Weekly Sermon

Stewardship Sunday

24/10/2021 Stewardship Sunday

Stewardship Sunday Job 42.1-6, 10-17 Mark 10.46-52

 

When we first meet Job, he is a careful and perhaps even fearful father, a man who covers all bases and secures God’s protection for his family by even praying for his children’s possible sins. Theologian Ellen F. Davis in her thought-provoking book, Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament, writes: This book [of Job] is not about justifying God’s actions; it is about Job’s transformation.

It is useless to ask how much (or how little) it costs God to give more children. The real question is how much it costs Job to become a father again. How can he open himself again to the terrible vulnerability of loving those whom he cannot protect against suffering and untimely death? When we last see Job, he is lavishly loving his new children, breaking social custom to give his daughters as well as his sons inheritances, and naming his three beautiful girls with almost mischievous delight: Dove, Cinnamon, and Horn of Eye-Shadow. In other words, when we last see Job, he is choosing life.

Choosing courage. Choosing to open his heart to love what he cannot control. This is the choice that lies before us, too. Opening our heart to love what we cannot control. When suffering comes, when loss shatters our belief in a predictable world and a “safe” God, will we participate in the lavish, unbounded love of God, who adores a created cosmos that includes contingency, chaos, destruction, and disorder?

This week’s Gospel reading features a healing story which is also of choice. Also about will we? Blind Bartimaeus sits by the roadside, begging for money. As Jesus and a large crowd pass by, the man begins to shout: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! Those standing nearby try to shut him up, but their reprimands only prompt Bartimaeus to shout louder. Jesus stops and asks the same people who had just scolded the blind man to lead him forward. They obey. Take heart; get up, he is calling you, they tell Bartimaeus, who throws off his cloak and springs up. And Jesus asks the same question he has just asked James and John What do you want me to do for you? My teacher, let me see again, Bartimaeus replies.

Immediately, the Gospel writer tells us, Bartimaeus regains his sight, and follows Jesus on the way. In giving sight to Bartimaeus Jesus heals the spiritual blindness of the surrounding crowd. Though Bartimaeus is the literal blind man in the story, it’s the crowd - the blind man’s friends, his peers, his culture, his society - that renders him unseen. To their seeing eyes, the blind man by the roadside is invisible, and therefore expendable. His shouts and cries are not worthy of attention. His suffering is not important enough to warrant tenderness, patience, or even curiosity. When the invisible one dares to speak out, the only efficient and reasonable thing to do is to shut him up. The only priority is to restore order, re-establish the social hierarchy, and maintain a status quo that keeps the privileged comfortable. That comfort is precisely what Jesus renders impossible.

Once the crowd sees Bartimaeus, they cannot unsee him. Once Jesus opens their eyes to his full humanity, they must respond with compassion: Take heart; get up; he is calling you. Jesus heals the crowd first so that they can, in turn, participate in Bartimaeus’s healing. What the blind man needs is not physical sight alone; he also needs visibility and validation within his community. In this double miracle story, Jesus grants him both. Bartimaeus - in his blindness - sees what the crowd does not. He calls Jesus “Son of David,” a title Jesus doesn’t make public during his ministry.

The Gospels make clear that Jesus’s true identity remains hidden from most people until after the Resurrection. Even his disciples struggle to understand who and what their Teacher really is. It might be the case that most of Jesus’s followers are too busy seeing what they want to see - a magician, a political and military leader, a carpenter’s son, a wise man – to notice what the blind man - free of all such filters – discerns so quickly: Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of God. We might say, then, that this is one of the rare and beautiful moments in the Gospels when Jesus himself is truly seen. Bartimaeus sees Jesus as wholly and purely as Jesus sees Bartimaeus; the gaze and the recognition in this story are mutual.

I wonder if Jesus stops because the blind man surprises and delights him with this visionary gift. “Teacher, I see you.” We hear Bartimaeus “throws off his cloak” and follows Jesus “on the way.” A cloak is both a beggar’s covering and his livelihood. The cloak he wraps around his shoulders for warmth and security. The cloak he spreads out on the ground every morning to collect coins from passersby. The cloak he folds again to gather up each day’s meager earnings at nightfall. I am in awe of the trust Bartimaeus has in Jesus by the end of this story – a trust deep enough to enable him to cast aside what’s most familiar and safe, in exchange for “a way” that is new, and full of uncertainty. In shedding his cloak, Bartimaeus sheds his identity. In setting out on “the way,” Bartimaeus becomes a disciple, a traveller, a pilgrim. He commits himself without looking back. He strains forward instead of clinging to history.
On this Stewardship Sunday, we are being asked, what can Jesus do for us? And there is a lot Jesus can to do … for us. As there is a lot we can do … for us. Like Job we can choose life in the experience of much hardship. Like Bartimaeus we can strain forward instead of clinging to history Jesus asks Bartimaeus to articulate his heart’s desire. What do you want me to do for you? Isn’t it obvious what Bartimaeus wants Jesus to do for him? Jesus asks, anyway. He doesn’t presume. He doesn’t reduce Bartimaeus to his blindness. Jesus honours the fullness and complexity of a human being who has many desires, many longings, and many needs.

In asking the question, Jesus invites Bartimaeus into the honest self-reflection essential to growth and healing. What is in your heart? What do you long for? Where in your deepest desires might we find each other? Jesus invites us into the honest self-reflection essential to growth and healing.

What do you want me to do for you? Isn’t it obvious what we want Jesus to do for us? Jesus asks, anyway. He doesn’t presume. Jesus doesn’t reduce us to our blindness. It is at once a loving and a terrifying question. It calls for radical honesty. Radical vulnerability. Radical trust. In his compassion, Jesus will not stop asking. And in our need, we will not stop telling him.

Wendy

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