Archive for November, 2018

MARK 10:46-52

46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Society saw no value in the likes of Bartimaeus, except perhaps as a convenient “drop box” for middle-class charity – providing the chance to pay off some of the guilty neglect and self-centered ambition with a few bucks. When he cried out for Jesus, the crowd was offended that he should want anything more than they had already been generous enough to give him (again, largely for themselves).

Beggars are not to have a voice; they are not to be noticed. Certainly it is unacceptable that they should become a nuisance. “Shut up, you damned rag!” they cursed. “Don’t you dare ask for more than you deserve!” But Bartimaeus persisted, even increasing his volume and pitch: “Jesus! Please have mercy on me!” And when Jesus called for him, the annoyed crowd said to the blind man in a scolding tone, “Lucky dog. Don’t blow this one.”

When Bartimaeus arrived at the place where Jesus was, he was confronted with a question that is critical to the advance of the spiritual life: “What do you want me to do for you?” The question of want (or longing, aspiration, or spiritual hunger) brings the matter of salvation to a profoundly personal focus.

The return path to the heart of God has been cleared of such impediments as penance payments or orthodox procedures, but progress down that path needs to be a voluntary effort – an ongoing act of decision and will – on the part of the one seeking salvation. Jesus’ question to Bartimaeus was his invitation to name precisely that for which he was yearning most deeply in his life. Once named, Bartimaeus’ own faith in its possibility became the effective agency for its realization.

MARK 10:46-52

46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

As a humorous aside, “Bartimaeus son of Timaeus” was read by the author of Matthew, as he reviewed his sources (Mark’s Gospel being one of them), as indicating two individuals – Bartimaeus and the son of Timaeus – a confusion caused in part by the fact that the name Bar Timaeus in Aramaic translates as “son of Timaeus.” Not wanting to tamper with his source, Matthew simply copied the story into his own narrative, but with two blind beggars instead of one!

Here in the original story there is only one man, Bartimaeus, whose blindness is surely, on the level of symbolic meaning, representing our human condition generally: reaching out under the dark veil of spiritual ignorance for the Light and Love we need.

As a blind beggar, Bartimaeus was about as close as one could come to being a societal “bottom feeder.” Without social value or influence, his kind was forced to live off the scraps of charity the well-to-do might toss their way. As in our own day, back then the homeless and invalid beggars stationed themselves along the rush-hour thoroughfares and congested intersections of the middle-class rat race.

There were many like him who had no other recourse but to beg off the small change and stale bread of those who rushed by, their only ambition to get enough for now. Beyond that, however, they had little clarity or hope for more. But when Bartimaeus heard that Jesus the healer was coming by, his heart leapt within him. Here was his chance for what he had never dared imagine: to spring from his dark prison and see the light of the Day Star. “Jesus,” he cried out, “have mercy on me!”

HEBREWS 7:23-28

23 Furthermore, the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

26 For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

Even though a permanent fixture for world redemption has been set in place with the ascension of Jesus to God’s right hand – let us not forget that we are speaking metaphorically and in the language of myth – something is still required of the one seeking salvation, which is the will to be whole.

In Christian mythology, the everlasting intercession of the risen High Priest on behalf of us all is picture language for representing  the “good news” that Jesus revealed while on earth: that God loves the world unconditionally and has already forgiven the sinner, providing a free and clear path for our return. However – and here’s the point – God will not save us, indeed God cannot save us against our will.

We must want to be whole, or else we will persist in our inner divisions and contradictions. We must want to be free, or else we will continue in captivity and emotional paralysis. Yes, the universe is set up for salvation, but whether or not we will be saved is up to us, not God.

What does it mean, to want salvation? Well, just as we said, to desire and strive for wholeness – within ourselves, healing the split between body and soul; as well as between ourselves and others, restoring relationship where it is bogged or broken down with distrust, suspicion, resentment, or neglect. We might have added “reunited with God,” but in truth our reunion with God is accomplished in and through these other two paths – the paths within and between.

HEBREWS 7:23-28

23 Furthermore, the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

26 For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

The writer of Hebrews, likely writing in the decade following the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem by the Romans (70 C.E.), is deeply engaged in spiritualizing the familiar parts and practices of temple sacrificial worship. As the apostle Paul had earlier transferred the identity of the temple itself from the physical building to the spiritual community of believers, so now this author (in the tradition of Paul) interprets the identity and saving achievement of Jesus Christ according to the earthly function of the Jewish high priest. But, of course, the heavenly High Priest is superior in every way, perpetually interceding for all those who call on his name.

The historical role of the Jewish high priest was to serve as chief mediator between the people of Israel and their God. On the high holy Day of Atonement he first purified himself and then offered a sacrifice of repentance (“returning”) on behalf of the nation, removing its guilt and wiping clean the slate of its sin-record against God. Although he had been raised up from among the people and (here was a sore spot for many Jewish purists) appointed by Rome, the high priest was fallible, in his own way sinful, and naturally mortal. In other words, he was neither perfect nor permanent.

