Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Sermon at Parish Mass, the Last Sunday after Trinity 2015

Jeremiah 31:7-9
Hebrews 5:1-6
Mark 10:46-52

“Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.” What way is that? It is the way to Jerusalem, and today’s gospel reading is nearly at the end of it. Jesus and his disciples have been making their way to Jerusalem for some time and Jericho is the last stop on the journey.
While they have been travelling together Jesus has three times predicted his death. He has told the disciples that he is going to Jerusalem where he will be rejected, and killed, and will rise again. And the disciples have consistently failed to understand, as we have seen over the last few weeks.
Jesus is the Messiah, God’s anointed ruler come to redeem his people, but that redemption is not going to be brought about by power or force or control. God’s redemption has nothing to do with the deadly rivalry by which people strive to be at the centre of things and fight their way to the top of the heap. Instead, mysteriously, God’s redemption is going to be brought about in weakness, in failure, by one who is rejected and killed. God’s redemption in fact will be the undoing of all our history of violent rivalry and the wreckage it has made of human life.
And the disciples have not only failed to understand that, they have gone on acting as though power and force and control were what mattered. They have gone on behaving within that mindset of rivalry and domination. Who is the greatest? Who will have the seats of power next to Jesus in his dictatorship?
So throughout this journey the disciples have really failed to see who Jesus is, what he is about. And at the beginning and end of the journey Mark’s gospel has two miracles, both of them the healing of blind men. The long story of the disciples failing to see is bracketed by stories of people being given their sight by Jesus.
And as we see in today’s story of Bartimaeus, the key to healing, to being able to see, is faith. Bartimaeus, because of his disability, is a marginal figure in society. He begs by the side of the road. And when Jesus and a large crowd go by, there are plenty of people who want to keep him there, who want to shut him out from their group. They scold him and tell him to keep quiet. But Bartimaeus calls out all the louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
For the first time in Mark’s gospel that royal title is applied to Jesus. “Son of David.” God’s anointed king, the one who will bring about God’s promise of an unending kingdom of righteousness. And this will provide an opener to the next scene in the gospel, the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Then the crowds will acclaim Jesus with the words “blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David”. But the first person to say this, the first person to see that Jesus is the Son of David, is Bartimaeus, the blind beggar at the side of the road.
It is the marginal, excluded figure who has the faith to see that Jesus is the Son of David. Jesus who will himself identify with the marginal and excluded in his own rejection and his death.
And Jesus called Bartimaeus to him. From the margins, he is called to the centre. And Jesus restores to him his dignity as a human person. Instead of simply doing something to him like a benevolent patron to an inferior subject, Jesus asks him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He makes him a partner in his own healing. And Bartimaeus says, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’
It is the faith of Bartimaeus which is at the heart of this story. His faith enables him to see who Jesus really is. That spiritual seeing results in his physical healing and brings him in from the margins, restoring him to the community of God’s people. And it is his faith which then leads him to follow Jesus on the way. The way which leads straight to Jerusalem, to the cross, to the tomb and the resurrection. Does Bartimaeus realise this? Does he know where he is going? Well, probably not. When Jesus was arrested, just a week after this scene, Mark tells us very starkly “they all deserted him and fled”. He doesn’t say “they all deserted him except Bartimaeus”.
But although Bartimaeus does not see what lies ahead, he has faith to follow Jesus. Like the other disciples, he is drawn to Jesus even though he might not understand what he is about. He has faith enough, he sees enough, to follow. And that is all that is needed.
The other disciples, too, are following Jesus in faith. Even though they misunderstand Jesus in many ways – as we know because we’ve been following their story.  They don’t understand where they are going, where the way of Jesus will lead them. But they are following anyway. And so they will get to where they need to be, in spite of everything they get wrong.
It is by following Jesus that they will come to understand Jesus, in the end. Once Jesus has risen from the dead and returned to them they too will see that Jesus, the Man on the Cross, rejected and killed, is indeed the Son of David, the Messiah. They too will find faith, and see, and be healed.
And that is the story of the disciples of Jesus ever since. It is our story, too. We find ourselves drawn to Jesus, the risen Lord who walks with his Church. If we look back over our lives can we identify moments of seeing, moments when we have realized that this Jesus is the one we need to follow? Can we think of moments of sudden and unexpected hope when we have sensed that Jesus has the power to transform the tragic history of sin in our own lives and in the world?  That this Jesus, risen from the dead, offers a new beginning that has no end? Those moments of seeing are real encounters with the risen Lord. They give us faith enough to follow in his way. But that doesn’t mean that we understand everything, or that we get everything right. But we don’t need to! Jesus does not demand that we understand everything from the outset. He calls us to follow in his way, and to trust him for where it will lead us.
As St Paul says, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. What we need is to see Jesus and to follow him. It is enough that we recognize that this is the Saviour. It is by following him that we will find out what he is about. It is by making the journey that we will be saved. Jesus did not ask any of the disciples to understand everything from the outset, and he does not ask us. He does not present us with a list of theological propositions that we have to agree to, before we can follow him. No. He calls us to follow as we are. And it is in following that we will be healed and saved, as was Bartimaeus. We too are part of today’s gospel. We too can place ourselves in this story, and make Bartimaeus’ prayer our own:
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.

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