The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope
Transcribed from the audio
Please pray with me. Gracious God, help us always to seek the truth, come whence it may, cost what it will. Amen.
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus asked Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” It’s the same question that Jesus asked two of his disciples, James and John, sons of Zebedee, in last Sunday’s Gospel lesson. “What do you want me to do for you?” They had very different responses. As you just heard, Bartimaeus asked Jesus, “Teacher, let me see again.” James and John, who had been traveling around the Galilee with Jesus, asked that when the time comes, that one sit in the greatest place of honor at Jesus’ right hand and the other, at his left, in glory. They’re asking for power and position in eternity, which was not what Jesus was about. Jesus taught that the most important things were to love God with all that you are and all that you have and to love your neighbor as yourself.
Turning to Bartimaeus, in asking to see again, we realize that there was a point in time when Bartimaeus had his physical sight. We don’t know why he became blind, but I would have you note that even though Bartimaeus calls out of his blindness, he actually could see more deeply, more clearly, because he calls out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” In associating Jesus as Son of David, he is proclaiming publicly that Jesus is king of the Jews, the Messiah, which was an incredibly dangerous thing for him to do; but he knew who Jesus was and he knew precisely what he was asking.
I invite you this morning to consider today, right now in this moment, if Jesus were standing in front of you and asked you, “What do you want me to do for you,” how would you respond? What’s your heart’s deepest desire? Where do you want Jesus to intercede in your life, in the world we inhabit? Perhaps after what has been a really horrible week, you might ask for an end to gun violence and these hate crimes that are tearing apart our country and the global community. Perhaps you might ask, as Martin Luther King, Jr., did 50 years ago, that once and for all that we would be judged not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character. Perhaps you, like Bartimaeus, would pray for healing and wholeness, a miracle for yourself or for someone you love. Perhaps you might pray for this fragile earth, our island home, and our responsibility to care for creation. I suspect there would be many responses for each one of us today. There’s no lack of where we need Jesus to intercede in our lives and in our world.
How do we, like Bartimaeus, see more deeply, more clearly, as Jesus sees? Four years ago in New York, the New York City Rescue Mission that works with the homeless and the poor in Manhattan did a social experiment—they called it Make Them Visible. They got volunteers to dress up like the homeless and to be out on the streets, and then they filmed as one of their family members was walking along the sidewalk, glanced over, saw them, but didn’t really see them and kept on walking. How often do we turn a blind eye to what’s right in front of us, maybe even a family member we see, but we don’t really see?
On Friday, the Cathedral had the profound privilege of hosting a service of thanksgiving and remembrance for the life of Matthew Shepard. This cathedral was packed full of people hoping that they would experience this place and this time as a house of prayer for all people—no exceptions. Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered 20 years ago as a young man. He was 21 years old and he was pistol whipped and tied to a fence on a cold night in Laramie, Wyoming, and left to die because he was a gay man. This Friday was a time for many for healing and love and a coming home, if you will. One of the things that Matthew Shepard’s father said that morning that has continued to stay with me was, and this was Dennis Shepard, “Matt was blind…He did not see skin color. He did not see religion. He did not see sexual orientation. All he saw was a chance to have another friend.”
There was nothing wrong with Matthew Shepard’s physical sight. He, like Bartimaeus, saw more deeply, right past the societal differences that we might place one on another. He saw the true things, the deep things, the eternal things that ultimately are the things that matter about another. How do we go more deeply? How do we see more deeply, past these human distinctions that we may place one upon another?
In his book, The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown writes about an incredible time in U.S. history, out of the depths of the Depression. He writes about nine young men from the University of Washington who pulled off the unimaginable. These nine young college students become a national winning crew team. They row. All of these young men came from working class families, some from abject poverty; some from the most dysfunctional and absent sort of families one can imagine. But they shared some things in common. They were all strong. They were mentally tough. They were committed. That was enough to make them competitive. It wasn’t enough to make them ultimately successful.
Into their lives came a man named George Pocock who was a mentor. In truth, he was a world class boat builder. He was the most famous and built the world’s best shells that all these young men then rode in. He was someone who could look deeply. He was someone who saw hope when a boy thought there was no hope. He was someone who saw skill when skill was obscured by ego or anxiety. He was someone who understood the fragility of confidence and the redemptive power of trust. And what he told those boys was that if they really wanted to win, they needed to not be nine individuals in a boat with their own egos and their own self-interest. They had to open their hearts and care about one another and love one another and trust one another and depend on one another. And when they did that, they would be one boat—one boat acting in harmony, balance, rhythm, which Pocock said are the essentials of life. This unlikely team from the University of Washington not only won the national championships, but they went on to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and, right under the eye of Hitler, won the gold medal.
They were one boat pulling the oars in the same direction, loving one another, trusting one another, depending on one another, and that ultimately made all the difference. My brothers and sisters, how do we recognize that we are all in this one boat together, this boat called life? And if we would only come to the point where we’re pulling the oars in the same direction, that it will make all the difference in the world? Roman Catholic theologian John Shea wrote that “our blind and begging condition makes us ready, but it is the call of Jesus that raises us up off the ground.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” asks Jesus. Lord, give us eyes to see as you see, not turning a blind eye to the need that’s right in front of us. Lord, give us ears to hear, to hear your call, to hear the call of the person on the margins who is crying out for mercy and compassion and our help. And Lord, give us hearts to respond—open hearts so that we too will drop our nets, throw off our cloaks, and go and follow you wherever you may lead us. Lord, let it be so. Amen.