Scripture: Mark 10:46-52
Between Avenue A and B, alongside East seventh and tenth streets, lies a beautiful little park.
The park has a dog run and grass for spending time outside away from the concrete jungle that surrounds it. There’s a basketball court, a baseball court, shaded places, and great eateries nearby. In the last couple of decades, it’s become a popular spot for residents of Alphabet City.
This particular park was reconstituted in the early 90’s, after the city shut it down under the auspices of renovation. Their efforts, along with the gentrification of the neighborhood, has changed the tenor of the park from a site of human suffering to a family friendly play place.
At roughly 10.5 acres, New York City’s Tompkins Square Park is small by the standards of many parks, but through the energy of locally engaged citizens, it’s been transformed.
It’s located in the Alphabet City portion of the East Village in Manhattan and plays host to a diverse community of folks who live around this rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. Pictures online give it a cozy, relaxing, family-friendly feel.
Tompkins Square Park first came to my attention on the latest album by the band Mumford and Sons. The very first song on the album shares its name with this tiny tree-laden park, overshadowed in fame by the likes of Central Park.
Prior to Mumford, I’d never heard of the park, and after listening to the song, I started to wonder why they chose this particular park for their title.
Rather than a cozy, relaxing, family-friendly feel, the song speaks of hurt, pain, and suffering, from what sounds to me like a break-up. The lyrics bespeak of one person who has realized that their relationship is built on lies. It’s a tough song, with difficult lyrics, not in the typical way with harsh words and grotesque concepts, but tough because it speaks of a hurting heart, a wounded soul; the consequences of tearing apart two people in deep relationship.
According to the song, they meet in Tompkins Square Park to have this harmful conversation. It seems there’s no healing possible, only harm through the consequences of dissolving an intimate relationship.
The song makes my heart hurt as I remember moments in my own life where relationships have failed, where hurt seems to have overcome any opportunity for healing. Those are painful, difficult, moments, where we feel “swallowed up by doubt” even as we realize that in some relationships, “no flame lasts forever.” (Mumford and Sons, “Tompkins Square Park,” Wilder Mind) In these moments, it’s as if the bottom falls out of our soul, and what had filled us falls to the floor, leaving us empty. The loss of relationship, no matter how significant or insignificant it was, is always painful.
This park has also been the site of other suffering. It has a history of protests turned to riots, of homelessness and the forced removal of the same, of controversy and, ultimately, sadness. For most of its life, until the mid 1990s in fact, this park was synonymous not with a cozy family friendly feel, but with the memory of brutally suppressed uprisings from the least of these. Its history means that, within its bones, Tompkins Square Park is a place full of hurt, pain, and harm. It is a place of scars, silently bearing witness to a fact of existence: life creates wounds that require healing.
We can relate. We are a people who know pain, hurt, disease, ailment, loss, break-ups, and grief. We have known in our lifetimes what this park has known, what Mumford and Sons knows, and what the people at the gates of Jericho knew: life creates wounds that require healing.
Tompkins Square Park reveals why we are here today: we are a people in need of healing.
The gates of Jericho, like any major city in Palestine, had much in common with the history of Tompkins Square Park. At the gates, the needy, beggars, and those rejected by society gathered. They wrapped themselves in cloaks both to try and protect themselves from the elements and to hide their disgrace. Normally, they were rejected, ignored, and dismissed. Bartimaeus was just such a beggar, wrapped in a cloak, daily sitting by the gates of Jericho, hoping for some alms.
Jesus, in the gospel of Mark, like other gospels, is making his way on foot gradually toward Jerusalem. As he travels, Mark tells us of stories of Jesus healing, of Jesus prophesying, teaching, and scolding. As Jesus nears Jericho, on the way to Jerusalem, he’s followed by a crowd. This crowd has much in common with the crowds we find around celebrities today. People know Jesus is something special. A prophet? A great teacher? A new moses? The reincarnation of Elijah? And even though they can’t quite define him, because they know he’s something special, they want to be near him.
