Philip from Bethsaida
He said, “Sell everything you own and give the money to the poor.” He said, “Leave everything behind and follow me because there’s no way to do this half-way.” Being a disciple of Jesus is not a part-time job; it’s not a side-hustle; it’s not a hobby. This is our life. I get that.
Back when we first got started, it was exhilarating! That day on the mountain, he picked out twelve of us and gave us the authority to preach and the power to heal. Back in those days, my life had a purpose it never had before. I was part of a team! We were casting out demons and proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of God— not like any kingdom the world has ever seen. I could keep doing this, I told myself… (pause)
We were on the road heading to Jerusalem when Jesus brought it up for the third time. “Listen,” he told us. “You have to know what’s going to happen. The Son of Man will be handed over and condemned. They will mock him, and spit on him, and flog him, and kill him. After three days, he will rise again.” Jesus was telling us, This could happen to you. If you’re going to keep following me, this is what you’re signing up for.
I wish I could tell you that I looked right at Jesus and answered, “No problem. I’m ready!” The truth is, nobody looked at him; nobody said anything.
Later that night, some of the guys were talking, and let me just say, there wasn’t anybody who wasn’t worried. I mean, Jesus is talking about a cross! If he really goes and gets into trouble, he could actually get himself killed. He could die! How’s that going to help? I’ve seen Jesus give people a reason to live when they had none. You can’t see that happen and not want to follow him! But now?
I don’t know if I have what it takes…
The next morning, Andrew noticed that James and John had gone off to find Jesus while he was praying. I got a sick feeling in my stomach. Clearly, they knew Jesus was demanding a commitment that the rest of us weren’t ready to make. I knew they were taking advantage, and turns out, I was right. James and John were asking Jesus to let them sit beside him in glory! Now think about that. You don’t get to sit by Jesus in heaven by calling shotgun! Who do those two think they are?!
To make matters worse, the rest of us know exactly what happens when somebody approaches Jesus and asks for something. Nearly always, he says yes. Of course, he will give them what they’re wanting. He loves James and John! And I know how this sounds, but what if Jesus helps them and not me…
When he got back and called everybody into the room, you could smell the tension. We were pretty sure we knew what was going to happen. But you know something? We were wrong.
Jesus did not say, “James and John have just gotten promoted.”
He did not say, “If the rest of you want to keep following me, step up now, or there’s the door!”
What Jesus said was: “You already know who you are. (And seriously, you don’t need to reserve a seat!) If you want to go with me, even into glory, then give your life to serving others. The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve…”
He looked right at me, and he did not say, “Stand up and walk” or “Your faith has made you well,” but he might as well have, because there was healing in his words. He was reminding us of why we started following him in the first place. Here I had one foot out the door, and Jesus just brought me back. He restored my soul.
So I’ve come here to tell you what I learned. You already have a place beside Jesus; you always have. You will find him serving those who are hurting and hated. (The seats beside Jesus are the seats in the waiting room, or the food pantry, or the funeral home, or the shelter….) When we give our lives to serving others, we will never be apart from Christ. We will get our life back and more life than we ever imagined.
You can see it already. The kingdom of God is underway….
Do not be afraid.
Sarah from Jericho
I still remember the night. What you’d call a book club was meeting at my house. Miriam was saying that when she went to get water, she ran into Ruth who told her the famous rabbi was traveling this way. “And did you know, coteries of women have joined his entourage!” she said, replenishing her wine glass. “They just up and left their homes and husbands, and can you even believe it!”
So you all can see where this is going. Clearly, we had to go see for ourselves! It was supposed to be a lark. On that night, if you would have told me that I would be standing here as a follower of “the famous rabbi,” as somebody who got healed, I wouldn’t have believed you. I would have laughed!
Sure enough, when Jesus and his parade of followers came through the city, everybody had come out of their houses. People were pressing up against each other, but it wasn’t a stampede, it was more like a collective, splendid yearning. All along the way, Jesus was stopping to talk to people.
When he was passing by me, Bartimaeus started shouting: “Jesus of Nazareth! Have mercy on me!” (Now in the city, everybody knew Bartimaeus, and Bartimaeus knew everybody. Because he was blind, he survived by begging.) I’m not proud of this now, but I will tell you, when I heard Bartimaeus accosting Jesus, I was mortified. My goodness, have some measure of dignity! Why does he have to make such a scene!
Even more distressingly, his yelling worked. Jesus stopped and went back to him, and I couldn’t believe it. It would never cross my mind to plead for mercy, from a stranger, in public.
When we lost our son, we didn’t even say anything. There isn’t a day I don’t remember him. I love the way his little fingers curled around mine. I close my eyes, and I can still hear his coos. He had such an old man laugh in a little baby! When he died, of course people knew, but we never talked about it. You learn to carry the pain inside you like a stone. Every now and again, someone looks at you in a certain way and you realize they’re also carrying a stone.
Back then I prayed so hard, and the prayers didn’t seem to matter. Now I can’t imagine throwing myself at Jesus’s feet and pleading with him for a miracle, but that’s exactly what Bartimaeus is doing, and it’s working! And look, I know how this sounds. It’s just, how can Jesus help him and not me…
Pretty soon, Bartimaeus was clamoring to his feet. A part of me did not want to watch, and a part of me had to, and I’m glad I did. We saw Bartimaeus say something to Jesus, then Jesus looked at him, and somehow, something in his gaze poured the grace of God right into this old blind man. And I watched this happen. When Bartimaeus was shouting “Have mercy on me!” I didn’t know Jesus would take that literally! I didn’t know I needed to see it too.
Suddenly, Bartimaeus became able to see. Jesus told him to be on his way, but Bartimaeus protested, “No, I’m coming with you!” And what you’ve got to understand is that he looked so different. This was not the same man who would be crumbled on the street begging for help! It’s like Jesus saw the life in him the same way Bartimaeus saw the life in him. Jesus saw the mercy of God in Bartimaeus, the same mercy that Bartimaeus saw in him.
That’s when I knew, I couldn’t go home. Bartimaeus was getting on board with the caravan that was heading to Jerusalem, I told Miriam I’d catch up with her later, and I went too.
In case you’re thinking about giving your life to following Jesus, there are a few things you should know. First of all, there isn’t anybody who isn’t carrying some kind of stone, some secret pain that won’t let them go. If you want to follow Jesus, you will see how people are hurting, there’s no way around it. But when you do, you will also see the deep forgiveness in each person, the light of grace meeting the light of grace. There’s no way around that either.
And so it is that when Jesus restored the vision of Bartimaeus, Bartimaeus gave me my sight back, and here I didn’t even know I had lost it.
May the healing of Christ be yours as well. May your life be restored. You already have the mercy of God.