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25th October 2015 - Hugh Perry

Date Given: 
22 October 2015

Readings

Job 42:1-6, 10-17

This morning we conclude our reading from Job with Job’s admission to God’s questioning that he is just human and does not know everything and the prose ending were all his fortunes are restored.  The lectionary edits out an interesting section where God instructs Job to pray for the friends who gave him all the bad advice.  It seems that they misrepresented God so much that only the righteous Job can pray for their forgiveness.  What they said may well have annoyed God but it was also most hurtful and cruel to Job and yet he does as God asks and prays for their forgiveness. 

The ending of Job is strange as he is now given double everything that he had at the beginning.  However we might wonder that although twice as many children might return his status surly it cannot negate the grief for the children were lost.

Maurice Andrew concludes:

It is hard to think that God’s acceptance of Job does not have something to do with Job’s continuing to question God sharply, even though he found God hostile.  It is also to do with the difference between Job and his friends: the friends give instructions, but Job lives in the problem.  Immediately after this comes the passage of restoration which, on the surface at least, matches the world of the friends! No one has the last word on Job.[1]

Mark 10:46-52

Bill Loader begins his commentary by noting that from chapter eight to ten the material in Mark’s gospel is bound together by a movement from the northern borders of Galilee to the beginning of the steep ascent from Jericho to Jerusalem.  It is the way to the cross. Three times threaded through the passage Jesus announces that, as Son of Man, he will suffer and be rejected (8:31; 9:31; 10:33). Three times the disciples fail to understand.  They show themselves blind to his purpose and to his values.  Mark has set on either side of this span of material two accounts of Jesus' healing of blind men (8:22-26 and 10:46-52). The intention is doubtless symbolic. The disciples are blind. That is a primary function of today’s passage in Mark’s gospel.[2]

When Bartimaeus raised his voice (10:47), people were quick to remind him he was a nobody (10:48). But with the persistence which can characterise the desperate, the man does not shy away from being a nuisance. Jesus responds, hears his request and heals him. ‘Your faith has saved you’ must mean in Mark: you believed I could do this; so I can do it and will. He went with Jesus on the journey

We need to listen to Bartimaeus and thank God he spoke up because when we also listen, we will know the journey we are on.[3]

Sermon

Maurice Andrew suggests that in these closing scenes of the Job’s saga we notice the difference between Job and his friends.  The friends give instructions, but Job lives in the problem.[4]

The reality of our world is that there are plenty of people to give instructions.  The real challenge however is to live in the problem and find a way though that will leave a trail for others to follow. 

Bartimaeus lived in his problem, he couldn’t see. Lack of vision severely limited his ability to earn a living in any way but begging, relying on the compassion of others.  I am sure there were plenty of people ready to give him instructions.  Just recently The Press carried an article where a retailer wanted regulations that prohibited beggars from sitting on the footpath because he said it interfered with his business.  Undoubtedly there would have been people only too ready to tell Bartimaeus where he couldn’t sit and beg, he was sidelined on the edge of the road, a point of balance where he was out of the way but still able to attract the attention of those who might be generous enough to give him something.  There would be the religious righteous who, like the friends of Job, saw Bartimaeus bringing his problems on himself.  Bartimaeus must have sinned otherwise he would not be suffering.  People in our world are just the same when they blame the unemployed for not finding a job.  I have never understood why people call unmarried mothers irresponsible but reckless young men who show no concern for their offspring or the mothers of their children seem to be easily pardoned.  People on hospital waiting lists are blamed for not having medical insurance without stopping to think that their wages barely pay their rent and feed their family.  Furthermore as people get older, less able to work and more likely to need medical care, their friendly insurance company raises the premiums and encourages them to cancel their policies.     

Bill loader asks a vital question when he writes, ‘How do we retell the story without sidelining blind people today?’  In fact it is not just blind people we might sideline.  We easily sideline anybody with who is very ill or even terminally ill with an unrealistic piety inspired by stories such as the story of blind Bartimaeus.  People heighten the pain of others by promising miraculous but impossible healing, then the afflicted person’s unbelief is blamed when healing doesn’t happen. 

In many ways that was what the friends of Job did.  The friends of Job promise that if Job confesses his sin he will get better.  That is simply demeaning advice without any attempt to live in the problem.  Furthermore the dialogue between God and Job highlights that humanity can’t comprehend the mystery of God or reduce divine action in the world to simple cause and effect logic that humanity can understand.

More importantly those who might see this story of Blind Bartimaeus as biblical proof of miraculous healing easily miss the profound symbolism in the text.  Mark uses this story of Blind Bartimaeus to highlight Jesus’ approach to people, a way of living in the problems of ordinary people that is central to Jesus’ teaching. 

