Teacher, that I might see.

Proper 25B

Isaiah 59:1-4, 9-19

Psalm 13

Hebrews 5:12 — 6:1, 9-12

Mark 10:46-52

Yesterday, I was composing this blog, and had the perfect reflection going on the healing of Blind Bartimaeus, and then I lost my internet connection. When the little box popped up telling me I had limited connectivity, I tried to save and continue editing. The whole entry disappeared into the aether somewhere, so I’ll try to reconstruct today (of course, it won’t be as good).

The Bartimaeus passage shows signs of having been worked and reworked any number of times. First, there is the weirdness of Jesus and his disciples entering Jericho, and then leaving Jericho with a large crowd. We have no idea what they did in Jericho. Is something missing? If Secret Mark is authentic, then yes. The sister of the man Jesus resurrected tries to see him, but Jesus refuses.

At any event, they leave Jericho, and alongside the road sits Bartimaeus (which just means son of Timaeus). Jesus has performed many cures and exorcisms along the way to this point in Mark’s Gospel, but we are not told the name of a single one of them: Simon’s mother-in-law, a leper, the man with the legion demons, the woman with the flow of blood, Jairus’ daughter, the Syro-phoenician woman’s daughter, none of them have names. Bartimaeus does. We are to pay attention. Gordon Lathrop, in an article in Worship, thinks that Mark is using Timaeus advisedly. Timaeus is the name of Plato’s dialog on cosmogeny, in which he proposes that the demiurge created the world (since God is too unmoving to do so). The Timaeus concerns sight and insight. I’ll have to reread it to catch any other allusions.

Bartimaeus cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Son of David is a very rare title for Jesus, ocurring only here in Mark’s Gospel, in Matthew’s incipit, and in Romans 1. After the crowd shushes him, he drops the proper name and cries out “Son of David, have mercy on me.” It has become a liturgical title. When Jesus stops, he does not call Bartimaeus over, but tells the crowd to call him. They say to him, tharsei, egeire, phonei se: take heart, be resurrected, he calls you. Take heart is what apparitions said to those seeking visions of the dead. Jesus is appearing to Bartimaeus after his death (just as when he came walking on the sea — he said the same word to the disciples in the boat).

Bartimaeus throws off his clothes, leaps to his feet and comes to Jesus. This sounds like a baptismal liturgy: odd to be throwing off your clothes in the middle of the road. Jesus says to him, “What do you wish me to do for you?” Word for word (except for the change in the number of the pronoun and verb) the question he asked James and John when they came seeking a favor.

Bartimaeus replies, “Rabbouni, that I might look up.” Rabbouni as a title for Jesus occurs exactly one other time in the NT: when Jesus, whom Mary thinks is the gardener, calls Mary by name in the garden of resurrection, she replies, “Rabbouni.” Bartimaeus is encountering the risen Jesus in the midst of community. Jesus responds, “Your faith has saved you,” and Bartimaeus follows Jesus “on the Way,” the only person in Mark’s Gospel to do so.

What does Bartimaeus see? If this story and the story of James and John are supposed to be linked by the question, “What do you wish me to do for you?” and if that story is to be linked to the crucifixion by the motif of sitting on the left and right, then perhaps Bartimaeus is linked to the centurion. When the centurion sees how Jesus expires, he says, “Truly, this man was son of god (that is, Caesar).” Bartimaeus, unlike James and Johh (at least in Mark’s story) sees Jesus in his glory on the cross.

The hymn “Amazing Grace” was written by a converted slave trader. He gives thanks that once he was blind but now he sees. He sees his own wretchedness, for one thing, but in seeing that, sees God’s grace. The Isaiah passage speaks of our iniquities blocking us from God. We have to see them before God can take action. Mark sees the brutality of the Roman state and has the centurion declare of a condemned and executed criminal, “This man was Caesar.” The places of honor go to two convicted murderers. Are we supposed to see the glory in such as these? Not comfortable. We are given the choice between jockeying for position, with James and John, or seeing with Bartimaeus.

Sitting at the right and the left.

Nathaniel, in his homilette at service last night, wondered aloud for whom it had been prepared to sit at Jesus’ right and left when he entered his glory, since clearly it wasn’t going to be James and John. He allowed that he had always thought it was the two thieves. That sent me to my concordance to the Greek New Testament. When James and John ask Jesus to sit at his right and his left, they use the word aristeros for left. Aristeros is a word of ill-omen in Greek, just as sinister is in Latin. The left hand was the hand you used, well, never mind (as Simon and Garfunkel said). When Jesus replies that to sit as his right and his left is for those for whom it has been prepared, he uses the word euonumos for left. Euonumos is a euphemism for left, and means exactly the opposite — it means “well named” or “good-omened.”

