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Bartimaeus Cries Out

October 28, 2018

Cate Thorn

Ordinary 30     Jeremiah 31:7-9     Mark 10:46-52

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Today we hear from the gospel of Mark of the encounter between Bartimaeus and the Jerusalem bound Jesus. Bartimaeus is blind, on the side of the road, literally sidelined. Upon hearing that the noise and fuss around him is because the person of Jesus is passing Bartimaeus cries out to be seen and heard. The crowd try to silence him, but Bartimaeus cries out even more loudly, insisting on being heard. Blind, a beggar of invisible status and no particular account calls out. Jesus hears, he stops, calls this blind, made invisible man to him and asks him what he wants. Bartimaeus doesn’t say “heal me,” rather he says “let me see.” It’s as if Bartimaeus already knows he has the capacity to see. Jesus listens, sees Bartimaeus, and speaks “trust/faith,” step into that which you already know, your capacity to see clearly and Bartimaeus’ is able to see again. Seeing clearly a world enlivened and imbued with divine presence Bartimaeus chooses to follow Jesus, to walk in way aligned to this knowing.


Just two chapters earlier in Mark there was another story of Jesus healing a blind man. You may’ve missed it, given the way the gospel is broken up in the lectionary. That time a blind man was brought to Jesus by companions, not speaking, Jesus led him away from the crowd. Using saliva upon the man’s eyes, he can see, but only in part, so Jesus lays his hands upon him and he sees clearly. This man is sent home, instructed to avoid the village. 


Between these two healings of blindness Mark has Jerusalem bound Jesus declare to his disciples on three occasions that he’s to be betrayed, killed and will rise again. Following ‘the way,’ Jesus explains, will require sacrifice of things that lend humans reassurance, sense of surety, security and continuity. Familial ties, financial security (rich young man) and societal status (sons of Zebedee). What’s more living this way claims only in God do humans really know and understand who they are, to be whole and to flourish requires a first allegiance to God, a commitment to being and doing, to living in a particular way that takes priority over any other allegiance. To commit to live and act this way defies the authority of those wielding power and control in the world and will lead to persecution and suffering. The promise is that life lived trusting in God brings wholeness, healing and fulfilment into the world.


But living this way of God is not as simple or straightforward as it first appears. The first blind man saw ‘but not clearly’ until Jesus hands were laid on him, healed away from crowds and privately dismissed. Seeing clearly what following this way entails is not yet ready or able to be perceived. Despite first impressions, just who Jesus is, is not immediately clear, much less the cost of committing yourself to this Jesus way. After Jesus’ difficult teaching, of his impending death, the cost of discipleship, the inverted values of the way, just before Jesus enters Jerusalem, the second, immediate restoration of sight takes place, in midst of, in fact interrupting the movement of the crowd. Trusting in Jesus, his capacity to see is affirmed and sight restored Bartimaeus chooses for this Jesus way.


We can see a structure take shape as we consider a slightly extended section of Mark’s gospel. Symbolism emerges that adds depth and meaning to our hearing of Mark’s unfolding telling of Jesus life and journey. It is lovely, isn't it, nice to get a bit clearer idea of things … but it’s not exactly life threatening, doesn’t confront us such that we’reknocked off our perch, dislodged from our usual, caused to question who we are, how we live, made to want to change. Sure the gospel seems to be telling us that following this Jesus way will have serious implications for life. Require much more of us than a simplistic declaration of faith in Jesus, which hardly causes us to break stride of our usual patterns and expectations of life. But does it really?


There’s good news, isn’t there, that you share over a nice cuppa of your favourite brew. Then there's GOOD NEWS that disrupts the inherent complacency of such settled world. I wonder if in our settled world the good news, that gospel sense one, has become tamed, part of our familiar and comfortable world. One we can keep spinning pretty much as we wish, modulating our exposure to that which discomforts and unsettles us.


