Lectionary Reflection for the Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
October 28, 2012
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.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. Mark 10:51-52
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Jeremiah 31:33
The story of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, stands in stark contrast with last weekâ€™s gospel lesson where two members of Jesusâ€™ inner circle attempt to wrest a position of power and honor for themselves. Bartimaeus exhibits great faith and persistence, and his behavior invites us to do likewise.
Like the hemorrhaging womanâ€”another marginalized character we meet in Markâ€™s gospelâ€”Bartimaeus stands in contrast to the â€œin-crowd.â€ These lowly folk, unacceptable in the eyes of polite first century society, exhibit a trust and faith that neither the Synagogue ruler (5:21ff) nor the rich man (10:17ff) are able to muster. Even Jesusâ€™ own closest friends still fail to understand what their beloved radical rabbi is trying to teach them.
I guess I am not unlike the fist disciples, because somehow, in all the times Iâ€™ve read this gospel lesson, I missed the real point of what happened after Jesus restored Bartimaeusâ€™ sight. Jesus gave him clear instructions to â€œGo; your faith has made you well.â€ Yet like other marginalized folk that Jesus heals, Bartimaeus does not follow instructions but instead follows Jesus.
Have you ever prayed that Jesus will open your eyes to the needs around you? I know I have prayed similar prayers, and when I do a real struggle often follows between what I see and how I should respond. Praying for open eyes, open minds, and open hearts just about guarantees that we disciples will tread on some risky, countercultural, and tenuous ground.
Yep, when I pray fervently for open eyes, I sometimes donâ€™t like what I see when I look in the mirror. The faith, willingness to abandon everything (including his cloak), and audacity of this blind beggar drives me straight to the foot of the cross echoing Martin Lutherâ€™s words â€œWe are beggars; this is true.â€ Why, if I am truly a beggar of the most despicable kind, do I all too often fall prey to the lure of being â€œrightâ€ or â€œacceptableâ€ or worse yet, â€œsafeâ€?
What prevents me from casting aside the cloak of my perceived security to truly stand empty and dependent before Jesus? How come it is so difficult to put aside all pretext and pretension and simply follow the One who loves me? Why do I consistently fall short of the mark? It would be tempting at this point to descend into the territory of mental self-flagellation and woe; however, grace redeems my failure and daily lets me die to my imperfect self and rise again to walk in the light another day.
For me, and I hope for you, part of the good news in this weekâ€™s gospel hearkens all the way back to Jeremiah and a reminder that Godâ€™s law (and love!) is written into our very DNA, inscribed on our hearts, so that every beat and every breath is a reminder that we belong to the Creator of the Universe. This great love, this naming and claiming that was fulfilled in baptism, gives me courage each day to continue to pray â€œMy teacher, let me see again.â€ By the grace of God in Christ Jesus I am able to move a little closer to clarity of vision each and every day. Thanks be to God!
Hereâ€™s the story of how Paul Baloche wrote the classic praise song â€œOpen the Eyes of my Heartâ€ from prayer. Click here to watch the YouTube video.
What does it mean to have a God who forgets? Verse 34 of the lesson from Jeremiah says, â€œNo longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, â€˜Know the LORD,â€™ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; LORD forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.â€
Our culture teaches us to remember. We remember when someone does wrong to us, and the slogan â€œNever forgetâ€ is a popular one. Yet our salvation depends on a God who both forgives us and forgets our sin. What responsibility to we have to forgive others and avoid holding grudges? Is there ever a time when it is appropriate to work to forgive but not forget?
Show the children a copy of the Ten Commandments. Tell them that God made a covenant with the people of Israel, but that the people couldnâ€™t keep their part of the agreement and broke the covenant time and again. So God made a new covenant with the people God loved so dearlyâ€”one that couldnâ€™t be broken. Instead of writing the law on stone tablets, God wrote the law on peopleâ€™s hearts so that it would always be close to themâ€”a real part of each person. Because God is in our hearts, we are able to know and love God. Give each child a paper heart with Jeremiah 31:33-34 written on it. Then give each child a colorful sheet of paper and invite the children to write a letter to Godâ€”from their heart. Consider either asking the children to bring their letters in sealed envelopes with their name on the outside so that you can give the letters back to them when they affirm their baptism or instruct parents to keep the letter until that time.
For Reformation Sunday
If you are celebrating Reformation Sunday this week, consider focusing on the gospel reading (John 8:31-36), and giving particular attention to Jesusâ€™ words in verses 31-32: â€œIf you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.â€
What does this mean for twenty-first century Christians? In a time when more and more people are eschewing religious affiliation (see this recent Pew Forum report), what can we learn from our Reformation heritage? What does it mean to be a reforming church in this time and in your particular context?
Finally, in light of Jesusâ€™ words, what does it mean to be free? What are we free from: death, sin, anxiety? What are we free for? How can we as disciples of Christ live into this freedom and share it with others in a way that is as fresh, inclusive, and radical as the One who spoke the words, who is the Word made flesh?
Avoid having this Sunday simply be a celebration of history and tradition. The Word is alive and always revealing truth. Our freedom is a big, bold YESâ€”a yes that began in baptism, continues today, and will go with us from death into eternity.