Lord, Mercy Me! (Mark 10:46-52)

22nd Sunday after Pentecost (October 24, 2021)

Mercy is a word permeating in our culture today; at least audibly, even though rarely witnessed visibly.  “Have a little mercy, Man!” a taxpayer pleads with a new invigorated and almost militarized IRS.  “Can’t you show a little mercy?” the small Mom and Pop grocery store pleads with the Big Box Store gobbling up the entire market share.  This word mercy is also profanely thrown around as if it is just another catch phrase or verbal emoji:  “Lord, have mercy!  I didn’t expect that!”  It is being utilized to describe the purposeful ending of a sufferer’s life.  They refer to it as “mercy killing.”  Mercy is utilized in a favorite southern expression “mercy me!”  Why it is even part and parcel of the name of a contemporary Christian music band; MercyMe.”

All this aside, it is worth our time to contemplate where we would all be without God’s mercy!  We regularly plead for it:  “Lord, have mercy!”  What are we actually asking for?  What is this mercy exactly?  Is it an emotion or an action?  Can we be saved without it?  Can we live without it?  How do we obtain mercy?

The holy evangelist Mark records for us that on one occasion as Jesus was making His way to Jerusalem, He passed through the infamous city of Jericho.  As He and his disciples, along with a great crowd, exited the city proper, a blind beggar by the name of Bartimaeus “was sitting along the roadside.  And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Our liturgical use of “Lord, have mercy!” has its origins right here in this Biblical narrative with Bartimaeus, as well as with two other blind men who earlier in Jesus’ ministry also cried out for that same mercy (Matt. 9:27), and the Canaanite woman who pleaded after Jesus to heal her demon possessed daughter (Matt. 15:22), and the father pleading for Jesus’ help for his demonized son (Matt. 17:15), and the ten lepers on the border of Galilee and Samaria wanting more than anything to be cleansed (Luke 17:13). 

Taken together all of these pleas for Jesus’ mercy teach us that mercy is not merely a condition of the heart like compassion might be.  In fact, this plea ought literally be translated, “Jesus, mercy me!”  This blind beggar sees, pardon the pun, that mercy is an action of Jesus he desires toward him.

Clearly, Jesus understands this.  He doesn’t reply to this poor man’s plea for mercy by saying, “Well, my good man, I do have mercy for you.”  No, Jesus calls upon the crowd to “call” the blind man to come to Him.

The crowd certainly recognized mercy when they saw it.  They said to Bartimaeus, “Take heart. Get up; He is calling for you.”  It was almost as if they assured him, “Hey, get up.  Good fortune has come your way today.  Jesus more than notices you.  He’s going help you!” 

There was no disappointment for Bartimaeus, either. When he approached Jesus, He literally asked the man, “What for you do you desire I do?”  Jesus did not just have compassion for the man’s plight.  He was planning to be merciful to him; that is do a compassionate thing for him. 

Now, here you and I might be a bit mystified by Jesus’ question.  After all, what the man was crying out for Jesus to do seems obvious, doesn’t?  He’s blind.  He wants to see. 

I think its safe to say, though, that Jesus also knew this.  By asking the question Jesus was not playing dumb or trying to make a spectacle of the man or his situation.  Someone capable of extending mercy doesn’t do such things. 

No, by asking the question Jesus was actually giving merciful deference to the man’s unfortunate condition.  Jesus’ calling for the man to come to him and then asking him what He wanted Jesus to do for him was allowing Bartimaeus, who couldn’t see what Jesus was doing, to know exactly what Jesus was about to mercifully do for him (Lenski, p. 472). 

So, we, too, regularly cry out:  “Lord, have mercy”… “Lord, mercy me!”  This plea is the first ordinary part of the actual Divine Service following the Confession and Absolution.  For you see, in our worship liturgy we approach God each week confessing our unworthiness and our sins, imploring the Lord’s mercy in the form of the forgiveness of sins.  Then we receive His merciful forgiveness from the lips of His servant in the Holy Absolution, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord, Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Mercy is given!  Together we then call upon the Lord using a Psalm or a portion of a psalm, called the Introit.  Often, like this morning, these Psalmist’s words include a plea for mercy:  “Out of the depths I cry to You, O LORD!  O Lord, hear my voice!  Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! (Ps. 131:130:1,2)   

Then comes that first canticle of the service proper:  our cry: “Lord, have mercy!  Christ have mercy!  Lord, have mercy!  We call it the “Kyrie.”  So named for the first word in Latin, “Kyrie”; that is “Lord.”

Only at this point in the service, we are no longer pleading for forgiveness.  We have already received it.  Now, like Bartimaeus, the Canaanite woman, the lepers, we are imploring Jesus to extend His same mercy that brought us forgiveness to all other needs and sufferings in our lives.  “Lord, mercy me in my sickness… mercy me in my turmoil in the family… mercy me as I face opposition from my enemies… mercy me in all my life’s conflicts, pains and disappointments!” 

Later on in the service after we have heard from the Lord in the Scripture readings and the sermon, we once again commit our needs for His mercy in enumerated situations through our public and corporate prayers, saying responsively,  “Lord, in your mercy, Hear our prayer!”

