We’ve all had that experience of someone trying to shush us. A “shush” is more severe than a polite request to hush; behind a shush there is a tone of command, perhaps even an implied threat.
“Shush,” my mother would say when she could see I was about to backtalk her in a big way. The back of her hand would move quickly toward my mouth, close enough for me to feel the breeze but never quite touching me. I was blessed with a mother who never would have hit me in such a way, but in the moment of doubt I experienced, I shushed.
The crowd in our story was doing something similar to blind Bartimaeus, but he was in no way backtalking anyone. Shush, they were saying. There is something important going on here. We’re moving on to big things. Don’t make us come over there and shush you, Bartimaeus.
You have to understand what was happening—revolution was in the air. Jesus was at his peak of popularity. The crowd, ultimately fickle but now cheering him on, followed him, ready to begin the 17-mile hike from Jericho to Jerusalem, where they were sure everything would change. This great prophet would be king, the Romans would be cast out, and the Jews would once again be a great people.
Jesus had been talking of great mysteries, using kingdom language as he spoke. A couple of the disciples were so impressed, they had begun to lobby for cabinet positions in Jesus’ court; who among them would be the greatest?
Jesus had tried to correct this view, in particular among his disciples. He had told them plainly he was going to Jerusalem to die—in hearing that, how did they fail to grasp victory would not be easy? He had told them repeatedly all of this was about the least. In this victory, there would be no sheep left behind.
But there the crowd was, shushing Bartimaeus. All the poor beggar asked was to receive what many in the crowd had sought and received, mercy in one form or another. In his case, he wanted to see again.
To their credit, when the people saw Jesus was interested in Bartimaeus, they stopped shushing him and started encouraging him. That’s the correct behavior for a kingdom march. You look around you. You see who needs to come along, and you pay particular attention to those who want in, regardless of their status.
We’re on our own kingdom march, aren’t we? Some of us look to Jesus and say, “There’s our Lord, there’s our king.” And we follow him.
We know that Jesus ultimately ended up crucified and buried. We also know he rose from that death, and out of that resurrection victory everything did change, in ways far greater than that crowd heading from Jericho to Jerusalem could have imagined.
We march together now toward a time of perfect peace and healing. We march toward the end of the reign of evil and death, replaced by the eternal rule of the one who is right and just.
And thanks in part to Bartimaeus’ story, we know the march is for everyone who wants to join. No one is to be shushed.
Some of you may not be sure you’re wanted along on the march. You’ve lived on the margins for awhile. You don’t quite fit in; you cannot figure out how anyone would ever think of you as “Christian.” Maybe your past sins seem too big. Maybe you think you lack status, job, money, or clothes necessary to fit in.
Don’t be shushed. Christ’s mercy is for you, too.
Some of you are clearly with the crowd, ready to march on. Those of you at my current appointment, Luminary UMC, are the best I have ever seen at welcoming and accepting people of all kinds. I have quickly come to love this church for its openness. But I say all that to lead up to this: Even we can do better.
I’ve been amused the last few months as I’ve watched a couple of people enter our building wearing “do-rags,” those bandannas folded and tied to cover the head. (One was actually an acquaintance of mine.) For some reason, some of you shrink back when a stranger walks in wearing one. I even heard a couple of people whisper hoarsely, “Who’s that?”
Let’s not be shushing people with our words or body language. Each one may be a modern-day Bartimaeus in a bandanna, seeking God’s mercy.
When our march ends, we’re all going to be surprised at the people Jesus reached. And remember, there probably will be people who will be surprised to see you and me there.