Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pentecost Twenty-two
Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm 126
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing seed for sowing, Shall doubtless come again with joy, bringing his sheaves with him.

There’s a scene in the movie “Sweet Home Alabama” where Reese Witherspoon’s character Melanie Smooter is in the kitchen with her mother making something with plums. As Pearl is peeling one to put in the pot, she comments to Melanie about how most people would reject those plums because they were too ripe, but that they are the best for making jam. They get sweeter with age.

I know that I’m very particular when I purchase fruits and vegetables. I don’t want them to be too ripe because then they’ll be no good when I want to eat them, especially bananas. Doesn’t it seem like bananas go brown the minute you get them home? But if you buy them a little under ripe, they are perfect for breakfast the next day. Yet, you can’t make a loaf of banana bread with bananas that aren’t ripe enough, so sometimes those brown bananas on the shelf are perfect.

I’m currently hunting for the perfect pumpkins to decorate my house for Halloween. Unfortunately, the picking is slim these days: the stores had pumpkins out weeks ago and they are not replacing the depleted stock at this point. The best pumpkins are gone. But then we have to ask ourselves, “What does the best pumpkin look like?” Is a pumpkin with a flat side or wobbly bottom really that bad? Is the perfect pumpkin one that is big and fat and round or tall and skinny? Can a tiny pumpkin do the job or do we really need the one that weighs a hundred pounds?

I live in Texas where “bigger is better,” but is it? I know that we tend as human beings to find value in big things. Rulers tend to be taller than average. The women who are said to be the most beautiful have legs that go on forever and ample bosoms. The people we consider the most intelligent are those that are extremely good speakers, even if the words they say do not make any sense at all. The best philosophers are those who say something that sounds good to our ears. We want the best, and we have defined what it means to be the best by certain characteristics that don’t necessarily make them the best. Like the overripe plums that most people would reject, sometimes the ones we reject are actually the ones we should choose.

A terribly sad and horrifying example of how man has chosen the strong over the weak is the story of Adolf Hitler. Now, we know that Hitler sought to extinguish the nation of Israel one person at a time, and he did so in the gas chambers of Nazi Germany. But did you know that he also killed others in his quest to build a perfect race of humans? He emptied hospitals of invalids and told their families that they’d died of natural causes. He killed those who had imperfections: the lame, the blind, the homosexual, the orphan. If he deemed their lives of no use to the world, then he killed them.

But listen to the words of Jeremiah: “Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the uttermost parts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together: a great company shall they return hither.” God was not going to bring together the best of the best. He wasn’t going to gather the strong or handsome. He wasn’t seeking the smartest, richest or most powerful. He gathered together the weak. He restored the weak and the lame, the women at their most vulnerable. They were the ones that He promised to take home and He promised to protect them along the way.

Jeremiah tells us that they would come with weeping. See, those who are weak recognize their need and weep because they see that there is someone who cares. The strong have no need of a savior; they can save themselves. But the weak need someone who is willing to do the unexpected. The weak need someone who is willing to turn the world upside down, to find value in imperfection and to lift up those who the world would rather throw away. God is the One who does this. They may have returned with weeping, but it was tears of humble thankfulness and joy.

We see this in the Psalm for today, which is a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s saving grace. Their mouths were filled with laughter and their tongues with singing. Can one weep and laugh at the same time? I know I have. “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.” There is a time for sorrow and a time for joy. Those who suffer are more readily available to receive God’s help. They look to Him. They trust in Him. They accept their own weakness and count on His strength. The tears of penitence and humility will be sowed into sheaves of bountiful blessings.

Bartimaeus was a blind beggar. Today the blind can find many opportunities to be productive members of society, but in Jesus’ day that had no chance. It was difficult for them to earn a living, not only because there was little they could do without sight, but also because people would be hesitant to support their work. If they were blind, then they were rejected by God for some reason. They must have sinned to have to suffer in this way. In the case of Bartimaeus and others who are seen begging in the scriptures, unscrupulous people may have dumped them in a place where they could beg instead of taking care of them or helping them find something productive to do.

