I would like to ask a favor of you. The mask you have in your bulletin, I ask you to put it on. Yes, in worship. Yes, in front of everybody. Yes, even though you have never done anything undignified in worship before. If you can bear it, leave it on for the duration of the sermon. If you cannot bear it, take it off after a minute.
How does it feel to wear a mask in church? Uncomfortable? Outlandish? Cool? Sacrilegious? There are a couple of reasons to put on this mask today. The most obvious one it is a reminder that we wear invisible masks every day and don’t even realize it. Every day we hide some part of ourselves. We pretend we are people we are not all the time. Sometimes this is good. For example, there’s a time and place we need to exude confidence to our children even when we are frightened. However, when we are lying or misrepresenting ourselves to a date, a perspective client or an employer that is wrong.
We can get into a habit of hiding ourselves even to ourselves, because we can’t bear what we see. We speak piously in church but rage at a family member in the privacy of our homes. We’re scared and so we act all tough and macho in front of strangers or friends. How many people do we know have this tough exterior but are really teddy bears? Sometimes we are really angry about something, but we pretend we’re not: “oh, it’s nothing, really.” We drive latest model cars and most up to date fashion, flash around the latest cell phone, but, live month to month. We can’t bear that we don’t measure up to the norms passed down from mom and dad or siblings. We camouflage our true opinions and beliefs because we want to fit in – we don’t want to be rejected. Who are we, really behind all the masks we wear? We have become a blind people who cannot see who we really are; children of a loving God, called to an abundant life, called to promote peace and justice, called to serve in God’s name. How did we get so blinded? How is it we cannot let ourselves see ourselves, see each other, as God sees?
Who are you behind your mask?
Today in the midst of our own blindness, we are called to the witness of the blind Bartimaeus, to see the blindness of the crowd surrounding him, and view the sinful blindness which led the Israelites into exiles to become the remnant- that Jeremiah proclaims God is bringing back to Zion, and life shall once again be like a watered garden. Blind to the generosity of God, to God’s profound love for creation and for us
Blindness was a common ailment in the Ancient Near East, with the hot sun and the gritty sand, along with the regular eye ailments that affected vision. At the same time, blindness, along with other illnesses, such as leprosy, being crippled, deaf, having seizures, was seen as caused by sin. Blinding was also an punishment for crime. Blind people could not function as priests, sing in the Temple, or participate in some trades even though capable.
On the other hand, Jewish people were often reminded to treat the blind with compassion. Opening the eyes of the blind was seen as a special attribute of the messiah.
As Jesus is leaving Jericho beginning his final approach for Jerusalem, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, sitting at the roadside, discovers who is passing by and shouts out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Bartimaeus is the only person in Mark’s gospel who uses the royal title, “Son of David,” implying that Jesus is King David’s rightful and true heir. Given that this is a messianic title, and it is the messiah’s role to bring “sight to the blind” according to the prophets (Isaiah 42:7; 62:1; 35:5), why are they so reluctant for Jesus to help Bartimaeus? They sternly tell him to be quiet. They cannot see the implications of Bartimaeus’ confession of faith. Although blind, he sees Jesus for who he is: the son of David.
The word to quiet Bartimaeus really means a rebuke, and most of the time rebuking happens when the disciples display bad theology or bad manners, or when Jesus rebuked the strong winds sinking the boat, or when Peter rebuked Jesus for proclaiming a suffering Messiah. A rebuke is essentially putting you in your place. The crowd is blinded to the opportunity for the miraculous to happen, for the messiah to bring sight to the blind. Somehow, they do not want to see. This does not stop Bartimaeus, on the contrary, he cries out even more loudly again: “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
At this point Jesus does something he hasn’t done at any point in Mark’s gospel. He stands still. Imagine that. Jesus, our Jesus, is on the move constantly. Of course, at some points in time he was still in prayer, in conversation, in healing. However, this is the first time our Gospel text notes it. Bartimaeus has caught Jesus’ attention. Now Jesus has observed how the crowd has attempted to silence Bartimaeus, so instead of addressing Bartimaeus directly, Jesus has the crowd bring him over.
Bartimaeus doesn’t waste any time. He throws his cloak aside. This is significant. For a blind man, the cloak was his table to gather money. The cloak was his protection against the elements. It was his sleeping bag. Would he be so sure it would be there when he returned? If he returned? He was leaving his past behind, without even a guarantee. He was placing total trust and confidence in Jesus.
Now Jesus has a question for Bartimaeus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks – no beating around the bush, yet no assumptions. Bartimaeus’ responded simple and clear: “My teacher, let me see again.” Apparently, he had vision once. Jesus reacts by telling Bartimaeus “Go, your faith has made you well.” Faith in the gospels means a trusting relationship with Jesus, engaging oneself in the ministry of Jesus to the world. Bartimaeus sees and as a result, he “followed Jesus on the way.” He left the beggar behind and became a disciple.
Our lives of faith go from periods of darkness and blindness to sight. God calls us to recognize how loved we are in Jesus, how gifted we are in the Holy Spirit, how privileged we are to serve as a people of faith in this world. Sometimes, like the exiles returning to Jerusalem, we forget who we are. We have to start over. In our exile we became blinded to the truth of our being. The good news, however, is that, like for Bartimaeus, we get to begin again. We can regain our sight. To see who we are in Christ, and to see others through the eyes of God. This is the vision we are called to embrace.
I wanted us to wear these masks today for another reason: to share a story about one of my children’s favorite movies when they were growing up: the 2004 Pixar computer-animated movie called the Incredibles. Has anyone here seen it? It’s a story about a handful of superheroes who are left in the world and are in hiding because their lives are threatened. There’s a family of superheroes trying to lead an ordinary, hidden life. The children are discouraged from using their abilities. Their former life as crime-fighting superheroes is completely shunned. However, as the nasty super villain Syndrone threatens to take over the world and destroy the remaining superheros, a decision must be faced. Does the family move into action?
Part of being a superhero is being able to see that everyone has a gift to benefit the world. That we are a gifted people. To defeat evil, our gifts must work together. It’s not like Superman, or Batman or the Lone Ranger, who individually get all the glory. Here, everyone’s gift is needed. They must cooperate with one another. So, in the Incredibles, the parents see this, and seeing this they make a decision to support their children into becoming superheroes. Yes, even the children help defeat evil. The rite of passage of course is putting on the uniform and the mask – a mask which looks like the mask some of us have kept on till now. That most of us are holding in our hands, afraid to put it on, afraid to take the chance, afraid to answer the call.
For our church to thrive, we need to see underneath all the masks we wear and see whom God has called us to be in the world – an incredible. I challenge you to put on the mask once more – so you can see yourself as an incredible. We need to open our eyes to our individual gifts and the gifts that are present here, and in each other, and in our community. We must work together and serve together. Call them out. Encourage them in each other. Promote the justice and peace, and faith that following Jesus entails,
Today I want us to see. Look around at each other. Look at each other with new eyes. We can do incredible things, work together making the kingdom of the Son of David a reality. Can you see it? If so, what perfect vision that would be. Amen.