Two responses to the call to discipleship

Two responses to the call to discipleship: Mark 10:17-23; Mark 10:46-52.
Steve Clemens, CSM Shared Word. 10/29/06

Mark 10:17-23; 46-52
Jesus was setting out on a journey when a man ran up, knelt before him and put this question to him, 'Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?' Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments; You shall not kill; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not give false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.' And he said to him, 'Master, I have kept all these since my earliest days.' Jesus looked steadily at him and he was filled with love for him, and he said, 'You need to do one thing more. Go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me. But his face fell at these words and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" The disciples were amazed at his words. …
Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stopped and said, "Call him." So they called to the blind man, "Cheer up! On your feet! He's calling you." Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. "What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, "Rabbi, I want to see." "Go," said Jesus, "your faith has healed you." Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

The Biblical call to discipleship includes a call to repentance. Repentance represents discontinuity with the established order. But for those entitled within the system, the greatest social value is continuity. It is essential for the continuation of empire to have continuity. You can see this, if I may say so, in the recent endorsement of a political candidate for Congress made from the pulpit by the pastor of a suburban mega-church. Mac Hammond’s endorsement of Michele Bachman was a call to continuity with the present politics of tax cuts for the wealthy and pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps reality for the rest.

The 10th chapter of Mark’s Gospel gives us two different stories of the call to discipleship, the call to follow Jesus. The first story is often called “The Rich Young Man” or sometimes the rich young ruler although the Markan text doesn’t mention his age and only tells us he was a wealthy landowner. Jesus is often contrasting the greatest vs. the least, the first vs. the last. Here, the rich man in contrast with the poor blind beggar, Bartimaeus. Here the greatest/least contrast focuses on the issue of economic class and social privilege. Note: the rich man seeks to inherit eternal life. The phrase smacks of privilege and economic class! When Jesus recites the Commandments to the rich man, one of the statutes he lists is not part of the original 10: “Do not defraud”, a clear reference to economic exploitation. When the man replies that he has kept all of them (a questionable assumption given his wealth), the text says Jesus looks at him and loves him.

This is the only reference in Mark where Jesus is described as loving someone. It is in contrast to the love of wealth. In one of Jesus’ parables, he talks about one being possessed by one’s possessions. Jesus demand of this man was not different than his call to Peter and Andrew, James and John to “leave their nets” and follow. What is different in this story is Jesus’ stipulation to “give it to the poor”. Here again is the contrast and reversal by Jesus - now between “heaven” and “earth”: “give it to the poor (on earth)” and you shall have treasure (in heaven).

Jesus has concluded that this man is not “blameless” at all – he has gotten his wealth by “defrauding” the poor and Jesus is calling for restitution. Jesus “loves” him by trying to free him of his “addiction” to wealth.

But alas, he went away sad “for he was a man of great wealth”. This is the only discipleship rejection story in Mark’s Gospel. What the rich man was unable to do, the disciples have already done – they have left and followed yet they are “astonished” when Jesus points out how “hard it is for those who have riches to enter the Kin-dom of God”. But the disciples still don’t quite get it- in the synoptic gospels, the story of the rich man is followed by the brothers Zebedee, James and John requesting the position on the left and right of Jesus when he is glorified! So Mark reports another story – this time contrasting Bartimaeus with the rich man.

Jesus and the disciples are on the way to Jerusalem for the final showdown with the authorities- both religious and the military occupiers. It was probably a good location for beggars, hitting up those traveling to Jerusalem to make their religious pilgrimage. Bartimaeus cries out when he hears that Jesus is nearby. A large crowd is traveling with Jesus and tries to silence Bartimaeus. But Jesus calls him to approach. Unlike the rich man who wouldn’t or couldn’t liquidate his fortune, Bartimaeus sets aside his cloak – which he had probably spread out so passers-by could drop their coins, jumped up and went to Jesus. Some versions have him saying “I want to see again”.

The man at the top of the social pecking order chooses to reject the direct invitation of Jesus – but not Bartimaeus. Even though he is at the bottom of the social order, he doesn’t even wait for the invitation- he “follows Jesus on the way”. The first have become last, and the last first. “Again” might signal the need to recommit (again) if we get distracted (blind) along the way. Often, I find, that after starting to follow Jesus, we lose our way or get distracted and we must, once again, choose to follow Jesus.

Ched Myers in his book, Who Will Roll Away the Stone?: Discipleship Queries for First World Christians views this story from the lens of the 12 Step Movement. (Pg 174-175)
Let us return one more time to the story of the rich man, reading now from the perspective of repentance as therapeutic intervention. “Gazing at him Jesus loved him” (10:21. This is the pastoral response to someone who is addicted. Jesus invites him to join the community of recovery: “Come, follow me.” But to begin the process he must deconstruct his entitlement. Why? Because just as the alcoholic must at some point stop drinking in order to start recovering, the entitled must give up economic control in order to experience the Great Economy (10:29f). “How difficult it is,” remarks Jesus as the man slumps away, for those possessed by possession to “enter into” the sobriety of economic justice! To drive this point home Mark follows this episode with two stories that illustrate contrasting responses to the notion of discipleship as recovery. The first, a highly caricatured, tragicomic portrait of the inner discipleship circle, symbolizes their retreat from the via cruces (10:32-34) deeper into the illusions of entitlement (10:35-45). When Jesus tries to point out their addiction, they react with fierce denial (10:39). This vignette about codependent religion in a society captive to the pathologies of domination (10:42f) ought to make the church in the locus imperii shudder.