However as we examine the symbolism we must also remember that it is extremely likely that Jesus did perform healings as it would be too difficult to explain the strength of the healing tradition in the gospels if no healings happened.  Nevertheless these healings could well be exaggerated because people who retell events are prone to overstate the details that impress them.    What is most important however is the way Mark has used this story as a contrast to the blindness or lack of vision of both Jesus’ opponents and his disciples.

As chapter ten in Mark’s Gospel progresses the disciples seem to have more and more trouble understanding Jesus.  The chapter began with the Pharisees trying to trap Jesus in a conflict between diverse rulings of unjust Jewish laws and the slightly more just but of course un-Jewish Roman laws.  The disciples then needed a private explanation after the exchange.  Then the disciples chase away the children but Jesus calls them back and uses them as a metaphor of the Kingdom of God.

Next a rich young man is turned away and the disciples need that explained.

Then it becomes obvious that they are going to Jerusalem and those who follow Jesus become afraid but rather than allay their fear Jesus explains that he will be killed.

The next misunderstanding is when the disciples who obviously have not been listening, hearing or seeing ask for top jobs in the ‘Kingdom of God’.

So Mark has constructed the question, if the disciples who have been with Jesus can’t see what is happening can anybody see? 

Well the message is so blatantly obvious that even a blind man can see.  As Bill Loader points out it is a nobody in the world’s eyes, a sidelined person, a blind beggar who becomes the hero of faith.  Loader says this is typically Mark at his subversive best.  

Mark can do this because he knew stories about Jesus and was able to order them in ways that answered the questions he posed and highlight the points he wanted to make. 

Jesus did not sideline people.  Jesus responded to what were seen as the ‘hopeless cases’ of his day.  This story illustrates an approach to people which is central to Jesus’ teaching.  It is the approach of living in the problem rather than just giving instructions.  Jesus’ answer to the problems of his time and place was that the people who lived the problem were the ones who could answer the problem. 

Jesus’ disciples were not drawn from the ruling elite.  In fact the wealth of the rich man kept him from being part of the solution even though he had kept all the commandments from his youth.  Certainly the disciples did not understand—could not see.  The disciples were so tangled in tradition and proper process that they lacked vision!  But a few words from Jesus and Bartimaeus was not only able to see but followed Jesus ‘on the way.’ 

That phrase ‘On the Way’ is the phrase the church has neglected to notice for most of its two thousand years of history. 

Parts of the church have focussed on the miraculous healing and just like the friends of Job have made sick people feel guilty because they have not been miraculously healed.  Others of course have been inspired by the story to seek medical and optical cures for impaired sight.  Some like Fred Hollows and the foundation he founded have indeed sought to live in or close to the problem and bring sight to the poor people of our world. 

Much of the church however has been as metaphorically blind as the disciples and sought power and status from the church.  Church courts and church leaders have given instructions on righteous living rather than truly living in the day to day problems of people’s lives.  The church has sought disciples among the nice people rather than follow Jesus’ example of seeking disciples who live in the problems and allow them to be part of the transformation. 

A meeting with Jesus transformed the life of Bartimaeus.  Mark highlights his transformation by choosing a character who was a blind beggar.  However Bartimaeus didn’t just make a trip to Specksavers.  Bartimaeus had an encounter with Jesus and where others had failed Bartimaeus was able to see that transformation involved following Jesus ‘on the way’.  Following Jesus and being a disciple or even an apostle of Jesus is not a matter of proscribed rules, creeds or even forms of worship.  As Robin Myers states we are not called to worship Jesus, we are called to follow Jesus.  As Albert Schweitzer stated at the end of The Quest of the Historical Jesus,

He comes to us as one unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, he came to those men who did not know who he was.  He says the same words, ‘Follow me!’, and sets us to those tasks which he must fulfil in our time.  He commands.  And to those who hearken to him, whether wise or unwise, he will reveal himself in the peace, the labours, the conflicts and the suffering that they may experience in his fellowship, and as an ineffable mystery they will learn who he is.[5]

Schweitzer then gave up the life of a German theologian and lived within the problem of disease and suffering in darkest Africa.  Schweitzer could not find the historical Jesus through academic research but the shadows of Jesus he found in the ancient texts, the stories and narrative of the gospel writers opened his eyes and like Bartimaeus he followed Jesus on the way.

Whether we are wise or unwise may our reading, our worship and our prayers give us the vision that allows us to follow ‘the way of Christ’ in our time and place. 



[1] Maurice Andrew The Old Testament in Aotearoa New Zealand  (Wellington: DEFT 1999),pp.321-322

[3] ibid.

[4] Maurice Andrew The Old Testament in Aotearoa New Zealand  (Wellington: DEFT 1999),pp.321-322

[5] Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, Bowden, John (ed.) (London: SCM Press 2000), p.487.

 

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