Over the past few weeks I’ve had the image of a reed in my mind, a tall slim stalk flapping in a strong wind. That’s how Christ summarized perceptions of John the baptizer, the odd fellow shouting in the wilderness about sin and chaff and sandals. “Did you think you’d find a reed shaken by the wind?” asked Christ. Did you think you’d find a shouting fool out there, a crazed man to gawk at? People were talking about John, and not too kindly, the same way some people talk about symptoms called mental illness.
Later, Christ tells a crowd that he will not break a bruised reed. Unlike him, I could see myself walking through a field of perfectly raised stalks and finding one bent, and instinctively snapping it off for perfection’s sake. Christ will not. Neither will he break the precarious faith of a man or woman tormented with severe depression or symptoms called schizophrenia. The duration and scorn of these illnesses might lead some of us to believe he has left them hanging. But the Lord makes a point of telling us he often gives much to the least of us. For example….
The Desperate Beggar
Bartimaeus,¹ unemployed and blind, had only one option in life, to beg by the side of the road. Suddenly he became aware of a large crowd passing by and Jesus was somewhere inside. I don’t know if Bartimaeus gave much thought to what he would say (I need a job. A wife. A house. Eyesight. If only one kind soul could afford to take me in.) or if he blurted the first words that came up from his gut.
He yells, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”
It’s a gut cry, I think, a screech. Give me something out of the generosity of who you are — David’s Son. I’ll take anything.
People in the crowd tried to shush him up, “proper” people I suppose. Or people who merely saw defective Bartimaeus, the castaway. A bruised reed. Yelling at Jesus and not even bothering to get with the crowd and go with the flow! Thinking he can get face time with the most famous man in town!
Bartimaeus “cried more, a great deal.” As my mother-in-law would say, he “made a ruckus,” which doesn’t help others’ perceptions of you. Of course, it was Jesus’ perception that mattered.
Jesus perceived faith. He stopped and asked Bartimaeus exactly what he wanted. Dusty, disheveled Bartimaeus dared ask the impossible – “give me sight,” and the first thing the healed man saw was the face of Christ.
The Defeated Beggar
In Heather Kopp’s blog, Sober Mercies,² she tells of a friend who is too overwhelmed to ask for mercy. The woman “suffers from a mood disorder so powerful that the emotional drag becomes physical. Her body feels too heavy to move, people are too hard to connect with, and ordinary life is just way too much and not nearly enough at once.”
“She’s the beggar on the side of the road who might not bother to holler,” says Kopp, “because she doesn’t think she deserves the help. Or doesn’t think the cure would work for her. Or doesn’t have the energy to lift her voice.”
A broken reed. Already snapped. Unwilling to pray anymore. Will God do nothing until she gets a better attitude?
Kopp dares to admit she once had a wrong perception of people like her friend:
“In the past, I’ve been taught that Jesus asks his question (of Bartimaeus) because not everyone who’s sick or disabled wants to be made well. Didn’t you know—maybe you’ve heard this too—that some would rather suffer than take responsibility for their lives? I used to think that.
But these days, I’m more inclined to believe that if a really sick person doesn’t want to get well, that’s a good indication that they’re far too sick to know what they want.”
A Divine Call
You and I know what a sick person wants because we want it, too. Health. Joy. Peace. To live before we die. To taste and see that the Lord is good. To love mercy, do justly, and walk humbly with God, no matter what condition we’re in. To glorify him.
You and I can pray, no matter what symptoms we see. Pray God would revive their spirits so they can cry out to Him on their own and return to days of blessed communion with Him. Pray they would open their mouths wide and allow God to fill them with honey from the rock. Pray like James tells us, going to their homes and anointing them with oil and a heart of faith. Ask them to pray for you.
And if they don’t know how to pray for themselves? All Bartimaeus did, says Kopp, “was holler bloody murder for the one thing Jesus never denied a single person or ever will. Mercy.” Considering who He is, she suggests a simple prayer:
Cry, “Lord, have mercy.” And keep on hollering.
Ruckus or not, never underestimate the grain of faith in the troubled person you see, nor God’s compassion for every shaking reed.
¹ Matthew 20:29-34, Mark 10:46-52, Luke 18:35-43