Mark 10:46-52; Mark 8:27-30
The Rev. Tom Herbek
March 13, 2016
Sometimes when we ask for help, we don’t get exactly what we need. Erma Bombeck’s husband made a suggestion:
”You know what you really need is some help around here,” he said. “What if we got you a housekeeper to help?”
“You’re too kind,” I said, “but I still haven’t gotten over Mrs. Rutledge.”
“I remember it was an unpleasant experience, but I honestly never saw the woman.”
I never saw the woman either. We communicated by notes on the refrigerator. They were usually a day apart.
The first day on the job she wrote, “Mrs. Bombeck: There is a dog’s mess at the end of the sofa.” Signed, Wilma.
The next morning I left her a note: ”Wilma; I know.” Signed, Mrs. Bombeck.
The following day: “Mrs. Bombeck, what do you want me to do with it?” Signed, Wilma.
A reply was posted the next day: “Wilma, you are limited on options. You can surround it with sand and use it as a putting green, gift-wrap it and amaze your friends, or clean it up. I prefer the latter.” Signed, Mrs. Bombeck.
The next day she wrote, “Mrs. Bombeck: I was going to clean up the you-know-what, but the sweeper smells funny and sounds strange and won’t pick up anything. Can you fix it?” Signed,Wilma.
The next morning, a new note from Wilma said, ”The sweeper works fine. What did you do to it?”
I wrote a note the following day. “Wilma: I emptied the sweeper bag.” Mrs. Bombeck.
Several weeks passed before a new note appeared. “Mrs. Bombeck: You know that little problem I told you about two weeks ago. I think I solved it. I moved the sofa over it and you can hardly notice it now.” Signed, Wilma.
The note the next morning was short: ”Wilma, you’re fired.” Signed, Mrs. Bombeck.
Wilma’s last epistle appeared the next morning. ”Mrs. Bombeck: There is another dog mess I didn’t tell you about. It’s hard to find. I’m the only one who knows where it is.
Good-bye.” Signed, Wilma.
- Family – The Ties That Bind….And Gag
Sometimes when we ask for something, it doesn’t turn out exactly as we had hoped. When Jesus asks questions, he not only hears what people give as their answer from their mind, but the much deeper answer in their hearts. When Jesus asks Peter to tell him how other people see Jesus, who they think Jesus is, Peter gives him a list of responses that Peter has heard. When Jesus asks Peter, “But who do you say I am?”, Peter responds differently because Peter is also responding from his heart, not just his head.
Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson helps us to understand what it means to see who we are more deeply:
In the first book of the Harry Potter series, Harry finds himself in one of the Hogwarts castle’s many mysterious rooms. In it, he sees a large, ornate mirror. When he peers into the looking glass, he miraculously sees his parents, who appear to stand behind him and also gaze into the mirror. Harry is an orphan and deeply misses his parents, who were killed fighting against the evil Voldemort when Harry was young.
He runs to get his friend Ron and brings him to the secret room and its magical mirror, wanting to “introduce” Ron to his parents. But when Ron looks into the mirror, Ron sees himself being carried on the shoulders of his soccer teammates and celebrated as the one who won the game. Perplexed, they both go to their mentor and teacher Dumbledore, who explains that this is a very magical mirror whose special property is to reflect back to the one who looks into it “their true heart’s desire.” Harry has always felt alone in the world, without a family, without the continuing love of his parents. Ron has always felt unacknowledged and undervalued by his peers. And so when they look into the mirror, each sees what he most wants in the world.
Sometimes when Jesus asks what someone wants, he not only gives them what they ask for but what they need as well. On several occasions, he heals them of a particular malady (the easier part, he tells onlookers) but then proceeds to forgive them all their sins as well. He seems to know that we usually ask for the thing we think we want, believing it will make us happy and whole. But he understands that beneath the request for healing is a request that is deeper, often unspoken and even unknown to the one asking: a healing of the soul that offers the only true hope of happiness and wholeness.
Jesus’ question is profound because he is listening to the asker’s heart, not to his words. In this passage from Mark’s Gospel, Jesus knows that it is not Bartimaeus’ blindness that is killing him but everyone else’s condemnation of him because he is blind.
After all, blindness, illness and other conditions of suffering were seen at the time as evidence of one’s sin, or that of the person’s forebears. And that meant that this blind beggar was being treated by the society that surrounded him as someone who was getting what he deserved. What Bartimaeus really wants and needs is to be treated like the child of God he is.
- What Did Jesus Ask
And, of course, that is a large part of what we all want in our lives. If you ask people who have been helped by self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous what it is that made it so different for them, the first response of so many is: “I felt accepted for who I was.”
It is said that Martin Luther showed a deep, almost therapeutic empathy with people. Introduced once to a man who compulsively crowed like a cock, Luther crowed along with him, for seven days. On the eighth day, he announced, “I no longer have to crow – and neither do you.” The man was cured.
What we all seek in our hearts is acceptance, but not acceptance of the outward self that we present to the world. Of course, that is nice, but what we really need is to be accepted for who we are in our hearts. And we are looking for someone with integrity who will accept us and care about us. Rachel Remen describes a young adult named George who was having trouble accepting his apartment-mate, a substance-abuser named Michael. George, a Buddhist, had struggled with this for some time when he came to see Dr. Remen:
Their relationship reached a crisis point one evening when George brought home a young woman whose opinion mattered a great deal to George. Opening the front door, he was stunned to find Michael shirtless and dazed, sprawled on the living room floor. He had vomited on himself.
