A number of years ago, I heard the Rev. Tony Campolo preach. You may have heard of him – he is an evangelical preacher/teacher who has a strong peace & justice voice. He often works with Jim Wallis, another strong peace and justice preacher who leads Sojourners. Pastor Campolo does not fit neatly into any one category. You might think, as he’s an avowed Evangelical, that he’s a died in the wool Republican Trump supporter. But he’s not. He’s Conservative and Liberal, Left and Right. Pastor Campolo says that he prefers to be called a “Red-letter Christian.” In fact, he wrote a book about it…
Red-letter is a reference to those Bibles that put the words of Jesus into red print. Pastor Campolo said that he feels that rather than looking to a political party or a litmus test of social concerns as indicators of right living and righteousness, the Christian community would be better served to just follow the red-letter words in the New Testament, to put into practice the words of Jesus. If we did just that – put into practice the red-letter words – and left the rest to God, we and the world would see the Kingdom of God come to earth much sooner than if we continue to concentrate on our differences and try to judge who is right and wrong on various issues.
My heart has been sick this week with so much violence and the threat of violence and the hatred and division found in this political season. I’m weary of it. So today, let’s just be ‘red-letter’ Christians and see what Jesus has to say to us.
In today’s gospel reading from Mark, Jesus is on his way up to Jerusalem. As you know, Mark’s gospel is short and he doesn’t mince words. So we begin with Jesus entering Jericho and in the next sentence leaving Jericho with the same people he entered with and an additional crowd. You remember from last week that the disciples have just heard James and John ask for special treatment when Jesus comes into power – perhaps thinking that this trip into Jerusalem is when Jesus is going to overthrow the Roman government and take power as Messiah. And Jesus tells the two and the rest that those who wish to rule must serve – a continuation of his conversation with the people about how difficult it is for the rich to get into heaven and that the last will be first and the first last in God’s upside-down kingdom.
Jesus passes through Jericho, adding on to the crowd around him as he moves through the town. And as they pass on through, blind Bartimaeus cries out for help. “Have mercy on me.”
Aren’t the needy annoying? This crowd had not yet mastered the art of not seeing and not hearing that we have perfected… Look maybe, but don’t respond, don’t acknowledge, do NOT make eye contact. This crowd tries to hush Bartimaeus, tries to keep him quiet. But he kept on crying out for help.
This is where that red-letter stuff kicks in. Jesus hears Bartimaeus’ cry. God hears the cries of the needy. Even when we try to keep them quiet. God always hears the cries of the needy, no matter how we might try to ignore or deny them.
Jesus hears the cry of Bartimaeus and asks that he be brought forward. Now the crowd encourages the blind man. Jesus has a teachable moment for his disciples, both then and now. Jesus knows Bartimaeus’ obvious need – he can see that the man is blind. Yet Jesus asks him what he needs. “What do you want me to do for you?” There it is. There are the red letters. Our response, if we are following Jesus, if we are disciples, is to listen to the cries of the needy and ask them what they need from us. “What do you want me to do for you?” The Messiah, the ruler of the universe, hears the cry of the needy and humbly asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” And then Jesus does as Bartimaeus asks. Jesus gives him his sight again. And so the needy man, healed, becomes a follower of Jesus.
I don’t know where you find yourself in this story this morning. Perhaps you feel like blind Bartimaeus – needy, hurting, not part of the inner circle but out there on the margins. There is good news for you – God always hears our cries, God always hears the cries of the needy. Jesus asks you, “What do you want me to do for you, today?” Tell God what you need – be as bold as Bartimaeus.
Or, you may identify with the crowd around Jesus. Your life isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough, and you are staying as close to Jesus as you can. Then, the message for us is to follow Jesus and listen for the cries of the needy. We are Christ’s hands and feet in this world. God delights in using us to meet the needs of the world. As part of the crowd, we are called to listen for the cries of the needy and to meet the need, whatever it is. We must practice saying, “What do you want me to do for you?”
I know it can be overwhelming to think about meeting the need we see in our world. There is so much work to be done and we can’t possibly meet every need. But, you know… Jesus didn’t heal every sick person in Palestine while he walked this earth. Jesus didn’t bring every dead man back to life. Jesus didn’t end poverty in his lifetime. Neither will we. We don’t need to feel guilty about what we can’t do, but we DO need to see the needy and we Do need to do something. I don’t know who you will run into this week. I don’t know who I’ll meet up with this week. I don’t know what will happen, but I can almost guarantee that some need will present itself and that as faithful followers of Jesus, we will be asked to see and hear and respond, to give of ourselves in some way to meet the need of a person whom Jesus loves. We will have a red-letter moment. We will be asked to live what we profess.
Almighty God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity. May we always be ready to love. Amen.