As Jesus nears the gate to leave Jericho and head to Jerusalem, the crowd remains around him. I can see them peppering Jesus with questions, like modern day journalists gathered around a politician trying to get a quote. They, like a good journalist, are trying to figure out who this Jesus character is.
The buzz of questions, the drone of conversation around Jesus, means it’s loud amidst the crowd. Above this din, Bartimaues shouts, pleads, exclaims, cries out for healing: “Son of David, have mercy on me!” While the crowd tries to shun him, this blind beggar will not go unseen.
The crowd rejects Bartimaeus at first. They’re enthused with Jesus and have no time for this beggar. Plus, it’s not hard to imagine their embarrassment at a beggar bothering this high celebrity. So they shun him, just as they have always done daily as he sits by the gates, begging, seeking help.
The crowd, it turns out, is blind. They can’t see what the blind beggar can: that Jesus, the Son of David, the Messiah, has come to heal. And so, Bartimaeus cries out for healing. The crowd tries to stop him, but they simply cannot.
Jesus sees him, too. And he reaches out and heals Bartimaeus, whose name means son of honor. Certainly, he proved honorable in his faith. No matter the hurt and pain of his physical ailment, no matter the harm done by societal shunning, he knows the Messiah when he, in his blindness, sees him.
But the crowd, full of physical sight, is blind to the reality of the person of Jesus in their midst.
We’re all a people in need of healing.
Maybe this morning, you can relate to the person of Bartimaeus. You have a physical ailment and it’s in need of healing. You’ve long wrestled with your health and it’s left you defeated, wounded, and hopeless. That fight has depleted your finances such that you relate to his begging, for you know what it is to be in financial need. Maybe your physical ailment, and the fight itself, has caused you to lose relationships or put distance between you and people with whom you were once close. Maybe even that fight has put distance between you and God as you question why God would allow you to suffer. You know what it is to be shunned and, perhaps, even carry shame with you, just as Bartimaeus would have. Your body and your heart’s been hurt and you need the warm embrace of Jesus. If this is the case, you’re a person in need of healing.
Maybe this morning, you relate to the crowd itself. Jesus is an intellectual curiosity, a worthy pursuit in our heads but not in our hearts. It’s fashionable in your life to say you follow Jesus around, but unlike Bartimaeus, only your brain believes. Like the crowd, you’re a groupie, you have the right lingo, you have the right symbols around you, your Bible sits on your coffee table. Or perhaps you relate to the crowd in the shunning, mindful and convicted of times you have shunned others or looked down upon the lease of these. Either way, it’s a sign that perhaps your heart is unconnected to God’s heart and you have yet to cry out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” If this is the case, you, too, are a person in need of healing.
And maybe this morning you relate to the loss of relationship represented by Bartimaeus as one shunned by society, as seen in the break-up sung about in Tompkins Square Park. He was alone, with no family and friends to take care of him. And he had daily reminders of the loss of relationship as people ignored, dismissed, or even ridiculed him. Perhaps you can relate to such shunning. Or perhaps simply to the loss of relationship. In this life, we experience betrayal from those we once held dear; we experience the loss of respect for those we once esteemed; we experience the loss of intimacy in relationships once central to our very existence. Families fall apart, friendships end, marriages dissolve, all leaving their wounds in our hearts. If any of this describes you, you are a person in need of healing.
In all these ways, whether we relate to Bartimaeus’s physical suffering or loss of relationship; whether we relate to the crowd, or are frustrated with the crowd for their shunning, we all cry out for healing. The question as we cry out for healing is this: are we blind like the crowd to who Jesus really is, or do we have eyes to see Jesus as the healer he is?
In our woundedness, in our suffering, we must, this morning, cry out like Bartimaeus to the living Jesus, the risen Savior, who still offers healing to us this day, even if we can’t see him physically. Our cries are heard by our Savior who is always reaching back, offering us healing. “The greatest healing of all is the reunion or reconciliation of a human being with God. When this happens, physical healing sometimes occurs, mental and emotional balance is often restored, spiritual health is enhanced, and relationships are healed. For the Christian, the basic purpose of spiritual healing is to renew and strengthen one’s relationship with the living Christ.” (Book of Worship, 614)
Healing comes when we throw ourselves into the arms of our Savior. No matter the barriers in our lives, no matter the crowds of people who stand in our way, no matter the physical limitations, no matter how ostracized we might feel, no matter how wounded we might be from broken relationships, no matter how angry we might be with God, we must cry out to Jesus, for in our cries, like those of Bartimaeus, we’re always heard and healing is offered.
