Thomas J Parlette
“How to ask for help”
Mark 10: 46-52
I wonder how many of you have heard of a man named Charley Boswell? Charley Boswell was blinded in World War II while rescuing a buddy from a burning tank. Charley had always been a great athlete so, after the war, he took up golf. And he was astoundingly good at it. In short, Charley Boswell won the National Blind Golf Championship 16 times, once shooting a score of 81.
In 1958 Charley went to Ft. Worth, Texas to receive the coveted Ben Hogan Award, named in honor of one the greatest professional golfers in history. Mr. Hogan agreed to play a round of golf with Charley. Charley said, “Would you like to play for money?”
But Hogan said, “That wouldn’t be fair.”
Charley was persistent – “C’mon, Mr. Hogan, are you afraid to play a blind golfer?”
Now Hogan was really competitive, so he said, “Okay, I’ll play for money. How much?”
“1,000 dollars a hole.”
“That’s a lot of money Charley. How many strokes do you want me to give you?”
“No strokes. I’ll play you straight up.”
“Charley, I can’t do it. What would people think of me taking advantage of a blind man?”
Boswell smiled and said, “Don’t worry, Mr. Hogan, our tee time is tonight at midnight!”(1)
Charlie Boswell might have lacked the ability to see – but he certainly lacked nothing when it came to confidence.
Today in the Gospel of Mark, we meet another blind man who was brimming with confidence – Bartimaeus. Actually, that wasn’t really his name, it was more of a description of him as a person. Bartimaeus means “Son of Timaeus”- so this blind man doesn’t even warrant a proper name, he is known only as the Son of Timaeus. That gives you a clue to his status in society – he is a nobody, not even worthy of a name. Such was the case for the blind, or really anyone with a physical or mental challenge in Jesus’ name.
These middle chapters of Mark really hinge on blindness. It begins with the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida. From that story, to this one about Bartimaeus, Peter makes the confession that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus foretells his death and resurrection 3 separate times, and he is transfigured on the mountaintop to the amazement of Peter, James and John. But the disciples are caught up arguing about who is the greatest and who should get to sit on either side of Jesus in the coming kingdom.
Over the course of these two chapters, the disciples prove that they are spiritually blind just as Jesus is healing people of physical blindness. In Mark, this is the last story of Jesus ministry until he enters Jerusalem for the beginning of his final days – when he will cure his own disciples of their spiritual blindness.
In both blind man stories, the man in Bethsaida and Bartimaeus in Jericho – it is confidence and persistence that carry the day. For the man in Bethsaida, it is the confidence that his friends had in Jesus – that he would be able to cure their friend. For Bartimaeus, it was his own confidence in Jesus’ abilities and his persistence to keep asking for help, even though those around him were telling him to quiet down, to “hush up” as The Message puts it. As Jesus says at the end of the healing, “your faith – your confidence in me, your persistence in asking for help – your faith has made you well.”
Bartimaeus really embodies those verses we heard from Psalm 34 – “This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble… Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all.”
We can learn some things from Bartimaeus, not the least of which is how to ask for help. Asking for help is not something that we are especially good at, especially Americans. In her anti-self help book Mayday: Asking for Help in Times of Need, M. Nora Klaver writes that “Asking for help is a universally dreaded endeavor. Whether we’re struggling with getting that heavy bag into the overhead bin on an airplane, or fixing a flat tire by the side of the road, Americans in particular are much more likely to say, “I’m good, I got it” rather than “can you help?” – unless it’s an emergency that involves calling professionals like the police or the fire department or an ambulance.”(2)
In her research, Klaver suggests a number of reasons that we Americans don’t ask for help.
Number 1 – she suggests that we were never taught how to ask for help. The ethic of self-sufficiency is woven into the fabric of our country. With hard work anything is possible – that is a very American mantra.
Another reason we don’t like to ask for help is that we love our independence. In his book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert Putnam reports that Americans are becoming more isolated from one another as attendance has decreased in clubs and community service organizations, including the church. With the advent of the Internet, we can pretty much take care of all our needs without ever leaving the house. We don’t need to go to the store, or sit in a classroom or have contact with anyone at all if we don’t want to.
And for some of us, we don’t ask for help because we just don’t think of it. We are so conditioned to be independent and self-sufficient that it doesn’t occur to us to seek out help even when we really need it.
Another reason we don’t ask for help is that it’s just easier to do it ourselves. Who hasn’t said or thought something like, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.”
And finally we may simply be afraid to ask for help. What will people think if we appear vulnerable and admit we don’t know everything or have the skills to meet every challenge. So we soldier on the best we can, even when we really need help. We’re just afraid to ask.
In short, we’re very good at trying to do it ourselves, and achieving modest results, instead of getting real help and making real progress. And in so doing, we miss out on the gifts that someone else can give us.
Bartimaeus had no such qualms about asking for help, and the results for him were nothing less than miraculous. Through his story we can learn some things that can help us when we need to ask for help.
First of all – name your need and remain open to other possibilities. Notice that Bartimaeus doesn’t cry out “Jesus, Son of David, let me see again.” Not at first. No, first he cries out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Bartimaeus knows he needs forgiveness, spiritual healing. It’s not just his eyes that need to be healed, but his soul. He starts there, asking for the forgiveness and spiritual healing that we all need. Jesus asks him “What do you want me to do for you?” And Bartimaeus names his need – let me see again.
Which brings us to the second thing we can learn here. Name your need – and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Take a leap of faith – ask. There is an old Chinese proverb that says “He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who dos not ask remains a fool forever.”(3) Name your need, and ask for the help you seek, just as persistently as Bartimaeus does.
So Jesus restores Bartimaeus’ sight and we see the third thing we can learn from this story. Be grateful. When Bartimaeus receives his sight, his first action was to follow Jesus up the road toward Jerusalem. He was grateful for what Jesus had done for him.
James Kraft, in his book, Adventure in Jade, tells about a great turning point in his life. He was fourteen years old at the time, one of a family of eleven children living on a farm in Canada. Because of a serious problem with his eyes, James could not distinguish objects clearly. He compared his vision to a blurry image of a boat seen under water. Just as discouraging, his nearsightedness was so acute and so distressing that he also suffered from furious headaches.
But by divine providence, there happened to be an eye doctor vacationing in the vicinity of James’ home. Young James began taking care of the eye doctor’s horse and buggy. Noting James extreme nearsightedness, the eye doctor insisted that the boy go to the city with him to be fitted with a pair of glasses as his gift. James did so. Here is how he described what the gift of improved vision meant to him. He said of the eye doctor, “He gave me the earth and all that was in it, completely in focus and beautiful beyond anything I could have dreamed… I cannot think of another act of human kindness in my lifetime which can compare with his.”(4)
Bartimaeus received the same gift from Jesus – and was so grateful that he followed Jesus on the way to Jerusalem.
There is a lot we can earn from this little story of Bartimaeus – not the least of which is how to ask for help. Name your need, ask and be grateful. Yes, you can do it by yourself – but you don’t have to.
And for that – May God be praised. Amen.
1. Dynamic Preaching, Vol. XXXIV, No. 4, p19.
2. Homiletics Online for October 28th, 2018.
4. Dynamic Preaching, Vol. XXXIV, No. 4, p22.