Martin Luther knew about churches that kill. So have a lot of others.

“Have mercy, Son of David. Have mercy, Jesus. Have mercy on me.”

“Listen to us Jesus. There’s something we need to ask. Are you listening?”

“Have mercy, Jesus. Have mercy, Son of David.”

“We have a great idea Jesus. Just hear us out.”

“Son of David, Jesus, have mercy on me.”

“Just a couple of minutes of your time, Jesus.”

“What can I do for you?”

“I want to see. I want to be healed.”

“What can I do for you?”

“We want power Jesus. Arrange it so that we will be awarded the highest places of honor in your glory—one of us at your right, the other at your left.”

James and John the Sons of Thunder, and Bartimaeus. They got Jesus’ attention. Jesus asked them what they wanted. They wanted such different things.

The old saying goes, “none is so blind as he who will not see.” We are in a section of Mark’s Gospel where the writer makes it clear that the disciples are having a hard time seeing. They are having such a hard time getting it, figuring out what Jesus is about. And to underscore the point of just how blind the disciples are to the ways of Jesus we get this story of Bartimaeus who ends up seeing what the disciples can’t see.

For Bartimaeus, Jesus is about healing. Jesus is the one who brings wholeness, who brings help. But it’s not just about healing, it is about seeing in a new way.

The disciples, as the writer of Mark’s Gospel so clearly indicates, are having a hard time focusing on this new way of Jesus. They just can’t see it. And the worst part is, they don’t know it.

When our daughter Sarah was in grade school, she flunked her eye exam. She was irate. It turns out that she was near sighted in one eye and far sighted in the other. What that means is that she had no depth perception.

As we drove home from the eye doctor’s office after her glasses came in, her anger at failing the eye test gave way to wonder as she began to see the world in a new way. It wasn’t until she put on those glasses that she realized some signs have raised letters on them. She marveled at trees, which she realized mentally had depth to their circumference, but she had never seen it before with her own eyes.

The disciples were lacking depth perception. Every thing Jesus said and did only had two dimensions. They couldn’t go deep into what he was saying and doing because all they knew is what they had seen all their lives.

So it’s no wonder they wanted power. That’s what they were able to see with their limited sight. There is not much depth to power, you either have it or you don’t. And the disciples figured those who didn’t have it wanted it, and those who did have wanted to keep it. Surely Jesus wanted power as much as everyone else.

Things were a bit more elemental for Bartimaeus. He wasn’t living under any illusions, he wasn’t being fooled by partial eyesight. He knew he was blind and wanted Jesus to do something about it. He didn’t want power. He wanted mercy.

Have mercy on me Jesus. Give me great power Jesus. Which do you think leads to healing, to new sight, to new insight?

Asking for mercy is simply asking for help. How much more quickly do you think the disciples would have gotten to where they needed to go if they had simply asked Jesus for help. It’s interesting that throughout the gospels there are stories of people coming to Jesus and asking for help. But you seldom read stories of the male disciples asking for help. The only one I can think of is when they are on the lake and the boat is about to sink. But most of the time, instead of asking Jesus for help, they are trying to help him out, telling him he can’t mean what he says, or he had better be careful.

They don’t ask for help. They don’t ask for healing. They don’t ask for mercy. But they ask for power. It was to their benefit that Jesus offered mercy anyway, and that he worked at trying to heal them. Healing did come, in spite of themselves. They began to see the world in a new way, they began to see things as clearly as Bartimaeus did.

It’s a good thing the story of the disciples didn’t end with the gospels. We don’t read of them getting it together, of healing and wholeness coming into their lives, of a new vision until the book of Acts. It took much longer for them than it did for Bartimaeus.

And maybe that’s the point of the story. What we need from Jesus is mercy and help, healing and wholeness, but it takes some of us longer than others to realize that. If the disciples could finally start seeing in new ways, any of us can.

We are in the midst of a political campaign where it seems to me that people who ought to know better are more concerned about power than healing and wholeness. The airwaves are filled with preachers who claim to be the most faithful to the Bible, but are most enamored, like the disciples, about what power can do for the Church.

The Church doesn’t need power. It has had plenty of power in its history and it wasn’t a pretty sight. Thousands of people were put to death by the Church in the Middle Ages in its bid to gain and maintain power.

Today we commemorate All Saints Day, where we honor those who have died in the Lord. The sad thing is that far too many of them died at the hands of the Church. In its early days, the Church supplied the martyrs. As it gained power it created the martyrs.

It’s also a time when we celebrate The Reformation, a time when people like Martin Luther stood up to the power of the Church and risked their lives doing so. What Martin Luther told the Church is that it doesn’t need more power, it needs more mercy. And the story is the same for today. We need healing and wholeness. We need to be able to see the world in a new way.

Mary and I have a friend who is a pastor in a congregation where there is a power struggle to get rid of her. One faction feels the need to assert its power and get her fired, and the other is digging in to fend off that power grab. What that congregation needs is not a new pastor, not a struggle for power, but mercy and healing. Their wounds go back much farther than the tenure of their current pastor. Mercy is the kind of work Jesus does. Bartimaeus knew that, why can’t the rest of us figure that out?

I would remind my TV preacher friends, and others, that this goes for nations, as well as the Church, and individuals. Our goal in this nation doesn’t need to be that we are the most powerful nation on earth. Rather our prayer and hope and work for this country is that we can be whole. We are looking for power in this nation when we need healing, when we need to be able to look at things in a new way, to see the way God sees. That would enable our nation to turn its eyes from the wealthy to the poor, to the vulnerable rather than the powerful.

We may be the most powerful nation on the earth, and always striving for more power, but there are something like 50,000,000 people in our country who don’t have health insurance. We are the most powerful nation in the world, but millions can’t find a decent paying job. We are the most powerful nation in the world, but our bombs and weapons kill the most powerless. This nation doesn’t need more power any more than James and John did. It needs healing. It needs mercy.

Have mercy Jesus. Heal me. Forgive me. Help me get past the mess I, or others, or the fates have made of my life. Help me, Jesus, to see myself, God, and this world in a new way so I can follow you wherever you are going. That’s the cry of the saints that we celebrate today. They surrendered the lust for power for the mercy and healing of God.

One of the wonders of mercy is that, like power, it spirals out of control. People do the most awful things for the sake of power. And people do the most amazingly wonderful things for the sake of mercy.

Jesus said ‘blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.’ Mercy is its own reward. As we think about All Saints Day, the Jesus followers I am thinking about were not people of great power, but mercy was abundant in their lives. They lived this life knowing that they needed God’s help and they became God’s helpers. They not only were able to see the world in a new way, but they brought a new way of seeing into our lives. Mercy worked its way in their lives.

As I close I do have to offer this word of caution. It is not particularly good news for the powerless to suggest that they ought to forsake the pursuit of power. But I would suggest that even though Bartimaeus wasn’t looking for the power James and John were, Bartimaeus was the one who became empowered.

Or to put it another way, Bartimaeus understood, as the film series we are watching in the EXCO class puts it, there is a force more powerful. Jesus seemed to be the most powerless person in the world as he preached his message of mercy, forgiveness, inclusion, love, and nonviolence. The powerful hung him on a cross. The Roman Empire with all its power is long gone. We are here today, followers of the one they crucified, because God’s mercy and healing is the path to empowerment.

“Have mercy, Jesus. Have mercy, Son of David.”

“What can I do for you?”