We’ve all seen the commercial from years ago that still runs in various versions today— the one for the push-button device you wear around your neck that summons help if you can’t get to the phone. The panic inducing commercial features grandma on the floor, calling out, “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”
The commercial is for a real device that does real good for many people. Still though, the campy melodrama is awkwardly funny, even though the situations the button is designed to address are no laughing matter.
The bad commercial based in fearmongering makes us laugh awkwardly, but maybe our laughter goes a little bit deeper than just making fun of horrible acting. Perhaps the reason we find it amusing is because, in general, Americans think of asking for help as something one does only in the direst of circumstances.
Our fiercely individualistic and bootstrap-pulling ethics make it hard to ask for help in our culture, even though we now have a myriad of devices that enable us to call for help whenever we need it, including the ubiquitous mobile phone that even grandma carries around.
Still though, asking for help is hard for us to do—unless it’s to do something we don’t want to do—but that’s another sermon.
And I’m not talking about asking for help with a home project of a work related need. I’m talking about real affliction—grief, fear, anxiety, depression, relationships, parenting, growing older—the things we don’t want anyone to know we’re struggling with.
In our text for today we encounter a man asking for help. And in doing so we see the typical response by the culture around him—“What are you doing?!”
Fortunately we see the atypical response from Jesus.
“Asking for help is a universally dreaded endeavor,” writes Nora Klaver in her anti-self-help book, Mayday: Asking for Help in Times of Need.
Klaver continues, saying, “Whether we’re struggling with getting that heavy bag in the overhead bin, or how to navigate life’s struggles, Americans are much more likely to say, ‘I’m good’ instead of ‘Can you help?’ unless it’s an emergency that involves calling in professional helpers like police and firefighters. If we fall and can’t get up, we’d rather crawl out to the street, and get in the car than inconvenience someone else, and thus reveal our problem or weakness. We live in an ‘I got this,’ society.”
In her research, Klaver suggests a number of reasons we Americans don’t ask for help, but instead try to do it all on our own:
First, she believes we were never taught how to ask for help. The generations that raised us were generations that valued hard work and self-sufficiency. Asking for help was only in play if one was drowning.
That ethic of self-sufficiency has been passed down to us, citing how Americans are becoming more isolated from one another as attendance has decreased in clubs and community service organizations, including the church.
The advent of the Internet enables us to do most things on our phones. We don’t need to go to a physical store for a lot of our shopping, nor do we need to even be present in a classroom to get an education, which means we never have to interact with potentially helpful clerks or professors.
Next, we don’t think to ask.
Klaver says we have been so brainwashed by the American ethic of self-sufficiency that asking for help just never comes to mind. We’re so focused on what’s in front of us that we don’t even realize when we need help.
Or, we believe it’s easier to do it ourselves. “If you want something done right, do it yourself” is a popular American idiom.
And lastly, Klaver believes we are simply afraid to ask. We’re afraid of what asking for help might say about us. We’d rather die a thousand deaths than have someone think we can’t do things on our own.
In short, we’re very good at trying to do it ourselves, while achieving modest results, instead of getting real help and making real progress. We miss out on the life giving gifts someone else can give us.
Bartimaeus, from our text, had no such qualms about asking for help. And the results for him in doing so were nothing less than miraculous.
Bartimaeus is an example of the kind of richness and blessing that can come to us if we’re willing to set aside our self-sufficiency, our “I got this” attitude, and seek out real help and healing from others.
Bartimaeus was sitting by the roadside as the crowd followed Jesus and his disciples out of Jericho on the way to Jerusalem, when he heard Jesus was about to pass by. Without hesitation, and without any sense of embarrassment, the blind man began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (v. 46-47).
The crowd around him thought this was scandalous and “sternly ordered him to be quiet,” much like we’d be mortified to let anyone in public know we had a problem (v. 48).
But Bartimaeus continued to not only ask for help, but to cry out for it. And it’s through his story that we learn two important principles that can help us when we need to ask for help.
First, name your need, but commit to getting a resolution that may not be expected.
Bartimaeus was a blind beggar, hopeful of regaining his sight. He knows a need. However, he doesn’t lead with his need for sight, but rather leads with his need to be seen by Jesus.
He doesn’t shout, “Have mercy on me, a blind man.” Rather he cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner!”
Bartimaeus understands his vision was not only clouded by cataracts but by his own need of spiritual healing. Therefore he opens himself to the possibility that his healing might be physical or spiritual, with an outside chance it might be both because while we may appear fine on the surface, we know other needs are always lurking underneath. Thus, the more we try to hide it, the more insidious they become, because there are certain things over which we are powerless, and sin is certainly one of them.
Bartimaeus knows, regardless of what’s going on with his eyes, he’s got even bigger problems. So he prays the original sinner’s prayer because he knows Jesus can do something about the things that bind him, rather than the things that blind him.
To get help, be it physical or spiritual, we first have to name it.
Secondly, we have to take a leap of faith and believe we qualify for help.
Bartimaeus believed he was worthy of help, not because he was a great person, or because he was a victim, but because he was one of God’s children—a person who had been looking for the arrival of the Son of David, the Messiah.
So, when Jesus heard his cries, and said, “Call him here” (v. 49), Bartimaeus responded by throwing off his cloak and leaping up to meet the one who could help him (v. 50). He puts himself in a position to receive help, and risks further embarrassment, in order to get close to Jesus. It’s an act of faith. It’s an act of faith because Bartimaeus thinks to ask, and asking is the key to receiving most anything we need.
Jesus, in fact, would tell his disciples, “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:24).
Asking God for what we need in prayer, and asking others for what we need in person, opens the door to healing and wholeness.
Are we as open to the possibility that we can be healed by Jesus, or by others whom he might send to help us?
Now asking is of course easier said than done. How do we ask for help when we don’t know how?
One of the keys to asking and receiving help is gratitude. When we have a spirit of gratitude, it tends to shake us out of our self-sufficiency, and allows us to celebrate what others have done for us.
Giving thanks and expressing gratitude, unfreezes the wheels that drive community, and enables us to acknowledge our dependence on God and one another.
When Bartimaeus received his sight, his first action was to follow Jesus up the road toward Jerusalem, happy to go wherever Jesus goes, grateful to Jesus for all he has done.
Bartimaeus’ gratitude is not merely words, but the actions of a follower. He cannot reciprocate what Jesus has done for him, but he can actively show his gratitude.
When we develop the discipline of gratitude, asking for and giving help becomes a lot easier.
Jesus’ response to Bartimaeus—“What do you want me to do for you?”— is a question of invitation.
And Bartimaeus is ready with a reply: “My teacher, let me see again.” (v. 51)
“What do you want me to do for you?” Can you imagine Jesus asking you that question?
What would be your response?
What are your deepest needs that you haven’t asked Jesus or anyone else to help you with?
How might you take a leap of faith and ask, believing you can receive all you need and more?
Jesus tells Bartimaeus, “Go; your faith has made you well” (v. 52).
Faith can make us well, too.
We may not receive precisely what we want, but we can be assured that Jesus is ready to tend to our need. Faith is the catalyst for asking, and asking is the key to getting the help we need and deserve!
We live in a world that has fallen, and can’t get up on its own.
We’ve fallen, too, and there are times when we need help in order to stand again.
Let us not be afraid to ask, to have faith, and to be grateful to the God who supplies all our needs.
Let us be thankful for the people who are ready to help us.
For when we do we rewrite this “Bootstrap pulling/I got this” culture that is keeping us from the life we can truly live—a life where asking for help and offering help is helpful to all. Amen.