Words are powerful. Words can shape us. Amazingly, words can build us or break us, melt us or meld us. Words sometimes define who we are or prophesy who we will be. Words can demean or insult. “You’ll never amount to anything.” “You’re just lazy.” They can transform us or bring us to our knees. “You have cancer.” “Will you marry me?” “I love you.” “You’re fired.” “I don’t care.” “You have the right to remain silent.” Sometimes words have power because of their volume. Adjusting the volume can affect the impact of just about any word.
If you have been or ever watched a mother who has learned the power of a whispered, “Come here, right now!” I’ve also learned the importance of raising my voice, “young man, a car!” when I sense the wobbly, bicycling six-year-old is in danger. Of course, our body language, tone, and facial expressions all contribute to the power of our words. In Bartimaeus, the blind beggar’s encounter with Jesus, words matter in Mark 10 from our scriptures this week. Because of his blindness, Bartimaeus has to rely on words a more than others. He doesn’t see Jesus coming his way, he just hears about it from others and then he cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
The response of the crowd is that “many sternly warned him to be quiet. . ..” Sometimes you can sense the power of words by how many “shhhs” trail after those words. Bartimaeus was told to be quiet. Do you know what it’s like to be censored or hushed? Sometimes it happens when you point out an injustice at work or at school or in the church. Sometimes it happens when you finally name the elephant in the room. I’ve seen it happen in committee meetings and Bible studies. I’ve seen it occur in family settings and between married couples.
I remember meeting a person whose sister has a mental disability. In her family, no one talks openly about this reality. I once said to this person, “Why don’t you just bring it up sometime when you are talking to your parents?” They said, “No way, I can’t even imagine saying the words.” This person was silenced by the power of family dynamics before she could even open her mouth.
Where do you feel silenced? At work? Is it on committees such as the parent teacher association or even at church maybe? Is it within your own family? What are the words you can’t even imagine saying? What are the words you can’t even imagine saying above a whisper? Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus and is told by more than one person to be quiet. For most of us that would be all it would take to shut us down. Most of us are quick to read social cues or the emotional climate of our various settings. Most of us will pay attention to facial expressions or watch others to see how to behave.
And, if someone had to actually tell us we were behaving rudely or speaking out inappropriately, they wouldn’t have to tell us more than once before we’d modify our behaviour. If your boss or your teacher or God forbid, even I in my role as a minister told you to be quiet, most of you probably would. Bartimaeus is a little different. He’s a little bolder. Maybe it is the blindness that creates a missed visual cue or two. Maybe it is simply his intense need. Maybe he has matured to the point where he doesn’t care what others think. Whatever it is, when Bartimaeus is silenced, he just turns up the volume and “cried out even more loudly.”
Can you imagine turning up the volume on your faith? Can you imagine turning up the volume when you cry out to God? Can you imagine turning up the volume when others are saying, “Shhh, be quiet?” Can you imagine asking for mercy or sight or healing in the loudest voice you can manage? Bartimaeus turns up the volume because he senses Jesus is near. He cries out and the scripture tells us that Jesus stops in his tracks. “Jesus stood still.” Can you picture that moment with the audio on?
Bartimaeus is told by many to be quiet. He cries out louder and louder until his loud cry of faith causes Jesus to freeze. Then, powerful words are exchanged. Jesus asks Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus answers “My teacher, let me see again.” Bartimaeus speaks and because of his loud faith, healing happens. I wonder what would happen if you and I turned up the volume on our faith a bit? What if you and I cried out to God a little louder?
What if we were sure enough about what we wanted from Jesus that we could shout it out at the top of our lungs? What if having Jesus stop in our midst was more important than pleasing our critics or having good manners or doing what others expected of us? Words are powerful. In the right place, at the right time, spoken loudly enough, words can even stop a saviour and bring healing. It then raises the question of each one of us as to how loud our faith is.