Jeremiah 31. 7-9, Psalm 126, Hebrews 7. 23-28, Mark 10. 46b-52 by The Rev. Dr. Sarah Rogers
I can’t say that I follow American politics particularly avidly, I know the Presidential election is imminent and realise that it is important to keep abreast of what is happening politically around the world as it inevitably has a knock-on effect on the rest of the globe. Mind you, I find it hard enough to keep up with what is happening in Europe, let alone across the pond. All that said..I am a huge fan of ‘The West Wing’, I came to it rather late on, so didn’t see it when it was on TV here. So, I caught up with it on DVD, borrowed from my brother. I was gripped, watching back-to-back episodes for nights in a row.
In thinking about the readings for this Sunday, I am reminded of that wonderful scene in the ‘Two Cathedrals’ episode, when Jed Bartlett is alone in the Cathedral after Mrs Landingham’s funeral and he really lays into God. How could he take Mrs Landingham in that way…he is at the end of his rope and lays it all at the altar in a very dramatic way. A true example of lamentation, very similar to some of the psalms. If you haven’t seen it, or want to refresh your memory you should be able to see it on u-tube if you click this link http://www.youtube.com/embed/GBAleMrZQzA. His words in Latin are particularly poignant. He says ‘gratias tibi ago, domine. haec credam a deo pio, a deo justo, a deo scito? cruciatus in crucem tuus in terra servus, nuntius fui; officium perfeci. cruciatus in crucem eas in crucem
Which I believe roughly means...
Thank you, Lord. Am I to believe these things from a righteous god, a just god, a wise god? To hell with your punishments! (literally "(put/send) punishments onto a cross") I was your servant, your messenger on the earth; I did my duty. To hell with your punishments! And to hell with you! (literally, "may you go to a cross")"
Today’s readings don’t include such a clear example of lamentation, but they certainly allude to it. In the reading from Jeremiah we are told that ‘With weeping they will come, and with consolation I will lead them back’, Psalm 126 is essentially a psalm of thanksgiving, but again ‘Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy.’, in the letter to the Hebrews we are reminded of the weakness of our humanity that necessitates daily sacrifice and in the gospel reading from Mark we find Bartimaeus, the blind man who has suffered all his life. Bartimaeus is a little bit different, he doesn’t seem to be angry at God for his fate. He had been completely blind since birth, he had never seen any of the beauty of the world, but he is also poor as he is sitting at the side of the road begging. No doubt as a child he was cared for by his parents, but because he was blind there would have been no employment for him as he grew up and so he would have fallen into destitution. But, Bartimaeus had clearly heard people talking about Jesus, he would not have witnessed any of his many miracles, but he had heard all about them.
So no doubt when he heard that Jesus was passing by he was filled with hope. He must have had a friend close by, filling him in on the unfolding drama as Jesus and his entourage approach. When he hears that Jesus is close by he calls on him to have mercy on him.
What surprises me about this story is the reaction of those around Bartimaeus. Jesus can’t go anywhere without hundreds of people following him. They have witnessed his many miracles and the way he has healed others and yet, they treat Bartimaeus with disdain and tell him to be quiet. Bartimaeus is the lowest of the low and not worthy of their consideration, he is a blind beggar man. It is only Jesus who treats him with any kindness. One can’t imagine what it is like to be blind, to not be able to see the beauty of this world. Bartimaeus responds to Jesus’ kindness wholeheartedly, he throws off his cloak as he springs up from his seat at the roadside, he had complete certainty that Jesus would cure him. It is a wonderful image, as in throwing off his cloak Bartimaeus reveals himself to those around, he is no longer hiding under a heavy cloak somehow ashamed of who he is.
I can’t help wondering who is truly blind in this story. Bartimaeus may be physically blind, but spiritually he is clear sighted, he knows that Jesus is the answer. Without Jesus we are all blind. Those around Bartimaeus are certainly blind to that, otherwise they would have tried to help him. Jesus freed Bartimaeus, we can only imagine the joy he felt, seeing a human face for the first time, a tree, the beautiful blue sky, the sun. Jesus, the great high priest, the perfect one, the one who doesn’t need to make sacrifices everyday because he has atoned for the sins of all the world by dying on the cross for us, doesn’t treat Batimaeus with disdain, he treats him the same as everyone else who calls upon him, he simply asks ‘What do you want me to do for you?’, such a simple question, full of compassion. When we reach out to God in our distress all he asks is to know what he can do for us. Bartimaeus had complete faith and trust in Jesus and that brought him healing, he regained his sight. The trials and tribulations of everyday life can sometimes seem so severe, that we really lay into God and plead with him for release from our suffering and we get angry, just as Jed Bartlett did. We may not get the answer straight away, it may not come in the way we expect, but we can be sure it will come. For Jed, his consolation comes when the dead Mrs Landingham appears to him. We may not know when or where our consolation will come from…but we can be sure that it will come.