Does living good news this way mean we come to sideline and silence disruptive unsettling voices that cry out to be heard? Whether human voice, that of our natural world, or our inner yearning for wholeness. For the wild gospel good news, wouldn’t it be dangerous in the hands of the unlikely, the unwashed, they might want a place at our table of plenty, we might have to live with enough and not too much. What's more they might upend our world, disrupt our tidy ordering of things, open our eyes to see a world patterned by divine delight that is untidy and disordered and inconvenient. Heaven forbid, they might even teach us of divine presence, of how to live the Jesus way, that trusting our broken incompleteness to God brings healing and restoration.


I want to share with you a real life story, strictly speaking it’s not a Jesus story but then again. I’d gone to an Emporium not far from where I live, searching for that “I’m not sure what I’m looking for but I’ll know when I find it” elusive thing. In the shop, other than the woman at the counter, there was just one other couple, she was in a wheelchair, quite physically disabled, and with her a chap, he may have been her partner, a family member, I’m not sure. While I was sifting through things the couple went to the front of the shop and engaged in conversation with the woman behind the counter. I suspect they knew each other as the woman from the shop was enquiring as to how the wheelchair bound woman was as she’d had a bad cold/flu. With a still hacking cough and stumbling sentences it became clear things were not much improved. After a while they drifted off out of the shop, but were soon followed by another guy, wearing Rastafarian striped shorts and a woolly jumper, a few strips of Rastafarian coloured design threaded through his long, partially dreadlocked hair. This chap was enquiring as to how the son of the woman serving was enjoying his new job. It appeared the son had switched from one car dealership to another and was now much happier, “What did they do that made him so unhappy?” the chap asked, “It’s not appropriate for me to answer that” the woman tactfully responded, then ensued a conversation about the virtues of the cars from one dealership over against the other.


I left the shop at that point … still looking, as happens half an hour or so later I returned. The woman in the shop was now in conversation with another man I’d guess in his 50’s or 60’s, somewhat shabbily attired. The conversation seemed to be around a woman who must at times frequent the shop, he was explaining how the woman was a friend but not a girlfriend – that she needed to understand this, she was a bit needy for his liking. The woman in the shop was explaining how the not girlfriend friend was probably just lonely, then followed a largely one way conversation about the merits of the Jaguar as a car and how his neighbour had one and all the things it could do, the woman mumbled periodically in return. By this stage I’d found something of what I wanted so went to the counter, the woman was looking a little tired and a bit frazzled, I made comment about the interesting nature of her clientele that afternoon. Exhaling, she commented, “I don’t know what’s going on, today they’ve all come out. Were you here when that last chap was here with his girlfriend?” “No” I responded, “Well … she said, “That was interesting.” “I left when the chap with threaded hair was here,” “Oh, she said “Well in between time the guy with Asperger’s was in, he’s rearranged and tidied all my ribbons again, I can never find where things are by the time he finishes.”


I couldn’t help but reflect what an amazing, if unrecognised, world of belonging she was providing for all these people who don’t quite fit. I doubt when she goes home that she considers those conversations, the refuge created by her willingness to engage with the silenced, sidelines, ill-fitting people of our community as the work she did that day. This woman lives out an amazing ministry though I doubt she understands herself or what she does in this way. Seeing them as persons in their own right, with complicated and convoluted ways of negotiating life, by hearing and stopping and listening and asking she gains them the stature of personhood. Clearing for them a place to stand, permissioning them a world to walk in, a way to walk, for their uniqueness to have voice.


In her meeting them, was she as God presence for them, was this drawn out of her by their need. It gave me pause to think, I wonder what we would say should the living God ask us what we want, maybe we would speak of our brokenness, our desire to know ourselves whole, maybe it is there in our incompleteness that God is closest to us. It’s hard, I think, in our context to live a radical, wild and untamed gospel life. Yet I wonder how many times we hear and stop for, listen and ask of the need of another, how often we minister to/with, not looking, not expecting, not realising how through us God is made present in the world.

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