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Episcopal Church of the Resurrection
“Your Great High Priest” (Hebrews 4:14-16)
October 10, 2021
Growing up in the 80’s, like millions of others I was a big fan of the Indiana Jones films starring Harrison Ford as the archeologist turned action hero. Near the end of the third film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), he is on the verge of finding the legendary Holy Grail, when he comes to the brink of a huge dark chasm. He peers over the edge and the chasm is so deep he can’t even see the bottom. He gazes across the chasm to the rock wall and can see the path but there is apparently no way to cross the chasm. “Impossible,” he mutters to himself, “Nobody can jump this.” Meanwhile, Indiana’s father Henry, played by Sean Connery, is near death and praying, “You must believe, boy!” Indiana shakes his head, “It’s a leap of faith.” Indiana Jones is so scared, but he places a hand over his heart, closes his eyes, and steps forward over the chasm.
To his amazement and relief Indiana does not plunge into the chasm but appears to have stepped onto thin air…and then the camera pans sideways to reveal that there is indeed a bridge that blended so well with the wall on the other side of the chasm it could not be seen. Indiana proceeds across the bridge, finds the Holy Grail and fills it with holy water that he then gives to his father who is thus cured. Indiana was blind to the reality of the bridge until he stepped out in faith. God calls all of us to take that step of faith—easy to talk about, scary to do.
We see this over and over again in scripture, that even when we are blind and cannot see where we are going, God still calls us to take that step of faith. In the Book of Genesis, we read that when Abram (later named Abraham) was wealthy and settled in retirement, the Lord spoke to him, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1)—and Abram did just that. How? The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews answers, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8). Even though he was blind to where he was going, Abraham followed the call of God.
Sometimes we need God to open our eyes to see how much we are loved and supported by God, especially in the face of daunting circumstances. Along these lines there is an oft overlooked story on the Old Testament in which the king of Aram finds out the prophet Elisha is in the town of Dothan. In the middle of the night the king sends an army complete with horses and chariots, a host so large the town of Dothan is surrounded. Here’s what happened next:
When an attendant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. His servant said, “Alas, master! What shall we do?” He replied, “Do not be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them.” Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw; the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Kings 6:15-17).
If you read on you will find that those innumerable hosts that Elisha knew were there but until that moment the servant had been unable to see, indeed delivered them from the hosts of the king of Aram. God had to open that servant’s eyes.
There are times when only God can open our eyes.
Today’s gospel lesson, Jesus’ healing of blind Bartimaeus, is the last miracle recorded in the Gospel According to Mark. Jesus and his disciples are leaving Jericho and heading to Jerusalem, about 18 miles away, where just as Jesus had told them three times, he would be betrayed, tried, and crucified…and would rise on the third day. Mark tells us:
Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way (Mark 10:46-52).
Even though the crowd discouraged him, Blind Bartimaeus would not stop crying out to Jesus for help, “Jesus, have mercy on me, have mercy on me!” And I love how Mark tells us, “Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here’”—and I love when that same crowd who had discouraged Bartimaeus from crying out then said, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you”—and I love Bartimaeus’ leap of faith as Mark tells us, “So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.” Even though Bartimaeus could not see where he was going, he did the same thing Abraham had done…he followed God’s call.
Then Jesus healed Bartimaeus, “Go; your faith has made you well”—and where did Bartimaeus go? He followed Jesus “on the way.” And where was Jesus going? To the cross…for after today’s passage the very next passage in the Gospel According to Mark is Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. What would it have been like for Bartimaeus as he saw the One who had stood still for him, and called for him, and healed him be welcomed into Jerusalem as the crowd chanted, “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” and then several days later chant something very different, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” What would it have been like for Bartimaeus to see the One who had opened his eyes suffer and die on the cross just a week later?
In the same way that throughout his earthly ministry people had often been blind to who Jesus actually was, during his death and resurrection they were just as blind. It was not until Jesus had gasped his final breath that the centurion and others at the foot of the cross actually saw him for who he was and proclaimed, “Truly this man was God’s son!” (Matthew 27:54). On Easter morning when Mary Magdalene encountered the Risen Jesus, she initially thought he was the gardener…until he called her my name, “Mary!” and in that moment she actually saw him for who he was and responded, “Rabbi!” (John 19:15-16).
On Easter afternoon when two disciples were walking from Jerusalem to Damascus the Risen Jesus was literally walking by their side and talking with them, but they did not see him as who he actually was. Scripture tells us “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” Yet later the Risen Jesus had dinner with them that evening and something very special happened: “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him” (Luke 24:16, 30-31).
What about you today?
Perhaps like Bartimaeus others have discouraged you from crying out to God for help. Perhaps like Abraham you have heard God calling you to go someplace God will show you later. Perhaps like Elisha’s servant you feel somehow surrounded by insurmountable odds. Perhaps like Indiana Jones you feel like you are on the brink of a bottomless chasm—you can see the path on the other side but you have know idea how to get there and you have to take a step of faith. Perhaps somehow you have been blind to who Jesus actually is…the Son of God who created you and fully knows you and fully forgives you and fully loves you.
The good news of the gospel is that the crowd’s words to Bartimaeus are God’s words to you, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”
Even now Jesus stands still for you. Even now Jesus calls you to follow him. Even now Jesus wants you to know that you are surrounded by the innumerable hosts of your living and loving God. In the cross Jesus has provided a very real bridge across the chasm. Yes, as scripture puts it, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7), but we never walk alone for
even now the same Jesus who walked with the disciples on the road to Emmaus is walking with you.
One more illustration and I’ll close…in his book Lion and Lamb (1986) the late Brennan Manning recounts the following true story:
One of the many documented miracles that have occurred in Lourdes, France, took place in 1957. A French father took his ten-year-old son, blind from birth, on a pilgrimage from Brittany to Lourdes. At the shrine, the child begged his father to pray for him. His dad prayed aloud, “Lord, give my boy his sight.” Instantly, the boy could see. He looked around. He saw flowers, trees, green grass, the open sky. Then he looked into his father’s eyes, the eyes that went with the only voice he had known during ten longs years of darkness and loneliness. When he saw his father, do you know what he said? “Oh boy. Everybody’s here!” (140-141).
And one day we too, just like Bartimaeus, will gaze into the face of our Savior, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). In the meantime, may God open our eyes anew.