Jeremiah 31:7-9 Hebrews 5:1-6 Mark 10:46-52
“Restoration” in Jeremiah is a metaphor for future salvation of God’s People. This prophet lived and ministered before and during the captivity and destruction of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, which involved the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the end of the Royal line of the House of Judah. When all the destruction was ended, most of the surviving population was marched from Jerusalem to Babylon to a captivity which would last nearly half a century (587-539 BC). This event was not merely a bad day for God’s Chosen People, it was more like the 20th Century Holocaust of World War II! The ancient Jews thought that God must have abandoned them to the power of the Gentiles. They wondered whether, and doubted that, God would ever again love them. Indeed, a half century is a very long time, especially at the beginning of the half-century.
But, Jeremiah, who had worked hard to forestall and prevent the captivity of the Southern Kingdom, was a prophet of profound hope in the God of Israel. Today’s text announced a message which must have been very hard to accept in the minds and hearts of the captive Jews of the early 6th Century BC. But, just as 2nd Isaiah of last Sunday had to announce a painful message, this Jeremiah had to remind his people of a hope-filled message. Both pain and hope can be most difficult to accept in life. Jeremiah predicted that someday, well into the future, the people would look backwards and both appreciate this historical tragedy with new and understanding insight. Things would one day be better.
Today’s Gospel text about Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, who received his sight by merely trusting and believing that Jesus could wield God’s power to save him, is a parallel to what Jeremiah predicted. It would indeed be God’s power to save that makes Bartimaeus a whole (understand able to see) person. It was to be God’s power decades after Jeremiah which would restore the Jews to Israel under Emperor Cyrus the Great. Bartimaeus sought to see. He knew that as a blind man he was missing much of life. If he had been blind from birth, chances are that society presumed that he was a significant sinner for which God had purposely blinded him. And, because of his blindness, he would have been reduced to begging, and possibly even never allowed to enter into marriage so as to have been deprived of a family like other “healthy” believers as a punishment for his presumed sinfulness. Blindness was a serious and severe burden in ancient times in the Jewish culture. Bartimaeus was not presumed to be a hero in this episode. But, his faith in Jesus as “Son of David” was what reveals him to be deserving to see. Sight here is both the powerful gift given him by Jesus, but it is also a metaphor for what Jesus and his Gospel message offer to all who embrace the Gospel. None can appreciate l fully until and unless God’s power allows it. Indeed, Jesus would often sound like it was God’s will that it was God’s will and desire that each and every human person have God’s gift of sight and life. In Mark’s Gospel narrative, this story of the giving of sight to Bartimaeus marks the end of the middle three chapters which begin with Jesus also giving sight to a blind man and which includes three predictions by Jesus of his own passion, death, and resurrection. Mark’s literary strategy hints that only those who embrace the Christological role of Jesus as the Messiah who would suffer and give his life AND who also embrace his Gospel of the Kingdom of God, would genuinely be able to see (understand “appreciate fully”) the life which God offers to everyone. To “see” means in Mark to grasp and understand the depths of the Gospel message. And, to be “blind” in Mark is a metaphor for not yet having met and accepted the person and message of Jesus. Both blind men were given their sight upon engaging Jesus in his powerful ministry and they went on in life with new abilities and insights, to live life more fully. The other disciples were three times instructed about the future sacrificial suffering and death of Jesus, but they failed to appreciate those predictions until after they had occurred. They persisted in their metaphorical blindness until the Easter-Pentecost events which would powerfully surprise and enlighten them. We modern disciples must reflect upon whether we are the two blind men actively searching for the powerful Jesus to change us OR whether we are the typical pre-Resurrection disciples who are comfortable in our status as associates of Jesus however unchanged and mediocre we might be?
This Sunday’s lesson from the Letter to the Hebrews is a very complimentary description of an effective and good high priest in the Jerusalem Temple. Such a good and effective high priest ministers to others very mindful of his own “weakness.” Indeed, it is that very self-awareness of his (or her, today) human frailty that allows proper and holy to others. Such a minister “is able to deal patiently” as did Jesus. The description of others as “the ignorant and erring” is a metaphor for the neediness of humanity, regardless of one’s resources and abilities or lack thereof. This description of an effective high priest might be well-heard as how all Church ministers from the greatest to the least ought to critique themselves. This description seems to discourage all harshness, arrogance, crassness, self-centeredness, pomp and status, and abusiveness or reckless abuse of power, position, and prestige. The ministers themselves must be for others rather than for themselves or for the institution or organization. Oh, how we might and must critique ourselves!!!
Do we help people see the Kingdom of God? Do we ourselves assess our own lives with hard truth and critical measurement? Do we embody the hopefulness of Jeremiah? Do we remove the presumptions of sinfulness upon those who are needy by working for justice and improvement even at the cost of personal, societal, and ecclesiastical change? Are we brave enough to engage truthfulness at all levels and in all circumstances? Do we minister as a good and effective high priest does, aware of but in spite of our human weaknesses? Do we rejoiced in having already been saved by the Savior and his Gospel?