Job 38:1-7, (34-41), Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c, Hebrews 5:1-10, Mark 10:35-45

Readings for Proper 25 (30) Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

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Proper 25B/Ordinary 30B/Pentecost 29 October 22, 2006 Textweek


Job 42:1-6, 10-17; Psalm 34:1-8, 19-22; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Each time we hear the word of God, the scriptures read or each time we read them there is an opportunity to see something more, see something new, and as Stewart was reading from the book of Job this morning it struck me that there’s a wonderful sermon in the text of line 11: ‘they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him’. I don’t know that we often preach in churches about all the evil that the Lord brings but it would be an interesting line to follow. We’re not going there this morning though, because I want to just hold that reading from Job – we’ve had Job for a few weeks now and what we get today is just a bit more than that classic ending ‘and they lived happily ever after’. Although my guess is that for most people, reading it as they lived happily ever after will be enough – at last Job’s misery is ended, all is restored, we can now forget about his wrestling with the divine and get on with trusting that God makes all things well. And if we look once again at the psalm, read through the psalm again - what you find is there’s a song, there’s a liturgical verse in that psalm and it can almost be used as a jingle to reinforce the happy-ever-after theology.

It’s very easy if you read the psalm to picture in those mega-churches, people with their eyes closed, hands in the air, looking towards the ceiling, ‘exalting his name’, as it says in verse 3, ‘looking to him’, as it says in verse 5, condemning the evil to death, knowing the right (or is it the righteous), knowing that the righteous will be saved and blessed. Worship him, God or Jesus, trust that God will do the good things and all will be good – or maybe not all, but at least I will live happily ever after. And him who we worship will achieve all this by miracles and we can prove that because it is in the gospel today – if he can heal the blind he can do anything.

All of this is an understandable theological framework developed from the scriptures, taught by the church and probably quite loosely believed by those who come to church. It’s a valid framework for Sunday schools but I think there’s more; there’s more in the readings and until we find the more, then it is no wonder that we only half believe the theology that we have.

So look once again to Job and follow the path or the process of Job - there’s a shift in there, there’s a turning point. Job began – his starting point was certainly better than mine, probably better than ours, for he knew he was righteous. That was his starting point; he then moves or is moved to desolation. Then what we get is verse 5: ‘I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.’ It is a movement in Job that initiates restoration, resurrection, re-creation – ‘but now my eye sees you’. And I think that is exactly what Mark is underlining, that movement, as he takes that narrative, bringing it into the context and the life of the early church. Jesus asks the question, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ What do you want me to do for you? It’s exactly the same question that is asked of James and John when they sought positions of power, only this time the question is asked of a blind beggar, and the answer in verse 51, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Bartimaeus sets Job into a new context, into the present, the present world of Mark, into the context of the emerging church, so it’s quite a powerful narrative for us in this present context, in ourselves as emerging church.

Mark has already shown us in the narrative leading up, the misunderstanding and the blindness of the disciples, the followers of Jesus, who still do not quite actually get it. Now from a blind beggar we hear the politically-charged reality – Jesus, ‘Son of David’ – the blind beggar names the reality: this is the Messiah. It is a naming that challenges the established order of everything: Church and State are challenged by the insight of a blind beggar. The disciples are there, there’s a large crowd there; Church and State are blind to the emerging new order that is revealed in Christ. When the blind beggar speaks - and it’s more than just speaking, for he actually sees what is revealed and names it - the response he gets, in verse 45: ‘many sternly ordered him to be quiet’. The crowd, the disciples, are not only the blind ones, they actually don’t want to hear. But as Bartimaeus calls, Jesus, the divine responds. This isn’t another miracle - Jesus healing someone who is sick - this is humanity initiating a response from the divine. This is one seeking, in his blindness, to see that which is true, that which gives life.

We can pick up the echoes of Isaiah, the prophetic voice. Not the predictive voice of futures but rather the prophetic voice, the namer of visions, the namer of the unfolding of creation. Isaiah says of the Messiah, ‘He will give sight to the blind.’ It’s a powerful story – this is Mark telling us that in Christ the prophecy is fulfilled, not someone predicted the future and now it’s happened, more than that, the prophecy is fulfilled in Christ. But it actually isn’t Christ who is the doer of the fulfilling, for that needs to be seen, that needs to be seen: we need to initiate. We need to initiate by seeing the revelation. If we are to realize the divine possibility of tomorrow, then we must read and contemplate the gospel narrative of today, recognize our blindness, recognize that which is revealed in the divine, and then from our blindness, from the place in us that is the blind beggar - and we probably all go there now and again, not for too long, for as we approach it we either pop a valium, turn on the telly, on or have a glass of something-or-other - but we know where that place is, the place of the blind beggar - cry out from there and call truth into being, and then, as it says in verse 50 - this so important - throw off our cloak, reveal ourselves. ‘Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.’ If we remain cloaked, if we can’t reveal ourselves, then let’s not kid ourselves that we will ever speak the divine revelation into being. If we can get that far, then don’t worship, don’t idolize, but rather follow him on the way. It sounds so simple but it requires a radical change; it’s a movement from reading this as we read it in Sunday School, to actually getting that there is something of life, my life, our life, all life, spoken in these words.

We can’t hold onto the past. We think we can, we can’t, the world is changing, changing all the time. Its change, its revelation, is in response to what we see, what we choose to see, what we hear, what we choose not to hear. I was thinking this morning, just how different the church is. Last night I was waiting with about a hundred or more others from the church as we waited for the start of the Gay Pride march, and just thought, that’s already a difference. To see the church in that place is a huge challenge to many. While I was there, my mobile went off and I got an SMS from someone leaving Lebanon going to Jordan and I thought, isn’t that amazing. And the content of the SMS was to give an estimate for fixing the cracks in the church walls.

We live in a different world; we must read these scriptures in the present moment. Don’t hold onto that which is past, don’t hold onto your understanding, it doesn’t fit. If we hold onto an old understanding, an understanding from the past that no longer holds true, then we inhibit the unfolding of creation. The Gospel is the Word of life and for life: it is not recording a past event, but calling us into life.

Contemplate the gospel from the place of the Blind Beggar in yourself - from the place that desires to see. Know that the world has changed and so contemplate the Gospel for the present and for the future, not the past.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris