Thursday, October 25, 2012

October 28, Proper 25, Blind Bartimaeus

Jeremiah 31:7-9, Psalm 126, Hebrews 7:23-28, Mark 10:46-52 

The story is the last healing story in Mark’s gospel. It happens just before Palm Sunday. It happens in Jericho, deep in the Jordan valley, the last stop before the steep road up to Jerusalem, a 15 mile climb into the mountains. The road is full of pilgrims going up to celebrate the Passover. The road is being watched by the Roman soldiers of the garrison in Jericho. The Roman soldiers would keep their eyes on someone called the Son of David, potentially the leader of an uprising.

Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me. Well, of course many sternly ordered him to be quiet, "Hey, keep still!" but he cried out even more loudly, Son of David, have mercy on me. What kind of mercy was Bartimaeus looking for? An extra special handout? That’s why he always sat there at the city gate, so the pilgrims could do a good deed of charity on their way to worship.

Bartimaeus will not go up himself. As a blind man, he is not allowed inside the temple. And by his name, we surmise his father was a Greek. He is unkosher and unclean. He has reason to be worried about his fate if this Son of David sets up a new Kingdom of God with stricter standards of holiness and perfection. Son of David, please be merciful to an outcast like myself.

Jesus calls for him. Jesus is no longer hiding his identity. When the crowd sees this they let go of their circumspection. "He’s calling you." He jumps up. He leaves his cloak behind. That’s huge. Have you ever tried to separate a homeless man from his coat? His cloak is his security, it’s all he has for warmth and it’s where the pilgrims throw their alms. He’s risking all he has. Right off that’s an act of faith in the Messiah, even if it’s faith as desperation.

Jesus says, "What do you want me to do for you?" A simple question, but a challenge to the beggar’s professional habit of guarding the truth about himself. What a beggar asks for is what he thinks he can get, not what he really wants. So Bartimaeus will use his beggar’s skill to estimate what the Son of David can offer, but he must reject his beggar’s habit of guarding the truth about himself. It’s a great step in faith to confess the deepest truth about yourself. "All right, my rabbi, let me actually ask for it. To see again."

What do you want Jesus to do for you, you who have come to church today? Right now? Or tomorrow morning, when you sit alone, and if you pray? If Jesus does live on somewhere somehow and engages in the world and in your life with love and power, what answer would you give, what do you want Jesus to do for you?

What do you want the president to do for you? What should he offer you, an ordinary citizen? Isn’t that how the two campaigns are pitched — you’re being asked to vote on the basis of what you want the president to do for you. It’s a great disappointment to me that both of these campaigns are appealing to us as consumers, not as citizens. Maybe that’s to be expected, considering how thoroughly consumerist our culture is. The great gifts we enjoy of freedom and democracy we exercise chiefly in consumption. What do I want? What do we want? Goods and services? What I want Jesus to do for us as Americans is for his law and his gospel to teach us how to be citizens instead of consumers, with a vision of liberty and justice and the common good.

What do you want Jesus to do for you? Is it enough that he allows you to see again? Of course there are many things you want from him. Forgiveness of your sins, blessing on your life, healing of your body or your soul, the things you pray about, the answers to your prayers. But today we are invited to ask him just to see again. Some sight, some vision of what is ahead, some clear sight of reality before us. Glasses from Jesus, contact lenses from Jesus.

If Jesus corrects our vision and clears our sight, then what can we see? The Kingdom of God. Hidden in plain sight, on earth, as it is in heaven. The world, the world unblurred, the world in terms of God. We see other people but we see them as God sees them. We get glimpses of God, quick and comprehensive glimpses of the whole combination of God and other people and the world and the Kingdom of God within the world.

Last week I was asked a very good question. "Why do we have to have Jesus? Why not just God? I believe in God, I like it there’s a God, but we do we have to have Jesus?" This question always deserves an answer, even if we’ve answered it before, because it’s always worth asking again and again. So then, which god? Any god, a general god, a least-common-denominator god, the god of the Enlightenment, the god of the Deists, the god of "God bless America," or the god of Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, "inscrutable, featureless, indifferent." Which god, whose god? The Muslim and the Hindu visions of god are mutually exclusive. If not Jesus, then what god?

If Jesus of Nazareth was in fact the Son of David, then the God he shows us is the God of the Jews, the God of Israel. Which means that this God is the self-defining God, and not the god of the philosophers or the Enlightenment or the Deists or of Captain Ahab, but the God who enters into history with love, and takes on all the suffering of love. He shows us more, that this very God is in him, in a special way, uniquely so, and fully so, and he showed us this, unexpectedly and paradoxically, in his death and resurrection. If it the crucified Jesus of Nazareth did rise from the dead on the third day, that holds a vision of God, and how God loves the world, and how God relates to the Gentiles, how God relates to power — political power, but also the power of guilt and sin and death and evil in the world, how God addresses all those things and addresses us as human beings who are in the middle of those things, the way God loves the world, the contours of God’s love, and the kind of love that God requires of us.

So it’s true that you don’t need Jesus in order to have a god, some god, somebody’s kind of god, but if you go with Jesus he becomes the living telescope through whom you see the vision of this God. In the way he interacts with people, how he talks to them, the way he dies, and how he lives beyond his resurrection, you can see the character of God, the habits of God, of a specific God, but a God for all the world.

Jesus does not show us the details of the future, neither the course of your own life nor the outcome of the economic policies of whomever we elect next month, he doesn’t show you the future course of your own life. What he shows you is the attitude of God to all these things, which you have to trust in, you have to trust the commitment of God to the world and to its future and in God’s commitment to your own future. What saves you for your living in this uncertain world, for being an active citizen of the Kingdom of God instead of just a consumer of your life, is not your knowing the future, for you to control it and be safe, and get your way, what saves you is your faith in the character of the God who is demonstrated in Jesus.

It’s the human condition that our choices and actions lead to unintended consequences which are irreversible and which bind us. Our sins and shortcomings keep rising against us, and we feel trapped by the past and by our flaws and our failures and our weaknesses. And we cannot see any hope for transformation in our futures. But this great High Priest has made single and eternal and permanent and irreversible atonement for all our sins, and the bondage of your past is broken open, the wheel of karma is reversed, he has for all time cancelled the claims of vengeance and payment and retribution. See the world as he does. See yourself as he does. Cast your cloak behind you, like Bartimaeus, rise up and follow Jesus into the future which you do not have to see, as long as you have faith in the God who fills this future with God’s love.

Copyright © 2012, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.

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