Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
(Encore version, reprinted with permission from The Lectionary Lab Commentary for Year B)
Job 42:1-6, 10-17
What is the best we can hope for out of life? Job’s epitaph is, “And Job died, old and full of days.”
Beyond numerical substance, the context indicates that Job’s days (yom, in Hebrew) were full — full of joy, full of sorrow, full of exhilaration, full of frustration.
We often describe someone who is undergoing a particularly trying time — and somehow managing to find grace and peace in the midst of it — as having “the patience of Job.” Certainly, that patience was hard-earned in Job’s instance.
There is something to be said for simply never giving up; I am reminded of Viktor Frankl, the Holocaust survivor and prominent psychotherapist who became a proponent of Kierkegaard’s “will to meaning.”
Beyond the simple will to live, there is the ultimate human urge for life to have meaning. (A nice, ultra-brief review of Frankl’s classic text, Man’s Search for Meaning, may be found here.)
Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22)
Why should I bless the Lord at all times?
Psalm 34 acknowledges that “many are the afflictions of the righteous.” There’s no sense in pretending that life is all A-OK, peachy keen, no problemo, etc., just because one has placed one’s trust in God. Life is difficult, as M. Scott Peck (among others) has reminded us.
The kicker comes with the other half of the psalm’s message: “…the LORD delivers them from them all.” Most especially, v.4 gives the operative phrase, “I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.”
The path of return to the Lord — to the safety and sanity of God’s refuge — is quite often through weeping and consolations. But God is the God who, like a father, walks alongside his children and leads them so that they will not stumble.
Weeping to laughter, tears to joy. God sure does good work!
I remember the conversation with an older (in those days, as a young “preacher boy,” older was probably anyone over 40 from my perspective) church member who wryly commented, “I appreciate all you’re doing, but remember: preachers come and go. Some of us have to stay here all our lives.”The writer of Hebrews reminds us that God has always had to have a steady supply of priests and preachers in order to minister among God’s people — for one very simple reason: preachers come and go. Or, at least, they eventually die.
But, Jesus is not like any mere human priest. He is the Great High Priest, and he will never die again. His priesthood, his ministry, is forever. It has been given to him by God, and he is now and ever will be doing what priests do — interceding on our behalf.
Blind Bart. What a great character!
Several points come to mind when I read this story:
- Don’t let other people discourage you or shout you down when you know what it is that you need
- Never give up — keep praying — in fact, don’t be afraid to shout at the Lord!
- When Jesus invites you to come, jump at the chance
- When Jesus asks you what you need, tell him (no need for hem-hawing, eh?)
- Faith is awfully strong
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
“Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.” – Mark 10:52
On one level, the story of blind Bartimaeus is very simple and straightforward. Bartimaeus has heard of Jesus. There has been much talk in his village of the new rabbi’s preaching and teaching and especially his healing. Based on what Bartimaeus has heard, he has come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the “Son of David.” When he hears that Jesus has come to his town, Bart makes sure he is in a position to meet him.
As Jesus comes near, Bart makes his presence known, shouting out his belief that Jesus is the Chosen One, and asking for mercy. The usual group of “protocol police” try to get the unruly beggar to hush – but he simply will not be quiet. Bart continues to shout. Jesus hears him and tells the people to let him through. When Bartimaeus comes, Jesus commends his faith and heals him.
It’s a simple story, one that follows a pattern we have seen so many times in the stories of Jesus. Except for the fact that Mark gives the blind beggar a name, and that the name is a Hebrew-Greek combination (bar-Timaeus, or “son of Timaeus”), there is nothing very unusual or noteworthy about this story.
Well, nothing except a life that is changed forever. I’m not talking about Bartimaeus being healed of blindness, though that is, in and of itself, quite spectacular. No, I’m talking about a person finding something to give his life to. I’m talking about a person who begins to see, not only physically, but also spiritually. I’m talking about a person who has found a cause to which he can give his life. For, not only did “blind Bartimaeus” become “seeing Bartimaeus,” but inert and stationary Bartimaeus became active and purposeful Bartimaeus, following Jesus “on the way,” the way of the cross.
Realizing that there are no real throw-away lines in the Gospel stories, knowing that everything was included by the evangelist to make a theological point, to have a spiritual impact – we must listen carefully to verse 50: “So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.”
“Throwing off his cloak” – what might that mean? Remember how frequently in the Bible clothing represents one’s life, one’s character or one’s spirituality. Not just Paul’s “helmet of salvation” and “breastplate of righteousness” but references to “unshrunk cloth on an old cloak” and or arriving at the feast wearing the wrong wedding garments. “Throwing off his cloak” is an image of the radical repentance that leads to new life in Christ. Throwing off one’s old life, shedding an old skin, leaving safety behind, realizing that there is something greater and more important than our own simple survival, all that is tied up in those few words, “throwing off his cloak.”
Then there is “sprang up.” Mark’s Gospel begins not with a Christmas story but with John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus. By verse 10 we have Jesus coming up out of the water. Baptism by immersion is an image of being buried with Christ and rising with Christ – coming up out of the water as one will come up out of the grave. “Dying and rising with Christ” is Mark’s primary image of the Christian life. Over and over we hear Jesus tell the disciples, “the Son of Man will suffer and die and rise again” and “any who will come after me must take up a cross and follow.” It is in that light that we must listen carefully to the words in verse 50 – “Throwing off his cloak he sprang up and came to Jesus.” Blind Bartimaeus not only regained his sight, he found his life, his way, his meaning, his purpose, to which he could give himself – mind, body and soul.
The Rev. Michael Curry was recently elected the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. He is the first African American to hold that office. He tells this story about a childhood conversation with his father, a Baptist minister:
“When my siblings and I were little children, my father sat us down one evening to talk. We knew something was up. My father and other clergy had led some local efforts for civil rights. That night, Daddy told us he might have to go to jail the next day because he was going to be a part of a protest. Then he told us something I still remember: “You must always be willing to give yourself for a higher cause. Our lives are part of something greater than ourselves.” (“Crazy Christians,” p. 14)
Too often we, like Bartimaeus, are both blind and faithful, sick unto death and yearning for life, full of hope and dread in almost equal measure. We are indeed “saint and sinner at the same time,” and yet, there is hope, real hope, true hope. For there is Christ.
And though there may be many things that hold us back, Jesus hears our hearts and invites us to come. We are invited to throw off the cloak of our old lives, our old fears, our old regrets, our old hesitations and limitations. We are invited to spring up, lifting both our hands and our hearts to God. We are invited to give our lives to something more, something higher, something greater than mere survival. We are invited to take up our cross and join Bartimaeus and millions of others in following Jesus on the way – on the way of love and compassion and self-sacrifice, the way of serving our neighbor and our world.
Amen and amen.