearing more comfortable shoes.

Which just goes to show, my computer clearly doesn't know me at all. 

Because it's ridiculous, isn't it, this notion of imagining it's possible to know exactly what someone must want, must care about, must hope for, on the basis of knowing virtually nothing about them at all... other than what might be guessed by looking at them.

Which is why I've always loved this story from the gospel of Mark. Because there is no guessing. There are no assumptions -- When Bartimaeus confronts Jesus on the road to Jericho, Jesus jumps to no conclusions at all. In fact, what he says to Bartimaeus is “What do you want me to do for you?” 

That’s what Jesus asks Blind Bartimaeus, when finally Bartimaeus’ shouting from the side of the road where he sits and begs all day, stops being just “shushed” by the disciples and by the crowds – and instead gets heard. And Jesus stops. And he says to his disciples, “Bring the man here”.

Which they do. Suddenly solicitous. Because they’ve been basically ignoring Bartimaeus, telling him to keep quiet, pretending he’s not there – but now Jesus has heard Bartimaeus crying out “have mercy on me”, they don’t want to look bad, they want Jesus to think they’re lovely gracious people who care about the homeless –

So suddenly they’re all concerned, suddenly they’re all compassionate: “take heart, get up, he’s calling to you” – and now they’re helping him up and now they’re leading him over to Jesus… And that’s when Jesus says to Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?”

It’s actually one of my favourite moments in the gospel stories. Because it’s so gloriously ridiculous that it actually makes meaning. A blind man begging by the side of the road, in rags, crying out for mercy and then literally being led to Jesus due to being blind – Jesus who has literally been healing people of all their infirmities, day after day after day, travelling from place to place all over Galilee –

And when Bartimaeus arrives in front of him, sightless in his beggar’s rags, what Jesus says to him is “What do you want me to do for you?”

It seems so patently ridiculous and unnecessary that he actually MUST have decided to say it on purpose. Because it’s not a question he usually asks, when someone cries out to him. It’s not a phrase we usually associate with him: “What do you want me to do for you?” Because he usually seems to KNOW what the person wants, doesn’t he? Being Jesus, and all? And in the case of Bartimaeus, begging by the side of the road because he’s blind, wouldn’t it be obvious?

Well, you’d think. But it must not be obvious to the disciples who are WITH Jesus on the road that day, because instead of calling to Jesus to stop and heal this poor fellow who clearly needs his sight restored, they actually tell Bartimaeus to stop his yowling. 

So maybe they just think Bartimaeus, I don't know, just wants money – he is, after all, begging by the side of the road. And Jesus doesn’t carry any money: all the yowling in the world isn’t going to make any coins go clink in Bartimaeus' cup. So maybe it WASN’T so obvious, what Bartimaeus wanted. Maybe the question needed to be asked.

“What do you want me to do for you?” It’s worth considering too that Bartimaeus might have gotten quite USED to not having his sight. Less likely since he’d not been born blind, but still a possibility. So maybe what he’d want from Jesus would be not to have his sight restored but just to be restored to being able to live securely, safely, instead of having to beg on the street. Admittedly, It’s not a huge possibility, but it’s there. 

So again, maybe the question did need to be asked. Maybe it wasn’t so obvious after all. Or maybe Jesus has decided to ask it on purpose to make a point.

Not so much to Bartimaeus, as to the disciples and the crowds and us. That just assuming what kind of help someone might need is actually seriously diminishing. 

Because we do it all the time. Particularly in relation to presenting disabilities like Bartimaeus' blindness, but also in relation to a whole range of "realities" for people that if we don't actually know them and all we do is give them a cursory once-over, might be the only thing we see.

I've been struck recently in the conversations about provision of safe and secure housing for people in Halifax, that so much of the rhetoric from officials has quite rightly mentioned the need for a broad web of support resources for many of those currently unhoused here – but always with the tagline "so they'll be able to overcome their addiction issues."

Which is great! And I look forward not only to the housing but the broad web of support resources! But there's also a big assumption being made there. That everyone WANTS to overcome their addiction issues. That everyone SHOULD want to overcome their addiction issues. That OBVIOUSLY that would be the case, SURELY that would be the case. 

Just as surely as we might imagine that OBVIOUSLY what Blind Bartimaeus must want is to no longer be blind.

But Jesus makes no assumptions when he approaches Bartimaeus. When he asks "What do you want me to do for you," he means it. He's not going to jump to conclusions that the blind man obviously wants to see or the poor man obviously wants a hand-out -- he actually honours Bartimaeus enough to ask the question, and wait for the answer.

It's also a pretty good model for us to follow in relation to one another. In relation to anyone. Not to assume that what they need is "obvious", like we can jump to conclusions just by looking at them, but instead honouring them enough to ask the question -- "what do you want me to do for you" -- and then wait for the answer.

Because sometimes the answer isn't what we expect at all. That's the problem with assumptions. They don't just dishonour people, put them in boxes, jump to conclusions: assumptions can just be so... inaccurate. 

And even if Jesus on the road to Jericho being confronted by Bartimaeus could never have anticipated this? I think what he hopes for is a level of accuracy in our care for each other that at least hits the mark a little more closely than what the tiny workers inside our computers come up with.

Because seriously? The last thing I did before hitting "print" on this sermon was to check what the latest email ad I received was -- and it was for rockclimbing gear. Which means, among other things, that clearly my computer does not know me at all.Thanks be to God, who does. Amen.