30th Sunday of the Year Jeremiah 31:7–9; Hebrews 5:1–6; Mark 10:46–52
Mike and the Beggar Many people, especially young people, are hindered rather than helped as they try to reach out to Jesus.
Afew years ago a father and mother sent this open letter to the parents and students of a high school in a southern city.
“Dear Boys, Girls, and Parents:
“We buried our son Thursday. He got into bed Tuesday and very deliberately put a gun to his temple and shot a bullet straight through his brain. Mike was bright, handsome, witty, shy, and with ease did well in school. His phone rang constantly and his friends were in and out of the house all the time. The Coroner’s report showed no drugs.
“In reality Mike had lots of friends. Each individual, however, has his own perception of reality—his reality. Sunday night, Mike got drunk and we had a long talk, and for the first time we realized that our rosy perception of the state of his life wasn’t his. He was very sad. He felt his friends didn’t care about him—even though we know they DID.
“We believe you all can help God make this world a happier place to live. Somewhere between the ages of 20 and 35, people begin to feel secure enough to tell their friends ‘I love you’ or ‘I’m glad you’re my friend.’ Please be brave, because of your age it is a scary, chancy thing to say; but please tell your friends that they are your friends and you do care.
This is most important because a person can feel most alone when surrounded by people.
“There are also some in your school who truly have no friends. Their phone never rings and friends never come over. Please make friends with them. They are really lonely. If Mike felt such despair when he had friends, just imagine the sadness and loneliness those boys and girls must feel and endure.
“God put each of us on earth to do good and bring joy. Please help make Mike’s death bring love and joy to the world in a concrete manner.
“Growing up is very hard and there is so much each of you must sort out for yourself. Your parents and family are there, but your peers are so important too. Please, please open your hearts and tell your friends that you love them.
“Love to you all,”
The letter was signed by Mike’s mother and father.
It took a lot of love and courage for Mike’s parents to write that letter.
That’s what makes it so beautiful. That’s what makes it so powerful. That’s what makes it a letter that every young person and parent should read.
I think it’s especially appropriate for us to read it today, because the blind beggar in today’s gospel might well have been about Mike’s age.
Like Mike, he was trying to reach out to Jesus as best he knew how. And like Mike, he sought help from those around him.
But like young Mike, instead of getting help from those around him, the blind beggar got just the opposite. Instead of getting support from the crowd, he got abuse and outright rejection.
Today’s gospel says that when the beggar called out to Jesus, “Son of David! Have mercy on me!” many people yelled at him and told him to keep quiet.
In other words, instead of taking the beggar by the hand and leading him to Jesus, they took him by the neck and shoved him farther away from Jesus.
Only one person came to the beggar’s aid. And who was that person?
It was none other than Jesus himself. When Jesus heard the people shouting at the beggar, he stopped and asked that the beggar be brought to him.
Only then did the people change. Only then did they help the unfortunate man. Today’s gospel prompts us to ask ourselves, How many Mikes and how many blind beggars are there in today’s world?
How many of these Mikes and how many of these blind beggars are trying to reach out to Jesus?
How many of these Mikes and how many of these blind beggars are being treated the way the people treated the blind beggar in today’s gospel?
How many of us, perhaps even without realizing it, are discouraging these Mikes and these blind beggars?
Even more to the point, today’s gospel invites us to ask ourselves, Who are the Mikes and the blind beggars in our own lives?
It invites us to ask ourselves, What are we doing to help these young people in their fumbling efforts to reach out to Jesus?
It invites us to do what the courageous parents of Mike pleaded for the parents and students of a southern high school to do. Let me read the operative passage of that letter again:
“God put each of us on earth to do good and bring joy. Please help make Mike’s death bring love and joy to the world in a concrete manner.”
Today’s gospel is an invitation to make Mike’s death bring love and joy to the world in a concrete way. Let us close with a prayer that we have used on several previous occasions. It spells out in a concrete way how we can go about bringing love and joy to our world:
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
“Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.
“Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
Series II 30th Sunday of the Year Jeremiah 31:7–9; Hebrews 5:1–6; Mark 10:46–52
The Medical Student God and other people are more willing to help us than we are willing to ask them for help. If you flew on American Airlines during the month of October 1988, you may have pulled out a copy of the American Way magazine from the seat pocket in front of you. If you did, you may have noticed an article in it written by a retired physician, Dr. Fred C. Collier.
