As is always so in the power of the Holy Spirit, this evening’s scripture readings address the present moment in surprising ways. This occurs somewhat serendipitously as we read the story of Jacob’s courtship of Rachel on the eve of the Valentine’s Day celebration of romantic love.
However, after nearly a year of pandemic loss and isolation, I would like direct our prayerful reflection on the present moment, on God’s eternal ‘now’, through the story of Jesus’s encounter with the blind beggar Bartimaeus.
Mark’s Gospel narrative has reached an important juncture here. Jesus and the disciples have journeyed away from Galilee where great hope and joy have been generated among the people by Jesus’s ministry of teaching, healing and proclaiming the Good News. The travelers have now come to Jericho from which they are turning toward Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover festival, joined by a great crowd of expectant pilgrims. Yet on the road Jesus’s disciples have been deeply disturbed by his repeated disclosure of the purpose for their journey: at Jerusalem Jesus is to fulfill his identity and mission as the martyr-messiah of God’s kingdom. In misunderstanding and fear at the prospect, the disciples have retreated into deep denial. Thus when Bartimaeus raises his loud cries, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”, the disciples, in their alarm, join the festal crowd in attempting to silence the poor man.
But Jesus, already perceiving Bartimaeus’s fervent faith in his person and purpose, sternly orders the bystanders to call to him this man who humbly acknowledges his need of God. In response to Jesus’s bidding, Bartimaeus throws aside his cloak, the only protection and possession he has in life of homelessness and disability, and so the beggar signals his entire trust in God’s saving power. At Jesus’s open-hearted question, “What do you want me to do for you?”, Bartimaeus’s desire to regain his sight is immediately fulfilled through his faith which Jesus declares, ‘has made you well.’ Bartimaeus joyfully follows Jesus on the way to his sacrificial death and rising in glory.
In our present time of sickness and death, bereavement and loss, of extremism and insecurity, we and our world have been brought to an urgent moment calling for faithful encounter with and trust in Jesus of Nazareth. After undergoing nearly a year in pandemic time, the temptation to sink into fear and despair at the prospect of further suffering is a great danger for the soul. The renewing of our renunciation of evil in every form and our promised trust in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior is imperative for own sakes and for that of the world. A Gospel call to new dedication following Jesus in the way of self-offering and of loving service is being issued to the flailing and frightened disciples in each and all of us.
‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asks us in our continuing fear and need and in our fledgling desire and hope. I fervently believe that we may find our response and responses to the Lord’s question in the health-making and confidence-restoring faith of Bartimaeus. That beggar’s trust in Jesus as grief-bearing and life-giving ‘God-with-us’ is identical with the faith of the continuous dying to sin and rising to eternal life into which we were baptized and live together now.
In the present moment, hope for the future arises as concerted efforts are made to stop the spread of COVID-19, make vaccination for the disease available to all, and to come to the relief of those most injured and endangered by lockdown. In the present moment, we also stand on the threshold of the forty-day fast of Lent in preparation for the Fifty-Day Easter Feast of Resurrection. The Ash Wednesday liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer invites us together to ‘the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.’ These fundamentals of our common life in Christ can be practiced faithfully while we are still unable to gather together. Our humble and hopeful acts of repentance, our re-kindled desire for God in active prayer and meditative listening in this, our creative and generous almsgiving in word and action for the needy—these are all gifts of the Risen Christ’s Spirit to us every breathing moment. The present moment calls us to ask, ‘What, O God, do you want me to do and to be for you?’—that your faithful people and the suffering children of Earth may rise to new life.
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