Bartimaeus was on the side of the road begging when he heard a commotion. Was he there by choice or was he dumped by someone who didn’t want the responsibility? We don’t know. We do know that Bartimaeus knew about Jesus. He had probably heard stories of other healing, perhaps even stories about men who had been blind. He couldn’t run up to Jesus the way others who sought healing could do; it was dangerous for him to even try. Would he trip over a rock or a child? Would he run into someone who might hurt him? Would he make a fool of himself trying to find Jesus in the crowd? He couldn’t move out of fear.

However, faith is stronger than fear and Bartimaeus called to Jesus. “Son of David!” he said. This is the only place in Mark’s Gospel where this title is used. It is interesting to note that it is unusual for the man to be named. We don’t hear the names of many of those who interact with Jesus. Even the rich young man is nameless. Yet in this particular story, we are given the blind man’s name: Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus.

Now, I was curious… could there be some importance to the name Timaeus? As I did a search on the Internet, I discovered that one of Plato’s final dialogues was titled, “Timaeus.” Though I have to admit that I only had a brief time to study this possibility and the language was confusing at best, it seems that the dialogue is between several philosophers including one named Timaeus who is the source of a lengthy monologue about the nature of the world, both physical and eternal. Timaeus seems to lay out Plato’s understanding of physics and the role of man in the world.

In such a short time I wasn’t able to fully comprehend Plato’s understanding of God or creation. Was he on the right track? The Greek philosophers, including Plato, have impacted Christian thought from the beginning. Is it good or bad? I can honestly say that I haven’t studied it enough to know for sure. We do not have time to debate the ancient Greek philosophers, but I wonder if the importance of Bartimaeus’ name has something to do with his understanding of the world. Was he someone who followed platonic philosophy? Did he see the world the way Timaeus does in the dialogue? And if so, does this brief encounter tell us more than just how Jesus healed him of his physical sight, but also how Jesus helped him see the world in a new way—through God’s eyes?

Bartimaeus addressed Jesus as “Son of David.” He saw Jesus as a savior, as the Messiah. This is not just about Jesus changing his life by giving him sight; it is about Jesus giving him the sight to see the reality of God. In verse 50, Mark tells us that when Jesus called Bartimaeus to Himself, Bartimaeus got up and ‘casting away his garment’ went to Jesus. What was that garment? Might it have been a piece of clothing that identified him as one who followed Greek philosophy? Might it have simply been his ideology and philosophy? In answering the call of Jesus, Bartimaeus not only went to Jesus in hope of being healed, but in humble recognition that he needed Jesus to clear up his views about God. Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus answered, “Rabbi,” identifying Jesus as a teacher, “I want to see.”

We can read this story as it plainly is: a healing story. The blind man Bartimaeus received his sight because he believed. His faith made him whole. He could see and he could become a productive member of society again because his blindness no longer forced him to beg. But the story might reveal far more than just the physical healing of the man. This is a story of one man recognizing the reality of Jesus, the first in Mark’s Gospel to publically identify Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior, the Eternal One manifest in human flesh. Whatever the Greek world thought about God, creation and the created order, Bartimaeus saw the truth.

And that truth is that there was something eternal about the work Jesus was doing. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “But he, because he abideth for ever, hath his priesthood unchangeable.” Jesus the Messiah was the end of the line, the last priest, because He was the only one who could save anyone completely. The other priests could offer sacrifices, but they could not intervene forever because they were imperfect and perishable. But Jesus who is, “holy, guileless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heavens” is able to provide eternal intervention. His sacrifice was sufficient to restore us to God forever.

Do we believe this? Are we willing to follow God with tears of sorrow, humbling ourselves before the only One who is able to make us truly see? Will we see ourselves as we truly are: imperfect and weak, requiring the grace of God to make us whole? We might want to pick only the perfect plums or bananas mates or rulers, but God doesn’t choose perfection. He saves those who need to be saved. He chose us, not because we are good or perfect, the biggest or the best, but because we need Him.

He came that we might see, not only with our eyes but with our souls. It is easy to get caught up in the philosophies of our world, to see the world through the eyes of those who have power and strength, knowledge and charisma. But Jesus came to save the world, and us, from ourselves. He came to restore us to the Father. We all have our weakness, our reason for sorrow and tears, but God calls us to Himself and He will turn our tears into joy with His bounteous blessings.

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