Sunday 28 October 2012
Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 25B (RCL)
Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Psalm 34:1-8, 19-22
Anyone who has heard me preach for any period of time, knows that the story of the healing of Blind Bartimaeus is one of my favorite Gospel stories. But, I’ll try not to let it monopolize this post!
The reading from Job, especially the inclusion of the prose conclusion to the book almost deflates the power of the poetry that has come before it. Job gets double back on everything. If that is the way the world always worked, we’d but up with sufferings all the time (echoes of Jesus’ promise to Peter that we’ll get back a hundredfold with persecutions). But sometimes the world doesn’t work that way. Some people never get that break. But after God’s appearance to Job, Job covers his mouth in silence and repents — not of any unrighteousness, but of presumption. He had made the same mistake his friends had made. When we assume God is punishing us for our sins when we suffer, we are putting ourselves at the center of God’s attention. That is its own kind of pride. Job assuming that his own righteousness should by him freedom from suffering is the same arrogance. The problem of suffering was not a problem that could be solved until the Christ-event, when God revealed that the suffering of the cosmos has its own place in the godhead.
Hebrews is concerned to show how much better the new dispensation is than the old, both in terms of the way of living (nomos) and the cult. If the old way of living was delivered by angels to Moses, the new way of living was delivered to us by the Son. The old cult required an oath of the high priests; the new cult replaces the high priest with the Son, who is eternally present to God, and became completely obedient (connected to listening) through what he suffered, and hence has no need for further oath. We are called to the same high priestly ministry in our worship, of presenting the world to God and interceding for it by the merits of Christ’s sacrifice.
Bartimaeus is the centerpiece of Mark’s Gospel. All of the disciples, though seeing, don’t “get” Jesus’ message. Bartimaeus, though blind, follows Jesus on the way. He is the only person whom Jesus healed who is named. Bartimaeus means “son of Timaeus.” Timaeus means “honorable” and was also the name of a dialog by Plato in which he laid out his theory on the creation of the world. The demiurge, the creator, sees the forms and creates the world with beauty based on the forms. The forms are unchanging, while this world is changeable. Bartimaeus does not see, until he sees Jesus, who is exactly that aspect of God who takes changeability into the godhead. In Plato’s understanding of the world, this changeable realm must always be “less than” the unchangeable. For Bartimaeus, it is precisely this real, along the way to Jerusalem, that we encounter the divine.
The encounter between Jesus and Bartimaeus has the shape of a baptismal liturgy. Bartimaeus is sitting beside the road, crying out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” — requesting a royal audience. Jesus stops the crowd and tells them to call Bartimaeus. The say to him, “Take heart, rise up, he calls you.” He throws off his clothes and meets Jesus in the middle of community. He calls Jesus, “My teacher” or “rabbouni”, a diminutive of rabbi. That word is used only one other place in the New Testament, when Mary Magdalene encounters the resurrected Christ in the garden. Bartimaeus, in his baptism, encounters the resurrected, crucified Christ, and sees in him the creator of the world.