The second episode is a portrait of conversion as “the courage to change”: the story of Bartimaeus (10:46-52). This blind beggar stands in piercing contrast to the rich man and the ambitious disciples at every point. He is poor, landless, and disabled – a victim of the system, not its beneficiary. He dares not approach Jesus directly as a social equal with his request, as did the rich man and the disciples. He inquires persistently, not after the mysteries of eternal life or the top posts in the new administration, but after mercy (10:47f). Because of his low station, the disciples, ever anxious to enforce propriety, try to impede him (they had, of course, no objection to the rich man’s importunity). Yet Bartimaeus is willing to give up what little he has to achieve liberation; the beggar’s cloak he casts off represents the tool of his panhandler’s trade (10:49). Then comes an echo that is surely the sharpest arrow in Mark’s quiver:
Jesus said to the disciples, “What do you want me to do for you? They answered, “Grant us to sit on your right and left hand in glory!”(10:36f)

Jesus said to the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you? He answered, “Master, that I might see again!” (10:51)

This contrast brings us to the crux of the matter.

Jesus cannot answer the rich man’s question because he will not deconstruct his entitlement. Jesus cannot grant the disciples’ request because it is based on delusions of grandiosity. He cannot help these would-be followers because he is committed to breaking addition, not feeding it. So the rich man slinks away and the covetous disciples are scolded by their envious colleagues (10:41). But Jesus can welcome Bartimaeus because Bartimaeus knows he is blind. He is willing to make a decisive break with the system, he is willing to risk revising everything: “Let me see again!” So this time Jesus’ invitation to “Get up!” receives a different response. “He followed on the Way”: Bartimaeus embraces the discipleship journey of recovery, which is his healing (10:52).

Mark’s Gospel is not as concerned with the Confession of Faith but rather who you imitate or follow. While the upcoming elections are important for our civic life, our “politics”, as John Howard Yoder would say, is very much more than our votes. I’m not going to endorse any candidates from this “pulpit” like Mac Hammond did. Instead, I urge you to discern who/what you can or cannot support in our public lives in the context of following a man who was executed by the state with the express approval of the religious establishment.

Jesus’ call to the Rich Man, to Blind Bartimaeus, and to us is: Follow Me.

Ray and I heard a Brian Sirchio song at the Seven Storey Farm Barn Concert the other week that is relevant to our text. Ray will share it with us to conclude this shared word.

Bryan Sirchio. "Follow Me" (87 Times)
I met this preacher from Australia
He read the Bible searching for its dominant themes
And he counted 87 times when Jesus said... "Follow me."
Well you know that got me thinking
Maybe that's the bottom line of what "Christian" means
'Cause "I follow Jesus" is deeper than "I believe"
'Cause it don't take much to mentally agree
With a set of beliefs written down in some creed
Now don't get me wrong,
we need to know what we believe
But lately I've been wondering...
Am I following Jesus, or just believing in Christ
'Cause I can believe and not change a thing
But following will change my whole life
He never said, come, acknowledge my existence
Or believe in me I'm the 2nd person of the Trinity
But 87 time he said... Follow me
But if I'm a follower of Jesus,
Then why am I such a good life insurance risk?
And why, when I do my giving,
do I still keep so much when so much hunger exists?
And if I follow Jesus, then why do I have so many friends
among the affluent, and so few among the poor?
And if I follow Jesus,
why do missiles and guns make me feel more secure?
And it don't take much to mentally assent
To a statement of faith we can confirm and forget
But following will change our lifestyle if we get it and
more and more I'm wondering...

Yes, we need to know what we believe,
to follow the Jesus who's real
God save us from the Christ's we create in our image
(you know what I mean...)
The Jesus who's as left wing or right wing as we
The one who baptizes our cherished ideologies
The one who always seems to favor our side
against some enemy
Now I don't mean to sound self-righteous
God knows I've got more questions than answers to proclaim
But its been over 20 years now since Jesus called my name
So forgive me if I'm mistaken
But there's something wrong with a lot of churches
in America these days
And I think the Spirit's trying to tell us
There's a question that the churches need to raise...
Are we following Jesus? Or just believing in Christ?
'Cause we can believe, and not change a thing
But following will change our whole life
He never said, come, acknowledge my existence
Or believe in me, I'm your first class ticket to eternity...
But 87 times he said... Follow me...

Words & Music by Bryan C. Sirchio
© 1999 Crosswind Music Ministries
All Rights Reserved -