But Jesus, according to this spiritual re-reading, was indeed perfect, and, what’s more, lives even now in everlasting beatitude with God. So, while there may have been legitimate questions over the certification and virtue of some of his former and earthly counterparts, Jesus represents a permanent fixture in the universal process of salvation. Now there is no need to travel to Jerusalem, or any other religious center for that matter, to have access to God’s saving grace.

PSALM 34:1-8 (19-22)

I will bless the Lord at all times;
    his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
    let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me,
    and let us exalt his name together.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
    and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant;
    so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord,
    and was saved from every trouble.
The angel of the Lord encamps
    around those who fear him, and delivers them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good;
    happy are those who take refuge in him.

19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
    but the Lord rescues them from them all.
20 He keeps all their bones;
    not one of them will be broken.
21 Evil brings death to the wicked,
    and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
22 The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
    none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all.” Really?

Of course, we must allow for the possibility that this as well as all the other psalms were written for use as the liturgy and songs of the temple during worship. If that is the case, then such idealistic and exaggerated language was not intended to explain or justify anything, but merely to carry the faith and aspirations of the worshiping community godward. Perhaps all the poet is wanting to say is that God helps and saves those who look to Him in their afflictions, by giving them hope for deliverance and the strength to endure. “God is our ever-present help in times of trouble,” is another hymn of faith found among the Psalms.

It may well be that clear-cut simplifications and black-and-white exaggerations are necessary to produce the kind of belief that holds in force our human worldviews. If there is to be meaning to our idea of God, for instance, it must have clear lines and definite content to distinguish it from all that to our minds is not God. In the biblical worldview lying behind much of Western culture, God is nothing if not the saving power that delivers us from evil, damnation, catastrophe and death. At some deep level we need to know that someone, and someone very able, is watching out for us.

JOB 42:1-6, 10-17

Then Job answered the Lord:

“I know that you can do all things,
    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you declare to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.”

10 And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11 Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring. 12 The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. 13 He also had seven sons and three daughters. 14 He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. 15 In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. 16 After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. 17 And Job died, old and full of days.

In a way, it is unfortunate that the author of Job brought his story to such a bright, happy … and unrealistic conclusion. All of his wealth is restored and doubled, his family is perfectly replaced, and a good long lie is awarded to him. When exactly does that happen in real life?

A better ending, because less like a fairytale, would have Job come to realize the present grace of God in the midst of his suffering, bringing him the kind of wisdom that is won only be coming through the fire of trials and tribulations. There is literary evidence, in fact, that the ending of Job as we have it (42:10-17) was added later by the same editor who inserted the early episode of the heavenly wager between God and the Accuser (1:6-12). Take these two additions out of the text and you have a deeply challenging yet much more realistic exploration into the problem of undeserved suffering.

While the patience of Job is typically upheld as his chief virtue, a still more worthy attribute that receives little attention is Job’s persistent demand to have an audience with God. Relentlessly he pushes through the brambles and blockades of his friends’ theological advice, insisting that his “case” be heard directly by the divine executive-in-charge. In the end, it wasn’t reasonable explanations that he got, but he did come face to face with God. And that was enough.

JOB 42:1-6, 10-17

Then Job answered the Lord:

“I know that you can do all things,
    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you declare to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.”

10 And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11 Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring. 12 The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. 13 He also had seven sons and three daughters. 14 He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. 15 In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. 16 After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. 17 And Job died, old and full of days.

God’s invitation to Job to expand his mind so as to understand all the mysteries of the universe and to serve as its governor if he things that he can do a better job of things, sufficiently humbled Job – and we are careful to say “humbled” and not “humiliated,” since the effect was to bring him “down to earth” (the literal meaning of humility) and out of the abstract real of theories and explanations.

This is the point of the narrative where God has been traditionally understood to say something like, “I have my reasons and your mind is too small, so just let it go at that.” Some such phrase has been used, and abused, in countless situations of tragedy and loss in order to justify the sovereign will of God with the raw fact of personal suffering. In order to save the idea of an all-controlling God, condolences are gently extended along with a pious shrug over “the unfathomable purpose of God.”

When Job repents in dust and ashes, it is not for the now-discovered sin that is the real reason for his catastrophe. “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear” – that is to say, God had been only a rumored reality haunting the vocabulary of religion: creator, lord, most high, ground of being. “But now my eye sees you” – or in other words, God has become for Job an experienced reality, a vibrant and awesome presence, the mysterious Other beyond the reach of words yet profoundly near.

What Job repents of is his earlier presumption that he could find comfort in theology (talk about God) rather than find God in his suffering.