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The Persistent Pleader
October 16, 1988

ISAIAH 53:1-10; MARK 10:46-52

I plead not guilty to the inference in the bulletin this morning that the persistent pleader is Douglas Norris! On the other hand, it is coincidental that the sermon comes up during our financial campaign for 1989. While you are deliberating and praying over the amount of your covenant giving, what you will give to God's work, perhaps you feel you don't need more information from any more persistent pleaders! No, I'm not the persistent pleader this morning, but I'd like to tell you a story about a persistent pleader, using the Gospel of Mark as an example of how persistence triumphs.

Jesus was passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of the Passover. We know now looking back that this proved to be his last journey. He entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and died the following Friday. Jesus had left Jericho and was just beginning the 15 mile trek to Jerusalem. There was a large crowd of people with Jesus—his 12 disciples and other people who were traveling with him. And then there was a large crowd of people going to Jerusalem also to celebrate the Passover. They were walking. Jesus spent a great deal of time walking. It was the mode of transportation for most of the people in that day. Jesus took advantage of walking and taught while he walked. He did his teaching while he walked. He gathered his disciples around him, and others as they were interested, and talked to them, left and right over his shoulder as he walked along. He used real situations as material for his curriculum. He was a master teacher, teaching out of life, not out of books, using real people, and what was happening to the people as they walked along and as he pointed out this and that.

This is a wonderful method of teaching and it might prove to be a very excellent model for modern education. Look at all the money we would save on buildings! Palo Alto School District could sell off all its buildings with a clear conscience, and the money saved from not having to purchase or maintain buildings could be used to hire teachers. Maybe they could get the ratio down to 12-1 like Jesus and the disciples, instead of 20 or 30-1 as in most public schools, or 100-1 at Stanford. Can't you just see the teachers with their students around them walking up and down the streets teaching about nature as they walk, teaching about mathematics as they purchase food for lunch and all that candy and stuff, and using real life dramas that they see on the streets of Palo Alto to talk about morality and ethical principles. They could teach history by telling stories as they walked along how this community started and how our our country came into being. They could learn music like Maria taught “Do, Re, Mi” in The Sound of Music. I’m getting excited about it!. They could walk into stores and companies and learn about economics, learn about business, learn about vocational choice. Doesn’t that sound practical? Perhaps I should run for the school board or there is a position open now for Superintendent of the school.

Anyway, back to the story. Jesus was walking along the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. In the midst of the huge crowd of people, a blind beggar by the name of Bartimaeus was sitting alongside the road. He  heard all the commotion and asked, “What’s going on?” “Oh, they are the  people going to Jerusalem and that Jesus fellow is with them— Jesus from Nazareth, from the North Country, is with them.” The blind beggar had heard about Jesus. The news of Jesus’ teaching had spread far and wide, and the scandal of his going home to dine with Zacchaeus the tax collector, the hated tax collector. The Boys Choir sang about Zacchaeus this morning. The scandal spread like wildfire.

The blind beggar had heard of Jesus’ miracles. He had heard stories of healing, he had heard how the crippled walked, how the deaf heard, how the blind saw. He got so excited about the possibility of healing, he hollered. The blind beggar began to shout, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” And the crowd said, “For heaven's sake be quiet. We’re trying to hear. Quit interrupting!” But he persisted. He kept it up, he kept crying, “Jesus, son of David have mercy on me”. Most of us would have stopped. We would get embarrassed about being in the center of attention or making fools of ourselves. Some of us might work up courage from time to time to ask for something, to make our needs known; but at the first sign of resistance, the first obstacle, the first hint of embarrassment, we would probably quit.

Sometimes we ask God things in prayer. We ask God to answer our prayer once or twice, but if the prayer is not answered immediately, we shrug our shoulders and say, “Well, I didn't think it would work anyway.” Some of us probably would not have cried out in the first place. We would have sat there along the road side feeling unworthy or feeling shy. We don't want to call attention to ourselves. We don't want to impose on God as if God would be bothered by our needs. Or some people are real cynical and may feel God can’t help anyway so why ask. They doubt the power of God to actually touch a life. They doubt that God has the interest or the love or the power to actually come into a person’s life.

But not Bartimaeus, the persistent pleader. He kept it up. He kept asking, he kept hollering, he kept crying. He persisted in shouting and his persistence paid off. He got Jesus’ attention. Jesus heard his cry. Jesus stopped and said, “Call the one who's hollering and bring him to me.” So the people said to Bartimaeus, “Jesus has heard you and he wants to see you.” Bartimaeus went to Jesus and Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus replied, "O Master, let me receive my sight. Oh, let me see. Let me see the sky. Let me see a tree. Let me see a flower. Let me see a person's face. O Master, let me see!” And Jesus answered, “You have pleaded, you have persisted. Go and your faith has made you well.”

