my miscellany

Pentecost 23, 2018 — 28 Oct 18

Pentecost 23, 2018

RCL Year B Proper 25
Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126; Hebrews 7:23-28; Saint Mark 10:46-52

As I was contemplating this Gospel, the thought raced across my mind—doesn’t every sandy movie, whether Gunga Dihn with Sam Jaffe or Casablanca with Humphrey Bogart, have a blind beggar off to the side, nameless, shunted, and begging? All three of those adjectives are negated or overturned in the Gospel: Bartimaeus has a name; Jesus calls him into a relationship; and Bartimaeus seems to give up begging.

This is one of the Gospel stories which can be quite easy to imagine: the crowds, Bartimaeus shouting out as others try to silence him and then jumping up when Jesus calls to him, and finally, the moment when his sight returns.

The range of emotions around the healing is easy to guess: amazement, joy, bewilderment, irritation, perhaps, when Bartimaeus insisted on drawing attention to himself. From the movies and the way the crowd behaves in today’s Gospel, it seems that blind beggars are better pushed aside, away from normal people.

But doesn’t Bartimaeus have something to teach us about sight and what sight can do? In his blindness doesn’t he see something worthwhile? Bartimaeus may have been blind but he “saw” in Jesus someone who could heal him. He “saw” the possibility and grasped his opportunity. Even though those around him did not see as he did and tried to quieten him, Bartimaeus trusted to his “vision” and continued to call out to the one he “saw” and whom he knew could restore his sight.

The question this poses is: “What did he see?” What did this blind man see in Jesus that so many of those around him did not? And what is the implication of that for us?

The people for whom this Gospel was written would have faced similar questions: why can we see things in Jesus that others cannot? Why don’t other people see what is so obvious?

Some, of course, choose not to see; others cannot see. Why that should be may be due to upbringing or fear of seeing things differently. Another reason for not seeing is that it might require change. Bartimaeus left begging behind and chose to follow Jesus.

If we allow Jesus to open our eyes fully, what change might that require of us?

Pentecost 22, 2018 — 21 Oct 18

Pentecost 22, 2018

RCL Year B Proper 24
Isaiah 53:4-12; Psalm 91:9-16; Hebrews 5:1-10; Saint Mark 10:35-45

You could well say that James and John think highly of themselves in today’s Gospel. After all, they feel comfortable telling Jesus that they want him to do whatever they ask him to do. They want the places of honor in his kingdom. They are looking to that day when, next to Jesus himself, they can lord it over most everyone else. They want power. They want control. They want greatness, and they want it to be recognized by others.

These things are very human to want. You may see the same desires in yourself. But you cannot see them in Jesus. Jesus is quite different. And, Jesus wants James and John to be different also. He wants them to recognize where greatness really lies.

Jesus wants them to know that greatness comes from knowing that you are loved by God. If you know this, you are free to serve and to minister to one another. Know yourself to be loved by God, and you will have no taste for tyranny and conquest. The real greatness is God’s grace, given to you to enable you to serve and to love. This greatness already is in you. You have only to let it out. You have only to call it forth from those you love and serve. For that’s what Christ did for James and John. They learned that their place in the kingdom was already assured. Their ministry was to make that message known. That’s your ministry, too. Know that you are loved by God, and your witness has begun. Know that you are loved by God, and you are your own brand-name, first-quality, premium, top-of-the-line Christian. You will be your own person, but not yours alone. You’ll be Christ’s person, and definitely his alone, for time and for eternity.

Pentecost 21, 2018 — 14 Oct 18

Pentecost 21, 2018

RCL Year B Proper 23
Amos 5:6-7 and 10-15, Psalm 90:12-17, Hebrews 4:12-16, Saint Mark 10:17-31

Last Sunday, the Pharisees’ test question of Jesus about Moses’ permission to divorce brought forth the distinction between God’s perfect will and God’s permissive will. God’s perfect will is that marriage be permanent, but God’s permissive will is that divorce is acceptable.

The distinction clarifies in today’s Gospel about the Rich Man. God’s perfect will for him is what Jesus suggests he do: “sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”[1] This suggestion is more than the Rich Man can perform. He goes away from Jesus “grieving, for he had many possessions.” He is rich, and God permits him to be rich.

In the Old Testament, riches are considered to be signs of God’s favor. The patriarchs and kings have flocks and herds, and they are rich. The reading today from Amos contradicts the idea of God’s favor for the rich, and it is unusual in the Old Testament in this regard. But Jesus holds out for God’s perfect will as an ideal. The Rich Man will have done everything humanly possible if he sells his possessions, gives the money to the poor, and follows Jesus.

As the Rich Man goes away, he has his riches and his ability to keep the commandments as he has kept them all of his life. The problem he has is the false security his wealth gives him. Is his security given him by his wealth, power, and merit? Or, does he acknowledge that God provides his security? If he lets goods and kindred go, then he declares he knows his security is from God. But if he keeps them, well, does his security come from them or from God? His wealth divides his loyalty to God.

When the disciples ask Jesus who can be saved, he tells them that “[f]or mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”[2] Achievement of salvation is beyond human capability and depends solely on the goodness of God who offers it as a gift. That is what the Rich Man, the disciples, and we must understand. We must learn to see that everything we have comes from God. And everything we have can lead us back to God. We need a steadiness and steadfastness toward God as we handle all of God’s blessings. We can take nothing for granted. But we can take everything, everything, as a gift from God.

[1] Saint Mark 10:21.

[2] Saint Mark 10:27.

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