RCL Year B, Proper 25 (Alternate Readings)
Jeremiah 31:7-9, Psalm 126, Hebrews 7:23-28, Saint Mark 10:46-52
Jeremiah has become a favorite prophet of mine. As today’s First Lesson shows, he is capable of more than the jeremiads, or lamentations, that he wrote about Jerusalem and its desolation during the Babylonian captivity. He is also capable of more than his strident denunciations of the kings of Judah, particularly Jehoiakim, who abandoned the reforms of his father, Josiah, and who returned to idolatry, I mean the real worship of idols, and who provoked the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem including the Temple by withholding the tribute Judah had agreed to pay in part to protect Judah from Egypt.
Jeremiah is capable of having a vision of the kingdom of God that approximates the vision of the kingdom that we see in Jesus’ ministry. In today’s First Lesson, Jeremiah envisions the kingdom as a gathering of the remnant of Israel, the remaining faithful people, who suffer as they remain faithful. As you heard they suffer from blindness and lameness, from pregnancy and childbirth, but despite their suffering and their weeping, they return to Jerusalem, and are consoled. They return to sing the praises of the Lord.
Those faithful, suffering ones remind me of Bartimaeus in the Gospel. He suffers blindness and he suffers exclusion. He shouts loudly, and many shush him, as he calls upon Jesus, Son of David, to have mercy upon him. Jesus reverses the exclusion the crowd has pressed on him. Jesus calls him to his side, and Bartimaeus springs up and comes to Jesus’ side. He asks that Jesus restore his sight. And by asking he shows his faith that Jesus can indeed restore his sight. His faith and his suffering put him among those whom Jeremiah prophesies will return to Jerusalem.
Jeremiah aptly perceives that faith and suffering are intertwined. He glimpses that faith involves suffering, and he glimpses the joy that comes when faith perseveres through suffering, through pain, and through exile. He glimpses the life of Bartimaeus, how his faith that Jesus could and would heal him perseveres through the suffering he endures because of his blindness and how that suffering resolves itself and becomes joy.
I believe that the similarity shared by Bartimaeus and Jeremiah’s remnant of Israel is a similarity we share as well. How many times in our lives do we have to see that what seemed hopeless or pointless or disruptive or harmful resolves itself to become the best outcome? How many times do tears become joy in order to see God in those very events? The history of the remnant of Israel and the history of Bartimaeus are our history, finally, because God is in charge, and God is good.