Pentecost 20B, 2003, 2009
Mark 10: 46-52

A Liturgy is also available


The shocked family was standing on the footpath in front of their house,
watching the firemen swarming in and out.

A grease fire had severely damaged the kitchen
and smoke was saturating everything they owned.

They watched in dismay as the fire was put out.
        Holes in the walls.
        Scorched ceilings.
        Broken crockery.
        A real mess awaited them.

Suddenly a pizza delivery car pulled up next to the curb,
and a young bloke jumped out carrying
one of those large pizza delivery bags.

The father of the family looked puzzled:
“Sorry mate!  You must have the wrong address. None of us ordered a pizza, and besides, my wallet was in my coat pocket - in the kitchen”.

The delivery bloke smiled, shock his head and said:
“Yea, I know you didn’t order this.  But I saw you all just standing there and I had to do something.
“There’s no charge.  Just take it easy and have something to eat”.

And with that he jumped back into his car 
and sped off as the astonished family watched.
  (A story adapted from William Bausch)

How many people saw the fire, shook their heads, and drove on?
How many saw the people in need?

One young bloke saw and decided to do something about it.
The ‘doing’ was some simple words and ordinary caring.

Just as one Jesus of the Marcan story saw and heard Bartimaeus and,
as the storyteller says, did something about it.
        Offer some simple words and ordinary caring.


The story of Bartimaeus,
clearly created by the storyteller Mark, is an interesting and important story.

A nobody in the world’s eyes,
a sidelined person,
a blind beggar sitting in the dust,
suddenly, and to the surprise of all, becomes the hero of the story.

When he raised his voice, 
people were quick to remind him he was a nobody.

Shut up!
Be quiet!
No-one wants to listen to you!
Get back in the closet!

With the persistence which can characterise the desperate,
he does not shy away from being a nuisance…
        I am not odd, stupid, a case, a need.
        I’m a person, not a discounted person or a person to be discounted.

Mark's Jesus responds, hears his request, and, we are told, makes him whole.

William Loader, the Australian biblical scholar, suggests this is storyteller Mark at his subversive best.
“Mark can do this because he knew such stories.  Jesus did not sideline people. Jesus responded to what were seen as the ‘hopeless cases’ of his day”
(William Loader/Web site-2003).

And again:
“Whether at the symbolic level or at a literal level, the story illustrates an approach to people which is central to Jesus’ 
teaching” (WLoader/Web site-2003).

I am sure you will recognise this ‘inclusive’ theme as a familiar one in Mark’s stories.
Because we have heard it nearly every week now
for the past six weeks or so.
Children. Legalism. Toll collectors.
Lepers. Purity rules. Women.

“The invisible domain of God is populated with the poor, the destitute, with women and unwanted children, with lepers, and toll collectors, all considered under some circumstances to be the dregs of society.  They are outsiders and outcasts.  They are exiles from their native religious tradition” (Funk 2002: 55).

As I said on one of those occasions:
Much of Jesus’ energy in controversy with his fellow Jews
was spent trying to show that we must interpret scripture
in a way which sees its priority as concern for human well being.


For four days this past week, a total of more than 1,500 people
met in either a church, or a public hall, or a chapel space
        to listen to one person share his
        theological vision for, and call to, the church.

That person was retired Bishop, John Shelby Spong.

The whole event - sponsored by The Centre for Progressive Religious Thought - proved to be
a rewarding, 
and inspirational experience for nearly everyone concerned.

Only one person, when 649 others were giving Spong a standing ovation,
indicated a ‘thumbs down’ response.

And we did it, I might add, without the support of either
Archbishop Peter Jensen or the local ABC!

Now keeping in mind the story of Bartimaeus,
Jack Spong said during his Tuesday morning presentation:
“In Jesus we have met a presence of God... come among us offering life, love, and being to this world”
(J S Spong. 2003).

Is this what blind Bartimaeus saw in Jesus?
A God presence offering life, love and being?

My biblical storytelling mentor, Tom Boomershine,
when working with this story, says:
“Jesus response is a word of affirmation and encourgaement in which he gives permission for Bartimaeus to act on the power implicit in his own faith”
(Boomershine 1988:128).

I resonate with that comment.
And I am also bold enough to suggest this is what John Shelby Spong does.
        Gives people permission to express and act on
        the power implicit in their own faith or religious journey,
                  especially when others want to say to them: shut up!

The thoughts and words and ideas of Jack Spong are an affirmation
of courage and faith and encouragement
which allow that faith or religious journey
to be fully lived out... offering life, love and being.

Where Spong and those who respond to his vision of religion
usually fall foul of conservative or evangelical church folk, is:
some people choose not to, or are unable to, see or hear
because that will mean personal change.

And a life lived in fear can never bear to face
the need for change, or to see the possible in the new.


So I hope you can hear why I think Mark’s story about a bloke called Bartimaeus
is an important story in our religious tradition, at this time.
        We need to listen to all the Bartimaeuses.
        We need to listen to all the John Shelby Spongs... and there are several!

Thank God they do all speak up.

For when we do listen,
we know they affirm the journey we are on.
        And in that journeying we and others are blessed.

The original version of this sermon was written in 2003. Since then  I have come across Ian Cairns' commentary.  He writes:
"Mark [the storyteller] also wishes to stress that faith, rightly understood, is not dependence-inducing, but rather is eliciting of a sturdy independence.  Faith is choosing to trust that life's kindliness does not support us, however circumstances seem to contradict this...".

Bausch, W. A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers. Mystic. Twenty-Third Publications, 1998.
Boomershine, T. E.
Story Journey. An Invitation to the Gospel as Storytelling. Nashville. Abingdon Press, 1988.
Cairns, I. J.
Mark of a Non-realist. A Contemporary Reading of the Second Gospel. Masterton. Fraser Books., 2004
Funk, R. W.
A Credible Jesus. Fragments of a Vision. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2002.