The word euonomos appears exactly twice in Mark’s Gospel: once here (10:40), and once at 15:27: “With him they crucified two revolutionaries, one on his right and one on his left.” (NAB). When the centurion who stood by the cross saw how Jesus died, he said, “Truly this man was son of god.” Son of god was a title for the Emperor. Here, he sees Jesus in his glory, with those for whom it has been prepared sitting at his right and at his left.

Immediately following James’ and John’s request, and the teaching to the ten, Jesus heals blind Bartimaeus. He asks Bartimaeus exactly the same question he asks James and John (the vocabulary is identical, only the number of the pronoun and verb changes): “What do you wish me to do for you?” Bartimaeus says, “That I might see.” See what? Jesus in his glory, just like the centurion does, and James and John fail to do. Jesus enthroned in glory on the cross flanked by a couple of murderers is not exactly how I imagine the Kingdom of God.

This insight forces us to question where we look for God’s glory. For Mark’s community, it might be reassuring to know that, as they faced martyrdom, they could be assured that places of glory were reserved for those facing a criminal death. What does it mean for us? Jesus redeems even those convicted of capital crimes?

The nations look on the one whom they have pierced in the Isaianic Servant Song, and are appalled. The are converted from the violence they have perpetrated on the servant. The centurion looks on Jesus and is converted from the violence he has perpetrated. If only . . .

Greatness and blindness

Proper 24B

Isaiah 53:4-12

Psalm 91

Hebrews 4:12-16

Mark 10:35-45

The passage from Isaiah is the last of the great servant songs in Isaiah. The servant songs are startling poetry: they have defied easy interpretation since their first publication. Just who is the servant? The prophet? Israel? Some player yet to be named? And just how is the servant’s suffering redemptive for others? The theme of the suffering righteous one is a commonplace in ancient literature. For good examples see the Joseph story in Genesis, many of the psalms and my favorite, Wisdom, chapter 2. It would have been easy for early christians to tell the story of Jesus’ death along the lines of the story of the suffering righteous one. As I read it, the nations look in horror on the violence they themselves have perpetrated (possibly against Israel, or whoever the victim happens to be), and are converted from their own violence. Would that it were so.

The passage from the Gospel of Mark is the second to last episode in Mark before the triumphal entry into Jerusalem (the beginning of the Passion portion of the Gospel). The last episode is the healing of Blind Bartimaeus. The two episodes read like a diptych, each interpreting the other. What James and John fail to see, Bartimaeus, despite his blindness, sees.

The image of cup and baptism are images of participation — we who are many are one for we share one bread and one cup. To have a share in Jesus means to have a share in his passion. Mark’s community was likely under persecution during the events surrounding 66-70 CE. While they had hoped for triumph, a new, ascendant Empire of God, they found instead persecution. Bartimaeus “gets it:” he follows Jesus on the road to Jerusalem.

We don’t live with Mark’s community’s persecution, but we can ask ourselves the question whose cup and baptism we share. Who else shares this washing with us, and drinks this cup with us? Refugees in Darfur? Civilians in Iraq? Winos on our streets? You pick the hot spot. What does it mean to share a cup with them? James and John didn’t get it (not at the moment, anyway). Bartimaeus sees and follows. How do we bring all that to our tables?

A hundredfold with persecutions

Proper 23B

 Amos 5:6-7, 10-15

Psalm 90:1-8, 12

Hebrews 3:1-6

Mark 10:17-31

We surely take a beating in these readings about wealth. If you had any question about the corrupting power of money before you read these lessons, you should be disabused of it by now. Of course, that is not a very helpful message to be drawn from these lessons. Maybe Saint Anthony can sell all he has and move to the desert, but even he left behind a sister without much to sustain her. We are all pretty deeply involved in the money economy.

The man who approaches Jesus calls him “Good teacher” in the sense of teacher of the good. Clearly this man is looking for a teacher to whom he can attach himself to learn how to live. Continue reading “A hundredfold with persecutions”

The two become one

Proper 22B

Genesis 218-24

Psalm 128

Hebrews 2:1-18

Mark 10:2-26

The readings for this coming Sunday contain several landmines around which the preacher must step gingerly, if s/he is not able to defuse them. We are told that marriage is part of nature, and as such, absolutely indissoluble. The trouble with arguments from nature is that nature and culture are bound so closely together. An argument from nature is a culture’s way of saying this is so obvious that we shouldn’t have to explain it. Our difficulty is that we live is a such a vastly different culture than the ones which gave us the Genesis and the Mark reading for today. For us, marriage is primarily about romantic love. The primary myth of our culture is the myth of romantic love. If a story begins, “Once upon a time,” we all know it will end, “and they lived happily ever after.” Continue reading “The two become one”