Looking back to our Gospel narrative once again, we note that besides the wonderful fact that Bartimaeus receives Jesus’ mercy with the restoration of his sight, something else remarkable occurs.  That is what Jesus says to Bartimaeus about how he had received his healing.  For Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” 

I call this remarkable because, given the wonderful mercy Jesus extended to this poor, blind, beggar by restoring his sight, here Jesus directs everyone to Bartimaeus’ faith:  “Your faith has made you well.”  Actually Jesus’ words are even more pointed than that. A literal rendering of the Greek is, “Your faith has saved you!”

Whoa!  Is Jesus actually teaching that this man’s own faith performed his own healing? Some would have us believe so. 

There are plenty of preachers out there who preach nothing but faith.  Now, by faith I’m not saying they preach The Faith; that is, the truths about Jesus and His saving work.  No, they preach you to have faith; a surety of heart that something is true or has happened or will happen.   Often these preachers are referred to as faith healers.  They insist that if you believe intently enough about something, it will happen.  In other words, if you want to have your blindness healed, then believe your eyesight will be restored and it will miraculously be restored.  You want to have a better life, then believe it into existence and you will have a great life!

If this were true and you and I could conjure up a miracle with our faith, then why would we need Jesus’ mercy or Jesus’ miraculous abilities, or for that matter Jesus Himself?   We could simply accomplish anything we want to happen by our own faith!

Faith, however, by its very nature, holds on to an object.  If I’m willing to walk under a dangling tree branch and not worry that it might fall on my head and I’m not foolishly tempting fate, then its because I have faith that the tree is still sufficiently holding on to the branch, enough so that it won’t fall and break my head open. The object of my faith is the strength of the tree.  I’m trusting in the tree.  I’m not willing that branch to stay where it is by my faith.

Bartimaeus would not have become a seeing person by believing it to be.  If that were the case, he wouldn’t have felt He needed Jesus.  No, he cried out for Jesus’ mercy because the object of his faith was Jesus Himself.  His very address of Jesus tells us the object of Bartimaeus’ faith.  He cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, mercy me!”  “Son of David” was an acknowledgment on his part that he believed Jesus to be the true Messiah who was to be a descendant of King David.  Bartimaeus’ faith was anchored in the assurance that Jesus was indeed the Messiah who would be merciful to His subjects. 

Perhaps this is why Jesus did not say to Bartimaeas “Your faith has healed you”, but rather “Your faith has saved you.”  More was going on with Bartimaeus than the restoration of his eyesight.  He was obtaining true salvation and He was receiving it from Jesus.  The object of Bartimaeus’ faith was Jesus.  Jesus in His mercy was saving Bartimaeus from his blindness as well as from his sins.

By the way, Jesus was also not telling Bartimaeus that his faith was the cause of his saving.  In other words, Jesus did not heal Bartimaeus because He saw Bartimaeus had faith in Him.  Jesus mercifully healed Jews and Gentiles alike, many of whom gave no evidence they believed in Him.  For example, Jesus mercifully healed all 10 lepers even though only one exhibited true faith and came back to thank Jesus.  Faith is no more that which earns or moves the Lord to do anything for us than that faith makes something happen.  Bartimaeus’ faith was merely the mechanism through which He was receiving Jesus’ merciful healing and merciful salvation. St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8,9).  Bartimaeus was saved solely by God’s grace in Jesus Christ through faith, just like you and I are saved.

In Luke’s account, he reveals to us that Bartimaeus also gave full credit for his salvation to Whom credit was due.  Luke states:  “And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to Go.” (18:43). 

How could Bartimaeus have had such confident faith that Jesus of Nazareth, first of all, would even be willing to extend to him such mercy and, second, actually be able to restore his eyesight that despite all odds, even the rebuke of the crowd, that he persisted in calling out for Jesus over and over again to mercy him

By calling Jesus “the Son of David” he was clearly tipping his hand of faith that even though he had never seen Jesus, he had heard of what Jesus had been preaching and doing.  Those reports gave him solid faith that truly Jesus was full of mercy as well as the very Messiah, who in human flesh had come to save all people, even the lowest of them.  In Romans we read:  “Faith comes by hearing and hearing the word of Christ” (Ro. 10:17).

Can you count on this same mercy from Jesus?  Look at Jesus’ cross.  Does this look like Jesus heals or saves only because you have sufficient faith or you have persistently prayed for His mercy? You were not even there to plead in faith for His mercy.  Yet, there in living color is pure mercy which knows no bounds and makes no demands. 

You were not even there under the cross pleading for His mercy, and yet, through the preaching and teaching of God’s Holy Word you have heard Jesus’ prayer for God to mercy you:  “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Most of you have been baptized by Jesus’ very Word in the water of Holy Baptism, wherein you were already put to death in Jesus’ death for you and raised with Him in His resurrection (Ro. 6).  Frequently, you have been given opportunity to receive in His Holy Supper, as His own word assures you, His very body and blood mercifully given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.  You have already received His mercy that saves you.

No matter where or with what you need God’s mercy, you have every reason to pray in confident faith, “Lord, mercy me!” and know that such mercy has already been on its way to save you!

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