I love going to church every Sunday. I seem to always find peace and a certain enlightenment there week to week. I deeply appreciate the congregation I am a part of. So many dedicated and hard working people.
I admit I am blessed to be in it. And yesterday’s liturgy had powerful teaching for us all.
The other day, I focused on Job, one of my favorite books of the bible. Today, I wish to revisit Mark’s treatment of the story of Bartimaeus, in chapter ten.
Mark is an interesting gospel. Written perhaps around 70 CE, and perhaps from the environs around a just fallen Jerusalem, his audience must have lived in some fear. The Romans were overrunning everywhere, and a small band of Jesus followers threatened no doubt that Empire even more than the traditional Jews with their strange practices.
Mark prepares his audience for further sacrifice, in fact making it clear that their lot in life may well be harsh and dangerous. They may only get their reward in death. Here we find the suffering servant at it’s best. Some suggest that Mark is the most reliable gospel we have, arriving first and before other gospel writers started to tailor their writings to reflect the emergent church and taking into account the realities of the day.
I tend to think that might be true, and that makes the story of Bartimaeus somehow more urgent, more real to us. Poor Bartimaeus, a man apparently not born blind, but certainly now so, begging for his food and shelter, unwanted, unclean, marginalized in a society built on class. Bartimaeus was the bottom of the barrel, just the kind of person Jesus tended to seek out.
He is helped or manages to find his way to the roadside where he has heard presumably that the faith healer Jesus will soon pass along. He hears the crowd approaching, and when he is sure that it is indeed him, he shouts out–“Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.”
The crowd jostles him, and urges him to be quiet. We must assume that at least some of these are followers. Some indeed are disciples. We are close to Jerusalem, close to the end, and these disciples have been with Jesus nearly three years at this point. No voice is heard in opposition to the stern words to Bartimaeus. Until Jesus, hearing, calls him forth. Then the crowd turns on a dime and also calls encouragement to the blind man.
This is the focus of the periscope. There have been a number of stories about blindness in Mark, both literal and figurative. Jesus has been telling his disciples of his coming passion and death. He has tried to explain to them that the they must serve–that is their greatness. They don’t get it. They never get it, not until the end. They remain on this road to Jericho, blind too.
They are insiders, privileged to be with the Master all this time, learning and watching, listening and one would hope, meditating on the wonders they behold, from this man/God. Yet, they raise no voice against the crowd “quieters.” They are serious, about the business of travel. They wish no slow down by some beggar along the way.
Until Jesus, once again radicalizes the scene. He stops, he calls, he heals, and then he moves on again toward his destiny.
Bartimaeus, asks to be made whole. Don’t we wish we were? Why are we ready to deny wholeness to another because it is inconvenient, time consuming, bothersome. We are asked to get our hands dirty. The poor don’t dress well, don’t smell very good, they are often unattractive.
Did Bartimaeus become blind because of sin? Certainly most in his society believed that he must have. Perhaps the disciples still did as well. But Jesus knew better. He asked Bartimaeus no questions of “qualification.” He didn’t call Bartimaeus to meet some standard of worthiness. One can argue, no doubt, that Jesus knew the answers, but that but begs the question. If Jesus has nothing to tell us about our humanity, then his teachings are worthless, mere platitudes to mere humans.
So we must conclude that such things did not matter to Jesus. What mattered to Jesus was one thing: do we have faith? If we do, then we deserve our healing. And perhaps, even when we don’t. There were other healings, many in fact, wherein no question was posed about faith. No all the healed were conscience at the time. But even when they were, Jesus never stated faith as a prerequisite. It merely made his job easier. Perhaps in reality, Jesus sought sincerity.
As Church, as people, we must ask the question of ourselves. Are we as insiders putting up stumbling blocks to the outsider who comes in need? Do we establish standards of entitlement? Are we turning away Bartimaeus on a regular basis because we have concluded he is unworthy of our charity? Do we have the right to ask at all? Is this not up to our God to fathom–the one who has known us in the womb, and knows our every thought? Who are we to judge?
Jesus radically turned upside down nearly everything he touched. He gave us a new way of looking at the world and relating to it and to each other. That is and should always be our focus. I am told that yesterday ONE BILLION people went to sleep without adequate nutrition. We grow enough for everyone, but ONE SIXTH of our population is hungry.
How many Bartimaeus’s out there are we turning away and denying? How many are you?