Saturday, October 27, 2012

Bring the Outcasts Here!

“Gather the Blind, the Lame
And those with Child”
~Jeremiah 31

Bartimeaus, the blind beggar comes to Jesus today and calls out; “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” Bartimeaus was maimed, unclean, and if he were to get too close to Jesus or to the disciples he could make them unclean as well. The Law was clear about such things, and so he was ordered sternly to “hush up” and “be quiet”. The admonition fell on deaf ears for the blind man, and with that he called out all the more loudly, now I daresay, creating a scene; “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”

At that point, Jesus stood still, perfectly still and commanded the commotion to stop, and he said; “Call him here.”

They viewed Jesus as the Master, and called him so, even though he often surprised them by his teaching. Jesus often confronts the Law with contradiction.

There is a difference between how Leviticus looks at those with blemishes and imperfections and how the prophetic tradition looks at the blind, the lame and those with child. Jesus often tilts to the side of the prophets when human suffering and imperfection comes to the fore.

In fact, the theological view within the Torah is based on the notion that we should be holy as God is holy. There’s nothing wrong with that. Obviously we should all strive for the holiness that God intends for us. 

But if it is the case that it is only those without blemish who may make an offering to God, then what of the rest of us? What of Bartimeaus, the blind beggar?

According to the Law, the blind, the lame, the blemished, the lepers, the sinners and so forth are not welcome to make an offering in the Temple. Because they are blemished, so too are their gifts blemished. And the logic of the Law tells them they may not approach the Throne Room of God. The holy of holies is reserved only for the High Priest, and for him, even, only once a year.

To be fair, the Law also requires us not to put a stumbling block in the way of the blind or the maimed. We are certainly not to revile or insult anyone who is maimed in any way. The Law is clear about that. We are called to remember God’s holiness and to offer nothing but our purest selves to God and to respect every human being.

But the problem is that there is much that is maimed and blind, there are many, many sinners, and for far too many of us, achieving this level of purity is beyond our reach. 

In the heat of an election year, even the word “retarded” is bandied about in a rather casual and uncharitable way. But then in an election season, there are many uncharitable words bandied about. Given the nature of politics, we’re likely to characterize our opponents uncharitably. This too is a part of human nature, and falls somewhat short of God’s intention for us.

But now we take the case of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar in today’s Gospel reading. The fact that he is maimed, supports the admonition that he hold his peace and not approach Jesus. More and more, Jesus is being viewed as the Holy one of God.

But then he often challenges the old ways of looking at things, even if it requires contradiction of the Law. 

So he says; “Tell him to come here”.

Bartimaeus throws off his cloak. Can you imagine the reaction in the crowd? This behavior is scandalous!

He blindly stumbles toward Jesus, Jesus may have had to say, “Over here, Bartimaeus” a time or two as he looked around with his hands.

The Master says; “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Help me see again”, 

Again! Really. Are we talking about seeing, or perceiving, or understanding? Or are we talking about all the above?

Our faith is often wanting. Our blindness and deafness assaults the senses not only in physical ways but in metaphorical ways as well.

Jesus often says; “If you have eyes to see, then look. If you have ears to hear then listen.”

So now, perhaps we are talking about faith. True, blindness is a dreadful condition but I once had a parishioner who was a legally blind teenager who could read the scripture by committing the words to memory and to heart. She brought a much enlarged text with her to help coach her to reading aloud. She is an inspiration. And she loved to read the scripture. It brought her faith.

There are those who are blind, deaf, retarded, lame, and maimed in all sorts of ways in every congregation I’ve served. But they were not so to Jesus. Their gift was precious to him. 

And this became a teaching so important to Jesus, that he spent the majority of his time in healing the sin sick souls of those who followed him. 

For to Jesus, being holy as God is holy, as important as that is, was superseded only by the notion that we are to be compassionate as God is compassionate.

In the Greek, the word compassion is the same as the word gut, or womb. The love that Jesus felt for Bartimaeus and the rest of us, was so deep and so profound, that it paralleled the love of a mother for her child.

So when the prophet says, “gather the blind, the lame, those with child and those in labor”, he may seemingly be contradicting the holiness code. But Jesus came to fulfill the Law, and does so with the compassion of God. 

To Jesus there was nothing unclean, spotted, or blemished about sinners like you and me. Instead it was entirely in keeping with Jesus’ notion of compassion, that he too, like the prophet, would gather the blind, the lame, those with child and those in labor into his circle of friends.

“What would you have me do for you?” It is the question Jesus asks as he stands knocking at the door of every human heart. 

Perhaps you may ask; “Let me see again.”

Or you may say; “Let me perceive and understand again. Let me believe again. Let me give my gift to you.”

As Jesus said to Bartimaeus, so he says to you; “Go your faith has made you well.”

And immediately we go on The Way, the Jesus Way. We have received our sight once again!

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