Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pentecost 22-B: A journey of faith

Proper 25 Lectionary: Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126 ; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

Today’s reading from the gospel of Mark is the conclusion of a very long and patient teaching by Jesus which Mark begins describing in chapter 8. On this journey, Jesus is helping his followers understand their own blindness so that they can be opened to the enlightenment that comes from God alone.

This is Jesus’ final journey, so he’s preparing the disciples to be bearers of the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ to the whole world. But this salvation - what it is, who it’s for, and how it will happen, isn’t anything like they are expecting. It isn’t much like we have come to expect either, so this lesson is as important for us now as it was for the disciples then.

(See the MAP insert in the bulletin)

The journey begins in the northern part of Israel with the story of the feeding of the 4,000. A crowd has gathered and they have nothing to eat. Jesus has compassion for them because they are hungry (actually and spiritually), and tells the disciples to feed them.

With what? All we have are a few loaves and fish. But their faith in Jesus and willingness to obey, even in the face of evidence that it’s impossible, makes way for God’s abundance and grace to be manifest.

Next they head for Dalmanutha (near Magdala) where Jesus is tested by the Pharisees. Frustrated by their blindness and lack of faith, Jesus decides not to stop and engage with them. His time had not yet come.

So they head to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. On the way, the disciples realize they forgot to bring bread and worry that Jesus will be upset with them. Jesus asks them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? ...Do you have eyes, and fail to see?” (8:17-18)

So, on they go to Bethsaida where Jesus cures a blind man, but the cure isn’t immediate. It takes a couple of tries. Sometimes our faith and our spiritual sight take time to happen.

They continue north to Caesarea Philippi. This is where Jesus asks the disciples who people say he is, and Peter responds: ‘You are the Messiah.’ (8:29) Jesus affirms Peter’s revelation but sternly orders the disciples not to tell anyone.

NOW the time has come. God’s promise of salvation is about to be fulfilled, but it isn’t what anyone is expecting: Jesus says, “… the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders …and be killed, and after three days rise again.” (8:31) Salvation in Jesus won’t be a regional military victory, but a world-wide, eternal reality and it will happen in a most unexpected way - on a cross.

Peter forbids Jesus to speak like that and Jesus rebukes Peter: “Get behind me Satan! …If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. (8:33-35)

A quick stop at a nearby mountain for the transfiguration, then they go on to another healing – a boy whom the disciples were unable to heal. Frustrated again, Jesus gets direct: “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you?” (9:19)

Then he teaches them for the second time, “the Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”(9: 31) Mark tells us that at this point, the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was saying, but now they’re afraid to ask.

Southward they go through Galilee to Capernaum and the teaching continues. In Capernaum, you’ll remember, Jesus caught the disciples arguing over who was the greatest among them. So Jesus offers a teaching which upends their expectations about the rich, the powerful, and the insiders.

In the kingdom of God ALL are welcome, including the least, the powerless, and the outsider – and he makes very clear what the insider’s responsibility is to the outsider: if your hand, that is, one of your members, causes one of these who is new in their faith to stumble, cut that hand off.

Onward they go to the region of Judea… As usual, crowds form and Jesus stops to teach them. Here again the Pharisees test Jesus, asking about divorce. Jesus contrasts the hardness of heart of those who crush faith and life with rules against the tender innocence of dependent children. All who wish enter the kingdom of God, Jesus says, must be like these children.

Then they run across the rich young man whom Jesus held up as an example of how hard it will be for one who is secure and self-reliant to enter the kingdom of God. As you remember, this teaching astounded the disciples whose expectations are finally beginning to crumble. Jesus repeats his teaching about salvation in the kingdom of God: “many who are first will be last and the last will be first.” (10:31)

Next Mark tells us about James and John asking for a place of honor when Jesus is glorified. By now you can almost hear Jesus’ sigh. He knows they’re still thinking in terms of military victory, not eternal salvation. I can’t promise you the honor you seek, Jesus says, but I can tell you that “The cup [of salvation] that I drink you will drink [too].” (10:39)

The rest of the followers, whose blindness also persists, are perturbed. Why should they get such a great honor? Patiently, Jesus repeats (yet again!) his teaching about salvation in the kingdom of God: “…whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. …” (10:44)

Finally, they arrive at Jericho, which is about 15 miles north of Jerusalem. The journey draws to a close much as it began, with the healing of a blind man: Bartimaeus, who was sitting on the side of the road – or as we might say it – who was ‘sidelined.’

When Bartimaeus hears Jesus coming near, he cries out for mercy. Even when “members” of Jesus community order him to stop, Bartimaeus keeps on asking.

Mark tells us that Jesus stood still. Hearing Bartimaeus’ cry for mercy, which is a call that hopes for relief from suffering, Jesus stopped what he was doing – he stopped the journey - to engage with him. This being the conclusion of the journey, however, Jesus sends his followers to bring Bartimaeus to him. He sends the disciples to do what every modern church member is called to do: invite IN those who are sidelined, powerless or dependent, saying, ‘Be of good cheer, because Jesus is inviting you to come.’

The disciples lingering blindness didn’t prevent them from leading Bartimaeus to Jesus. And there, Bartimaeus is made whole. So are the disciples, because that’s how God does things.

As Bartimaeus’ sight is restored, both his actual and spiritual sight, the same is true for the disciples, who broke open their habitual and learned boundaries in order to welcome Bartimaeus IN as a follower of Jesus on the way.

Mark’s gospel continues with the beginning of Jesus’ passion story. We, however, will stand still here, and ponder this powerful journey and what it means for us as followers of Jesus Christ.

It means that although our expectations of salvation and the kingdom of God may be off we can expect that Jesus will be as present and patient with us on our journey as he was with the disciples in their journey.

It means that we, like Jesus’ disciples, answer God’s call to us recognizing that we possess some lingering blindness, knowing that our blindness won’t prevent us from leading those whom the world has sidelined to Jesus who is their source of healing, restoration, and wholeness.

It means that when we are faithful, when we hear the call for mercy from the Bartimaeuses in our world, and answer them, we know that THEY and WE will be made whole.

It means that we, who are followers of Jesus Christ, are called to be like him and respond with mercy, that is, with motivation to relieve their suffering.

It means that relying on our faith, we maintain a willingness to obey even in the face of evidence that it’s impossible, so that we can make a way for God’s grace and abundance to be manifest in the world.

We’ve experienced this recently in our mission work at the Shepherd’s Table. As you know, we’ve begun Life Skills classes between breakfast and lunch. We asked our guests a question similar to the one Jesus asked Bartimaeus: ‘What would you like us to do for you?’ And they answered us.

We’ve offered everything from drying and using herbs to reconciling a bank statement. An exciting new development is that now we are working on becoming an off-site G.E.D. location for Cleveland Community College. Nearly 20 of our guests have already signed up!

It’s important for us to ask the question that Jesus asked Bartimaeus because 1) it honors the dignity of the one being served, and 2) it acknowledges that our lingering blindness may lead us to think we know what those who are on the sidelines need, though our efforts may actually be a stumbling block to the fuller restoration God is waiting to give – to them, to us, and to the world.

Let us pray together the Collect for the Holy Spirit (BCP, 251): Almighty and most merciful God, grant that by the indwelling of your Holy Spirit we may be enlightened and strengthened for your service; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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