Saturday, October 27, 2012

Who's Calling?

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.” (Mark 10.49)


My work frequently requires me to interface with business leaders who appear on the covers of Fortune and Forbes and similar publications. When I first meet them, they’re typically down-to-earth folks—gracious, non-threatening, and remarkably attentive to the task at hand, which, in my case, focuses on preparing them to address their employees. They understand the nature of our engagement and respect my contributions to the process. Actually getting to them is often the most problematic aspect of the job, however. In corporate culture, concentric circles of gatekeepers tightly guard access to high-level executives. Before I can reach them to find out what they really want to say, I have to maneuver through a small army of public relations, legal, sales and marketing, and administrative officers telling me what the boss can or can’t say, how he/she should or shouldn’t say it, and why it must or must not be said. While some of the information is useful, much of it isn't. More often than not, executives tell me, “Forget all that. I just want to talk to the people.”

Repeatedly in the gospels, we find a very similar situation, with the disciples assuming the roles of Jesus’s gatekeepers. For some reason, they believe it’s their duty to screen everyone who seeks Jesus’s attention to make sure they’re worthy of it. They don’t want anyone wasting Jesus’s time or making requests that might lead Him to say or do something He shouldn’t. Like corporate handlers, they do everything they possibly can to shield Jesus from compromising situations. And we should respect their sincerity in doing this. They mean well. Yet, time after time, Jesus overrules them, welcoming the least and the lowest—children, pagans, the sick, injured, and rejected—to approach Him with their needs. What the disciples don’t realize is these people are vital to Jesus. Interacting with them is how He shapes His message of unconditional love and divine grace. Despite the disciples’ precautions, time and again Jesus effectively tells them, “Forget all that. I just want to talk to the people.”

Not Jesus’s Way

In Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 10.46-52), we watch this scenario unfold with startling clarity. Jesus and the disciples are leaving Jericho, trailed by a large crowd, and they pass Bartimaeus, a blind beggar sitting on the roadside. When he hears Who it is, Bartimaeus starts yelling, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The gatekeepers immediately spring into action, ordering the man to settle down. But their caution only stirs him to shout more loudly. Jesus stops and tells His self-appointed handlers, “Call him here.” Perhaps chastened—possibly even moved with compassion for the blind man—they say, “Take heart; get up, He is calling you.” Bartimaeus tosses his cloak aside, scrambles to his feet, and no doubt with some assistance from people he can’t see, makes his way to Jesus. The Lord asks, “What do you want Me to do for you?” Bartimaeus replies, “My teacher, let me see again.” (v51) With that, Jesus tells him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Bartimaeus’s vision is instantly restored and he joins Jesus’s followers.

The beauty of this episode rests in its particulars. Bartimaeus has two strikes against him: he’s blind and he’s a beggar. To all appearances, he has nothing to offer Jesus. Those who try to silence him assume he’ll never be able to follow Christ. How could he? He can’t see where he’s going. He’s penniless. There’s just no good reason to stop for a person with no sense of direction or any real assets to contribute to this burgeoning movement. He needs to quiet down and keep out of the way. But that’s not Jesus’s way. Jesus stops and calls Bartimaeus to Him. And what is the blind beggar’s response? He throws off his cloak. Everything he owns—his only protection from blazing sun and bitter night—falls away. He finds his way to Jesus and implores Him to open his eyes, addressing Him as, “my teacher.” There is the nugget of faith that makes Bartimaeus whole. He’s asking more of Jesus than healing. He wants to be taught to see the world through fresh eyes. The physical restoration of his eyesight opens his vision to new life that comes from following Christ. All of this is evident to Bartimaeus before he receives his sight. It’s evident to Jesus from the moment the blind beggar cries out to Him. It’s evident to us, as objective onlookers. Who doesn’t get it? The people who take it upon themselves to protect Jesus. This story is as much about their blindness and poverty as the sightless beggar’s.

All We Need to Hear

Bartimaeus’s tale challenges us to consider whom we’re listening to. Will we be left on the wayside because people who presume to know what’s best for Jesus see nothing useful in us? Will we accept their myopic view of us as blind beggars? Or will their attempts to silence us inspire us to cry out more loudly for Jesus’s attention? Christ needs no gatekeepers. And this story assures us we need no one’s approval to reach out to Jesus. If no one else says it, we must tell ourselves, “Take heart; get up, He is calling you.” Once that registers, we can rid ourselves of everything we cling to for safety and security, scramble to our feet, and find our way to Christ. When He asks what we want of Him, we say, “Teacher, open our eyes.” Our faith restores our sight and makes room for us among Christ’s followers.

We don’t need to be concerned about gatekeepers. Jesus says, “Forget all that. I just want to talk to them.” Christ is calling to us. We are vital to His message of unconditional love and grace. Are we listening?

Bartimaeus’s story tells us it’s not about Jesus’s self-appointed gatekeepers. It’s about answering Christ’s call, believing He’ll teach us to see the world through new eyes.