October 25, 2015
Job 42:1-6, 10-17, Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22), Hebrews 7:23-28,
I ask you: in the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears who is the central character? Is it Baby Bear who is concerned with his porridge, his chair, his bed? No, Baby Bear is a small character in a much larger story about a stranger who invades his home and disrupts his world. Only when Baby Bear meets Goldilocks does his world start to make sense again. So too in the Gospel story today.
Our attention is drawn to this blind beggar sitting in the dirt on a Jericho street, wrapped in his cloak against the elements.
We watch him cry out for mercy, we see him throw off his cloak as he runs to the great man to ask “let me see again.” Jesus says, “Your faith has made you well” and Bartimaeus follows Jesus on the way to Jerusalem.
When we read this story with Bartimaeus as the central character, we naturally think we are being told to imitate Bartimaeus, so that we too can have the kind of faith that will make us well. So it is tempting to generate a list of the 5 things we need to do—like cry out, drop our possessions, run to Jesus, beg Jesus for help, and then follow Jesus—the 5 Steps to Healing!
Bartimaeus, who is being presented as the perfect disciple, certainly has things to teach us, but if we put him at the center we may miss the point, the saving point, and end up more self-absorbed and in greater distress as we get busy on our list to save ourselves. It might be well-meaning advice, but in no way is it good news to the person in the dirt or the person in the pew who is suffering to be thrown back onto themselves by giving them a list of things they need to do. They could have stayed home for that.
Bartimaeus is not the center of this story—God is. God represented by Jesus is the central character in every scene. It is Jesus who is proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom of God and now heading to Jerusalem to take on the corrupt and corrupting powers of this world that destroy the creatures of God.
Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, and it is Jesus who awakens the blind beggar to something new and overwhelming. Bartimaeus is dead, sitting in his alienation and suffering, and then something happens to him.
As Jesus draws near a switch is thrown and the power of the Holy Spirit electrifies Bartimaeus.
He is like a tiny iron filing that jumps to attention when the magnet passes by–an unknown, yet friendly, power pulses through him, filling him with faith and hope. The power that grasps him gives him the insight to name that power: “Jesus of Nazareth, Son of David…”
The force that brings him to life is not a force of nature. It is not the Power of the Force many of us will line up to see in 24 days, 13 hours, and 30 minutes—but who’s counting–when the new Star Wars movie arrives.
This force has a name and address: Jesus of Nazareth.
This force has a title with a 1000 year history: Son of David, which means both Messiah and King–the power of the God of Israel, returning to save the world.
As Bartimaeus cries out he is announcing this power also has heart: “Jesus of Nazareth, Son of David, have mercy on me.”
It is not likely that Bartimaeus would have cried out to Tiberius Caesar as his parade marched through town, even though every Roman coin has on it Caesar’s image and the words: son of god. That son of God would just as likely run a sword through this pitiful pawn.
That’s why the crowd tells him to shut-up—they aren’t sure that someone who represents Israel’s God can be trusted to have mercy for a nobody.
But Bartimaeus feels the power surging through him and he knows it is a power full of grace and mercy!
This is the God the psalmist prays to this morning:
I sought the LORD, and he answered me *
and delivered me out of all my terror.
Look upon him and be radiant, *
and let not your faces be ashamed.
I called in my affliction and the LORD heard me *
and saved me from all my troubles.
Do you see that there is nothing in Bartimaeus that makes this encounter possible? There is no checklist we can follow to make God do what we want. None of Bartimaeus’ actions are responsible for the power of Christ that grasps him. Rather it is the power of God grasping him that makes all his responses possible.
He is grasped by the grace and mercy of God alone.
Contrast him with the rich young man we saw two weeks ago who thinks he has something to bring to the table for his salvation: money and morality—“Lord I’ve kept all these commandments since my youth”.
He too is grasped by the love of Christ but in his pride he is unwilling to receive God’s grace. He wants to be God’s partner: I do my part and then Jesus can do his part.
As Karl Barth says:
The greatest hindrance to faith is again and again just the pride and anxiety of our human hearts. We would rather not live by grace.” Dogmatics in Outline page 20
We work so hard in school and now at work, to provide for our families such that who among us really means it when we sing:
“Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, Blind but now I see.”
A wretch, lost, blind?
But Bartimaeus has no trouble admitting that he is wretched and blind, because he is. Bartimaeus is willing to admit that the faith that saves him is the pure gift of God that allow him to trust in the faithfulness of God made manifest in King Jesus.
Barth writes when faith is given, “No more must I dream of trusting in myself. I no longer require to justify myself, to excuse myself, to attempt to save and preserve myself.” Ibid 18
“God has come to me and adopted me….This is the promise God gives us: I am there for you.” Ibid 19
The good news is that in spite of what our egos tell us, in spite of what our culture tells us, we are not the central characters in the story of the world: God, choosing us before we are born and coming to us in Jesus of Nazareth, is the central character.
Jesus is the magnet—we are the slivers of iron. This is good news because slivers of iron can’t save themselves.
All we can do is marvel and believe that when Jesus comes near we too are grasped by the forgiving and transforming power of God that pulls us into that parade that follows Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life.
Bartimaeus, alone, poor, and blind, lives in each of us.
In a few moments each of us will be invited by Christ to take the bread and wine which is the life of Christ. Who is this Christ?
As Hebrews tell us the Living Christ is interceding for us. As Paul says, “I no longer live but in me Christ lives.”
At the end the children’s story Goldilocks runs away and never returns. At the end of the Gospel story Jesus dies and rises for us, promising to be with us always. Amazing, but true!