“I looked at the expression on Liz’s face and I just lost it,” George told me ruefully. “I picked Michael up, pushed him into the bathroom, turned on the shower and shoved him into it.”
“I remember standing there with the cold water pouring down on both of us, slamming him against the wall and shouting the most terrible things. I called him names. I told him all the things I had struggled for months not to think and feel. And then I gave him an ultimatum – clean up or get out. It was just too hard to watch him throw himself away and I was not going to do it. When he seemed awake, I changed my wet clothes, and went home with Liz.”
When he returned to the apartment the next day, he hoped Michael would not be there.
But Michael was there. Pale and obviously unwell, but straight, Michael was sitting on the couch waiting. They talked. George heard about things he had not known. How Michael, the only child of a socially prominent and wealthy family, had been raised by paid strangers and sent away to boarding school at seven. How he had been sent away to camp during the summers. How he had been given anything he wanted but no one had thought him worth their time or attention. No one had ever cared what he did with himself the way that George seemed to care last night.
In the shower Michael had understood that his life mattered to George, that what he was doing was causing George pain. Quietly he told George that he knew he was in trouble, had known it for months, but hadn’t thought that anyone would care to help, would spend the time to help. “Would you help me, George?” he asked, and began to cry.
This all happened some years ago and the story has a happy ending. For a year, the two went nightly to a cocaine addiction program. It wasn’t easy but together they were successful. Michael is now a well-established businessman with a loving wife and a small child. George, in reflecting back on this time, feels that it was a major learning experience for him.
“I was always trying to get it right. Between Buddhism and business school I was always working on myself, my reactions, and my feelings to meet some standard of excellence. Somehow, it had never occurred to me that who I really was could be all right. If God had wanted Michael to live with Buddha he would have given him Buddha for a roommate. Instead he gave him a caring middle-class guy from a traditional midwestern family whose parents had never even been drunk. When I finally acted from my integrity, I was just what was needed. In the end, all I had to give to Michael was my integrity. And it was enough.”
- Kitchen Table Wisdom
When we care about people with integrity, with who we really are, then it is different than superficial caring, caring that is distant and judgmental. This caring from the heart, this companioning of people with integrity, is faith. Faith is the ability to see the people around us with new eyes.
To relate to people with integrity is to look with new eyes, to see not just with our mind, but with our heart. It starts with acceptance of who they are and calls them to become who they can be. Brene Brown, in her book, Rising Strong, describes some research she did about why people are the way they are, and how we who wish to help can approach them. Her research question was this: Do you believe that people are doing the best they can?
One night she asked her husband Steve, a pediatrician whose practice included people from all walks of life, how he would answer the research question: “He thought about it for a solid ten minutes. As a pediatrician, Steve sees the best and the worst in people. He just kept staring out the window.
I could tell he was struggling with the question. Steve said, ‘I don’t know. I really don’t. All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.’”
She asked the question of a group of clergy who serve rural families living in poverty:
I had asked these men and women to think of someone they find themselves judging and holding resentment toward, and to write that person’s name on a piece of paper. Then I asked them to pretend with me for a minute. “What if you had it on the highest authority that the person whose name you wrote down is doing the very best that he or she can do?”
There was immediate resistance. I don’t believe it. Who is the authority? This was easy. These were clergy! I said, “God says so.” One woman burst into tears. She and her husband were sitting next to each other. They are both deacons and, without conferring, they had written down the same person’s name. I asked her if she felt like sharing what she was feeling with the group.
James, the person they both referenced, was a man with six young children who lived in a trailer in the desert. Both he and his wife had long addiction histories, and Children’s Services had been in and out of their lives for years. The clergy brought James and his family food, diapers, and baby formula on a regular basis, but they were convinced that he sold the goods for drinking money at least as often as he used them for his family.
In a shaky voice, she said, “If God told me that James was doing the best he can, I would do one of two things: I would continue to bring him what I could, when I could, and withhold judgment, or I would decide that giving anything directly to James is not something I can continue to do. Either way, I would need to stop being so angry, stop judging, and stop waiting for something different to happen.” Her husband put his arm around her. Fighting back his own tears, he looked at the group and said, “We’re just so tired. So tired of being angry and feeling taken for granted.”
In other responses to this same question in other settings, one man said, “if he’s really doing the best he can, I’m a total jerk, and I need to stop harassing him and start helping him.” One woman said, “If this was true and my mother was doing the best she can, I would be grief-stricken. I’d rather be angry than sad, so it’s easier to believe she’s letting me down on purpose than to grieve the fact that my mother is never going to be who I need her to be.”
Brown goes on to say: “This doesn’t mean that we stop helping people set goals or that we stop expecting people to grow and change. It means that we stop respecting and evaluating people based on what we think they should accomplish, and start respecting them for who they are and holding them accountable for what they’re actually doing. It means that we stop loving people for who they could be and start loving them for who they are. It means that sometimes when we’re beating ourselves up, we need to stop and say to that harassing voice inside, ‘Man, I’m doing the very best I can right now.’”
If we, like Jesus, could accept people as they are, believe that they are doing the best they can, and yet help them through our acceptance to see with new eyes, then we are living the journey of faith. When we ask, “What do you want me to do for you?,” then we must listen – with integrity – to what we hear, not just with our ears and our minds, but also with our hearts. And, if we are able to believe that most people are really doing the best they can at the moment, we can not only accept them for who they are at that moment, but also we can accept ourselves for who we are at this moment: Growing, caring, faithful people doing the best we can and compassionately accepted by our loving God.