Sunday, October 4, 2009

Proper 25 Year B

Proper 25 B
(Revised Common Lectionary)

Job 42:1-6,10-17; Psalm 34:1-8,(19-22)


Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126

Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

All the sophisticated explanations and arguments about good, evil and God by Job and his friends crumble. Job now acknowledges to God, "I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me...." He then delivers the "aha" line of the whole drama when he says to God, "I had heard you by the hearing of the ear, but
now my eyes see you...." Job repents for his pretentiousness and anger. When Job finishes, we are told the Lord not only restored all that had been taken away from him, but doubles everything he has! Job's family and friends rally around him, each giving him some money and gold. Job was also given "seven sons and three daughters." He lived to to 140 years old and saw four generations. "And Job died."

The psalmist has discovered that "When the lowly calls, God listens/and rescues them." "Happy" is the person who trusts/takes refuge in this God. This Lord is "near to the broken-hearted...." Not a single bone will be broken.


Jeremiah lived through dramatic ups and downs in Israel's history. At first, Assyria, a constant threat to Israel's survival, seems about to collapse. But even in its death throes, Israel is threatened. Jeremiah worries that there is more to come. Babylon will be the next threat. In 589, the Babylonians captured Jerusalem and Jeremiah was among those taken prisoner back to Babylon. It seems as if as ally of Jeremiah's, however, decided that some words of encouragement needed to be said in all this gloom and doom, which comprise chapters 30 and 31, from which this reading is taken. This contributor paints a moving picture with words about restoration. Praise the Lord, he says, who will gather all the displaced back to Jerusalem, even the blind, the lame and pregnant women with young children. The Lord will lead them along paths easy and enjoyable to travel; "I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim [Joseph's younger son whose tribe became the strongest in Israel] is my firstborn."

The Lord's restoration of Zion is/was/will seem like a dream, accompanied by easy laughter and spontaneous singing. Other nations will say, "What great things their Lord has done for them." This wonderful time of restoration can be compared to parched water beds full of water again. Then comes the promise: "they who sow in tears/shall reap in glad song...."

This excerpt from the "letter to the Hebrews" continues the comparisons read last Sunday. Human priests come and go, but the priesthood of Jesus is "permanent," "because he continues forever." Jesus, therefore, makes continuous "intercession." He is "holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens." Unlike human priests, who are continuously making sacrifices for their sins and the sins of others, Jesus' sacrifice was "once for all....." Jesus is that "Son who has been made perfect forever."

This is the last episode in Mark's narrative before Jesus enters Jerusalem for that final, fateful week. With his considerable skills as a story teller, Mark has brought his reader/hearer to the point where by now, literally, we should "see" things we had never seen before. So, Mark tells us about a blind man who attaches himself to Jesus and can see for the first time. Mark tells this story his way, which is quite distinct from Mathew and Luke. Mark gives the man a name, Bartimaeus, and an identity, that pesky "blind beggar" who always sits by the road to Jericho. For the first time in his entire gospel, Mark uses the powerful title "Son of David" for Jesus in the cry Bartimaeus makes to Jesus. While all three gospel writers say the crowds chastised him for shouting at Jesus, only Mark says the mood of the crowd suddenly shifts when Jesus invites Bartimaeus to come closer. "Take heart" they encourage him. And only Mark reports a spontaneous, enthusiastic response from him-- And throwing off his cloak, he jumps up and comes to Jesus! When Jesus asks blind Bartimaeus what he wants, only Mark says he began by addressing Jesus as "my teacher," or rabbi. Jesus quickly responds, Your faith has made you well, go on your way. Instead o leaving, Mark says, the man followed Jesus.

Mark's distinctive story-telling genius is on full display in this short incident packed with crucial significance. That blind man every traveler from Jericho to Jerusalem always sees on the side of the road shouts out to Jesus, "Son of David," a title which Mark has reserved to this pivotal point in his narrative. Immediately and out of nowhere the blind man recognizes Jesus as that One linked to Israel's deepest longing for a new breakthrough of God's abiding love and saving work that would be experienced one more, dramatic time. When Jesus asks him what he wants, Bartimaeus-- whom we have never seen before or again in Mark's version-- uses another, revealing address. He calls Jesus "My teacher," or rabbi, the one on whose every word I hang. The declaration made by Jesus is the key to this entire episode: "Your faith has made you well...." Then Jesus says, You've got what you asked for now you can go on your way. But Mark pointedly says Bartimaeus made the sanp decision to follow Jesus "on the way."

The drama of Job reaches its final scene in today's excerpt. After Job recovers from God's blasting him with questions Job cannot answer, he confesses, "I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me." Then the long drama delivers its crucial line: "I heard you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you...."

Continuing the dazzling work on the phenomenology of the human senses by Jean-Luc Nancy, Jacques Derrida and others, Jean-Louis Chretien explores the connection between hearing and seeing. He writes in
The Call and the Response, "Rather than figure out how sight and hearing are opposed, the task is to think how one is included in the other... how we truly see only by listening and speaking..." He says, "we listen with our eyes." He makes an especially intriguing observation that in the Jewish and Christian traditions, "the eye listens and speech sees." Quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, he concludes, "The prophet who 'hears words that express an intelligible truth' is superior to the one who 'sees things that signify a truth' since words are signs more deliberate and expressive than what presents itself silently to the eye." (p. 38)

You and I-- all who read/hear Mark's narrative-- are in the same place as Bartimaeus. We are not "eye"witnesses, we only know what we have heard (and read). But also like Bartimaeus, what we have heard/read can enable us to "see" what cannot be seen in any other way. In Chretien's useful phrase, "how we truly see only by listening." Which, in our turn, converts us into "speaking" witnesses, followers.

By this point in Mark's narrative he has described some of the unforgettable things Jesus said and did that enable us to "see" what words cannot describe: the love of God in action. And they open our eyes to "see" what is about to be described the last week of Jesus' life for all its profound and moving import.

The next move for us to take is the same move made by Job after all his fussing and fuming at God: Finally I "see" the whole picture; I get it! In the same sense we say everyday "I see" when we finally understand something someone has tried her best to describe in words and she finally stops only when we finally say I "see," we can now finally say I get it. Joining such an unlikely witness as the "blind" Bartimaues who "saw" things others had missed, are we now ready to say that through this "Son of David" whom I now chose to call "my teacher," I "see" how God works in and on the world, in and on me! I am no longer "blind" to God and God's unique ways? I am now ready to follow "in the way."