And that healing might take many forms.
Sometimes, healing comes through miracles, like the giving of sight to Bartimaeus. The Bible and life around us is full of examples of miraculous healings that defy medical explanation. Certainly, God reserves the right to heal us in just that way.
But other times, healing can seem more mundane and yet is still powerful. It’s the restoration of relationship, it’s the joy of finding a community who won’t reject or mistreat you, it’s the loving embrace of a loved one, its the healing of an inner wound from our history, its the peace that passes understanding even while we struggle with cancer, its the hope we discover even when all seems lost, its the joy we know in the memory of a life now gone from our lives; healing takes many forms, but it always comes from the love of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who knows our suffering, gave himself up for us, and continues to provide for us out of that same unconditional love.
Life has much in common with Tompkins Square Park. Our bones, too, are full of hurt, pain, and harm. We receive it and we give it away. The old adage is true: hurting people hurt people.
So stop being a hurting person. Cry out for healing. Throw yourself at Jesus through the barriers. Don’t let the crowd stop you. Don’t let your blindness stop you. Open your eyes to see Jesus for the healer he is.
If, this morning, you related most to Bartimaeus because you suffer with physical ailments; cry out to Jesus, who’s always offering love that heals. It may not release you from your malady, but Jesus is there, ready to offer you the love that heals your soul, the hope that grants you a vision of the future, and a peace that reigns no matter your health.
If you find yourself a member of the crowd, cry out to Jesus, too. Give of your whole self. Ask yourself why you keep Jesus at a distance in your head and won’t give your heart and soul. You’re a person in need of healing, of a different kind, but yet still of healing. You need God’s love in every aspect of your life, not just in your intellectual pursuits and not just at church. And if you’re angry with God, be angry and ask God to come in and heal you there, too.
And if you hurt today because of the loss of relationship, bring those scars and wounds before the throne of Jesus. Even if there can be no reconciliation in this life, no matter how long and dark the history of the relationship is, Jesus can heal us of those wounds, offering restoration of our souls, our love, and our lives.
We’re all a people who, in some respect, need the healing that can only come through the love of God. Don’t be blind like the crowd; choose to open your eyes to see Jesus for the healer he is.
In a minute, we’re going to have communion and a chance to come to the altar to present our need for healing before Christ himself. This is a chance to open our eyes to Jesus as our healer through ritual and the anointing of oil, just as Timothy recommends doing for the sick. Bring to the altar your pains, grief, and guilt, and anything else that burdens you, wounds you, or hurts you this day. Whether you need to break through the crowd, pray for the crowd, or find yourself in the midst of the crowd; if you feel as though you live a Tompkins Square Park kind of existence, where pain and hurt and harm seem to live in your bones, this is a chance to push through the barriers and encounter God’s love. Hurting people hurt people, and you need not be a hurting person anymore. Healing is offered this morning.
No physical healing miracles are guaranteed, nor are they the main point. The main point is to draw ourselves more deeply into the love of God. In the love of God, we find not pain, hurt, and harm, but the healing power of divinely given care, comfort, and safety. God’s love heals, and God is always reaching out with that love, a “love that will not betray you, dismay or enslave you; it will set you free.” (Mumford and Sons, Sigh No More, Sigh No More) Then, we will see Jesus for who he really is, the healer of our souls.
Whether you’re outside the crowd, in the crowd, or Bartimaeus himself, God’s love is there, ready to heal you. Embrace the power of God’s love in your life, reach out for it, cry out for it. Come forward and kneel at the altar after receiving the bread and the cup. Don’t let the barrier of the altar get in your way. Don’t worry about the people around you. This is a loving church and we come, this morning, to experience the power of that love that can heal.
For Jesus is here, waiting with open arms, to give you the healing love you need. This morning, can you see him?