Fred was a medical student in the Army Specialized Training Corps in 1945, when World War II ended. He was from a Kansas family that didn’t have the kind of money he needed to complete medical school on his own. And so when he mustered out of the army, he had no idea how he’d ever finish school, if, indeed, he’d ever finish at all.
Then one day he happened to pick up a copy of a magazine in a barber shop. One of the articles talked about the kindness and compassion of Eleanor Roosevelt, whose husband, President Franklin Roosevelt, had died a few months before.
That article planted a seed in Fred’s mind. He went to the local library and, with the help of the librarian, found Mrs. Roosevelt’s home address.
Then he sat down and composed a letter telling her about his plight. He wrote it and rewrote it until he had it exactly the way he wanted it.
When he put the letter in an envelope and dropped it in the mail box, even his young wife wondered if it was worth the time and postage he’d spent on it.
To Fred’s amazement, Mrs. Roosevelt agreed to meet him. When the meeting ended, she promised to help.
In the months and years ahead, Fred got checks through Mrs. Roosevelt from a variety of sources, including her own personal checks. Fred, in turn, kept her informed of his progress and sent her copies of all his term papers. Her secretary said later that she always read them with great interest.
Later Mrs. Roosevelt visited the couple in their sparsely furnished apartment. The owner of the apartment house nearly collapsed when he recognized the famous visitor.
When Fred finally finished medical school, he told Mrs. Roosevelt that he didn’t know how he would ever be able to repay her. She said that repayment was neither necessary nor desirable. Then she added:
“I will be adequately repaid if, when you are financially secure someday, you help out someone else who is truly deserving, as you were.’’
Fred’s story has a lot in common with the story of the blind man in today’s gospel.
Like the blind man, he had a problem that he could not handle by himself. Like the blind man, he turned to someone outside himself for help. And like the blind man, Fred was helped beyond his wildest dream.
The story of Fred and Mrs. Roosevelt and the story of Jesus and the blind man illustrate an important point. There are times when all of us need help, and we must turn to other people or to God for that help.
First, let’s consider turning to other people for that help, just as Fred turned to Mrs. Roosevelt.
Ayoung priest was teaching in an inner-city high school in Chicago. The school’s budget had no room for things like classroom decoration.
One day, when the priest was doing some painting in the room, one of the students offered to help.
That student ended up spending over 40 hours helping the priest. After the room was fully redecorated, the priest called the boy’s father and asked him what gift he could get the boy to show him his appreciation. The father replied, “Don’t get my son anything. Give him the honor of having done something out of the goodness of his heart for you and for his school. That is the greatest gift you can give him.’’
There are many people like that father and his son in the world. They are more than willing to help others. And they will do it out of the goodness of their heart, just as Mrs. Roosevelt did—and just as we would do if someone asked us.
This brings us to our second point: turning to God for help.
There are times in our lives when we can’t help ourselves and when other people can’t help us either. At times like these, we must turn to God for help, just as the blind man turned to Jesus for help.
The model of how we should seek God’s help is Jesus himself. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus turned to his Father for help, praying this same prayer three times:
“Father . . . all things are possible for you. Take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet not what I want, but what you want.” Mark 14:36
Jesus presented his needs to his Father, saying, “All things are possible to you.’’ But then he added, “Not what I will but what you will.’’ And God helped him in his time of need. God did not do this by taking away his suffering. Rather, God gave him the strength to bear it.
And that’s often how God helps us, too. God does not always answer our prayers the way we had in mind. But God does answer them in a way that is often more appropriate.
And so today’s gospel reminds us that there are times in our life when we must turn to others and to God for help, just as Fred and the blind man had to do.
And if we do this prayerfully, they will help us. And they will help us in ways more beautiful than we ever dreamed of.
Let’s close with a familiar prayer. It illustrates how God often answers our prayers but in ways we never dreamed possible.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things; I was given infirmity, that I might do better things. . . . I asked for riches, that I might be happy; I was given poverty, that I might be wise. . . . I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men; I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God. . . . I asked for all things that I might enjoy life; I was given life, that I might enjoy all things. . . . I got nothing I asked for, but everything I hoped for. Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered. I am among all men most richly blessed. Unknown Confederate soldier
Series III 30th Sunday of the Year Jeremiah 31:7–9, Hebrews 5:1–6, Mark 10:46–52
Courage To face all conditions by the power Christ gives me. Philippians 4:13
People scolded [the blind man] and told him to be quiet. But he shouted even more loudly. Mark 10:48
In 1998, Hollywood did a remake of the classic movie 12 Angry Men. It headlined such stars as Jack Lemmon, George C. Scott, and Tony Danza.