And immediately, (Mark liked the word “immediately”, he used the word immediately over and over. I like that word. It's a word of action.) Immediately Bartimaeus received his sight and immediately he followed Jesus to Jerusalem. Can you imagine the reaction of the crowd by the news that must have spread through that crowd all the way back to Jericho? Bartimaeus has been healed! Bartimaeus can see! Can you imagine how Bartimaeus felt—the elation, the gift he had been given! His persistence triumphed.

The persistent pleader had his prayer answered, but do you recall the Old Testament lesson? Did you hear the contrast between the two lessons? Isaiah chapter 53 is a beautiful moving poem about the suffering servant, the one who was despised, the one who was rejected, a man of sorrow and full of grief. And Isaiah 53:7 reads. “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth. Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.” There is a time to act. There is a time to open the mouth and make unique songs. And there is a time to open not your mouth. There is a time to be silent. There is a time to accept one’s lot in life in humility and acquiescence. There is a time to persistently plead and there is a time to acquiesce.

Several years ago, a blind man in Stockton refused surgery. The doctor was a surgeon who they were confident could perform the surgery that would correct the problem. They were certain that he would see. But yet he declined surgery. They asked him why. He said he knew several blind persons who had surgery, who saw for the first time in their lives, and then committed suicide. They couldn’t handle the situation. They couldn't cope with life now that they could see. I wonder why. Was there too much of a change? Was the world not as they pictured it? Was reality so different from fantasy? Or perhaps they they lacked the experience to filter out the ugly as we do. Consider how accustomed we get so we can no longer even see ugliness. We get to the point where we no longer see people sleeping in the street. A few years ago, we were horrified at the news of homeless people in India. Now we take homelessness for granted. And we don't want them in our parks and we don't want them in our neighborhoods. We fail to see the plight of the poor. We fail to see poverty. We become blind to ugliness, blind to poverty and blind to evil. But a blind person who suddenly can see doesn't have the perspective to cope. A blind person who suddenly can see doesn't know how to be blind to ugliness. Perhaps we should re-examine our filter and open our eyes, see the pain and the ugly around us.

There is a time to plead. There is a time to pray and ask God to change something in our lives. There is a time to ask. There's a time to persist and a time to keep it up until we get God's attention and God rewards the persistence by granting the request, but be careful. We may not really want what we are asking for. It may be wise to heed the blind man in Stockton who refused surgery rather than Bartimaeus who persisted. There's a time to plead, there's a time to accept, there’s a time to act, and  there’s a time to suffer, suffer in silence.

How do we know when to act and when to be silent? There is a phrase in the King James Bible—“discerning the time”. How do we discern the time? How do we know when it is time to seek a cure, and when it is time to refuse medication, to refuse the surgery? Isaiah said in our passage this morning. “It was the will of the Lord to bruise him. He has put him through grief.” It was the will of the Lord for the servant to suffer. Christians now read Isaiah and believe that he was talking about Jesus. And we believe that Jesus best fits the picture of the suffering servant Isaiah wrote about. Jesus knew the time. Jesus knew when it was time to fight, Jesus knew when it was time to confront the authorities. Jesus knew when it was time to preach.

When he began his ministry in the Gospel of Mark, his first sermon was, “The time has come. Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Jesus knew the time. Jesus knew when it was time to speak and Jesus knew when it was time to keep silent. Jesus knew when it was time to act and Jesus knew when it was time to accept. Jesus knew when it was time to fight and Jesus knew when it was time to acquiesce. Jesus knew when it was the will of God to be bruised, to be put to grief and Jesus knew when it was time to take the cross, mount up that lonely hill of Golgotha and there meet his death. He knew the time.

The art of telling the time is the art of knowing, of discerning the will of God. Isaiah said it was the will of God for the servant to suffer. I preached a few weeks ago on the will of God, making the point that the will of God is our deepest innermost desire. What we really want deep down within us is the will of God. And according to Kazantzakis, when we're confronted with many choices, when we want many things, the will of God is usually the most difficult. Whatever makes you the better person, whatever best makes you into a disciple of Jesus Christ is the will of God. Discerning the will of God is a matter of prayer. Someone has said, “Prayer grows up when it ceases chattering and begins to listen.”

Deep within you is God’s voice telling you what is best for you at this time. Sometimes prayer is petition, asking, pleading persistently. Sometimes prayer is listening and receiving power, strength to accept and to acquiesce. Through prayer God will tell you which is appropriate—persistent pleading or when to keep silent.

© 1988 Douglas I. Norris