In the film, a young Hispanic is accused of stabbing his abusive and alcoholic father.
The two key witnesses are a woman with poor eyesight and a man with a crippled leg.
In the course of the testimony, the son’s lawyer does little to defend him. At the close of the testimony, the judge gives his instruction to the jurors, and they retire to the deliberation room.
They enter it laughing and commenting on what an easy decision this will be. The son is guilty—even his own lawyer sensed that.
They decide to take a quick vote, confident that all 12 will vote, “Guilty.” To their dismay, one juror, an architect, casts a “Not guilty” vote.
When several jurors grow angry and challenge him, he stands his ground and says, “I’m not sure! I don’t think he’s guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt.”
After more discussion, the jurors decide to vote again, feeling they may have convinced the architect to join them in voting “Guilty.”
To their surprise, a second man joins the architect and switches his vote to “Not guilty.” A big argument ensues.
After a while, one juror suggests they reenact the murder according to the description given by the two witnesses.
To the surprise of most of the jurors, the description is filled with holes and inconsistencies. The two witnesses could not have witnessed the murder as they swore they did.
To make a long story short, the jury ends up acquitting the son, giving him a 12-man “Not guilty” vote.
That movie fits in with today’s Gospel.
The blind beggar, Bartimaeus, suffers the same abuse from the crowd that the architect, at first, suffered from the other 11 jurors.
When Bartimaeus calls out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me,” the crowd tells him to shut up.
But the blind beggar—like the architect—stands his ground. He refuses to be bullied into doing what the crowd wants. Instead he does what he thinks is right.
And what happens then? When Jesus calls for Bartimaeus, the crowd changes its attitude totally—as the jurors did. Now they encourage him. Years ago, a team of psychologists staged an experiment in several high schools. Groups of ten students were shown three cards, each with a different length of line drawn on it.
The students were then asked to vote by holding up their hands, indicating which of the three lines was the longest.
Nine students in each group were instructed secretly in advance to vote each time for the second longest line. The tenth student was told nothing.
Each time a vote took place, the nine students voted as a block for the second longest line.
In 75 percent of the experiments, the tenth student would glance around, frown, and then vote for the second longest line, also.
Dr. James Dobson describes this series of experiments in his book Hide or Seek.
He uses them to stress how important it is for parents to teach their children early on in their lives about peer pressure.
He tells them, “Some day your son or daughter may be hanging out with friends when, suddenly, one or two of them pull out some drugs.”
He goes on to say that your advance preparation for just such a situation could save them from making a tragic mistake. Just as important, that preparation could save their friends as well—just as the architect saved the young man and the 11 jurors from a terrible tragedy.
This brings us to a second point that grows out of today’s Gospel. It, too, is something every young person needs to be aware of.
There comes a time in every life when, like the blind man in the Gospel, we can’t help ourselves. Not even our family or our best friend can help us. We’re all alone!
At times like this, we need to do what the blind man in the Gospel did. We need to turn to Jesus for help.
The model of how to do this is none other than Jesus himself. In his agony in the Garden, he had to turn to his Father for help. He did so by repeating over and over again:
“My Father! All things are possible for you. Take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet not what I want but what you want.” Mark 14:36
His Father helped him, not by taking away his suffering, but by giving him the strength and courage to bear it.
God often chooses to help us in this way.
In other words, God does not always answer our prayers in the way that we want. God answers them in a way that will be better for us in the long run.
Let’s illustrate with a familiar poem. It was found in the pocket of a dead Confederate soldier and illustrates what we mean by being “better for us in the long run.” It reads:
I asked for health, that I might do greater things; I was given infirmity, that I might do better things. . . . I ask for riches, that I might be happy; I was given poverty, that I might be wise. . . .
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men; I was given weakness, that I might feel the need for God. . . . I ask for all things, that I might enjoy life; I was given life, that I might enjoy all things. . . .
I got nothing I asked for, but everything I hoped for. Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered. I am among all men most richly blessed.