Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Stumble or Stride?



OUR READING for All Saints Sunday comes from the Gospel According to Saint John. Within the text provided, we repeat a previous lesson about the raising of Lazarus as a sign of God’s powerful love freely given.

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.  It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, "Lord, he whom you love is ill."
 But when Jesus heard it he said, "This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it." 
 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that he was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.  Then after this he said to the disciples, "Let us go into Judea again." 
 The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were but now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?" 
 Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any one walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.  But if any one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him." Thus he spoke, and then he said to them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep." 
 The disciples said to him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover." 
 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead; and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." 
 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother.
 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary sat in the house. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you." 
 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." 
 Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." 
 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" 
 She said to him, "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world." When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying quietly, "The Teacher is here and is calling for you."  And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 
 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 
 Then Mary, when she came where Jesus was and saw him, fell at his feet, saying to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and he said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." 
 Jesus wept.  So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" 
 But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?" 
 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb; it was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days." 
 Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?" 
 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, "Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. I knew that you hear me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that you did send me." 
 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out." 
 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go." 
 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him… (John11:32-45a)

What Does It Take?
This story here from the gospel of John was intended to bolster faith that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. The writer tried to prepare the hearers’ minds for the good news of our Lord's own resurrection, and thus strengthen the resolve of the early Christians. Reading this account from a day which preceded Jesus’ death and Resurrection, the early churches of John could not say that resurrection was impossible.
 We note as the telling began that Jesus answered the request for his presence, but not immediately. Yet it showed that God had gracious intentions even when he seemed to delay. We can take from this, that whenever the work of divine deliverance whether physical or spiritual, public or personal, seems to be delayed, it does not mean that healing is denied. God’s attention is not absent, it just may not work favorably until the right time.
 Originally, the disciples thought that it was needless for Jesus to go to Lazarus. We might guess that they wanted him to heal his friend without going to Bethany. Possibly they were being cautious because returning to Bethany, located just outside the walls of Jerusalem, would expose them all to danger. Hadn’t they just fled the zealous powers of unbelieving persons? But note here! Lest we judge the early disciples too harshly, remember that today we also are brought to hope that good works will be done by someone else… especially if great peril exists in the doing.
 Jesus went to Bethany in spite of the hazard. He found that Martha’s house, once a place of love, care and concern, was through death made a house of mourning. As Jesus walked by grace toward her house, it is of little doubt that he went with love to be expressed in ways of mercy and comfort far greater than could be imagined.
 Hearing that he approached, Martha went out to meet him. She told him what he already knew. Lazarus was dead.
 But Martha exhibited faith. She believed that Jesus could ask God for anything, and it would be granted. We repeat for emphasis, his response to her faith…

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" 

 Martha answered, “Yes Lord, I believe…”

 Amid this, Jesus provided that for God neither time nor death are barriers. Indeed, Mary had been sitting alone in the house. Her solitude at one time was advantage for her when she sat at Jesus’ feet. In that day of loss, however, the same time of independence disposed her toward being melancholy. Lazarus had been dead four days.
 Here I believe that John demonstrates much to his readers. He stressed that too much time had passed. By this our author stressed that with God it is no harder to restore life in one moment, than in another. It was commonly thought amongst the Jews that after three days the spirit had completely left the body laid to rest… surely by human standards the expiration date had long passed.
 Jesus stated clearly to Martha that he is the Resurrection and the Life. In every sense, John pointed out to his readers that Jesus is the source, the substance, the first-fruits, the very cause of life. Consequently for Martha and even believers living today, death cannot have the last say.
 Jesus then asked Martha if she believed this Truth. We ask ourselves, we who read such miraculous news sitting in a day of peace at Christ's feet… and are taught by him. “Can we run from solitude like Mary to join in his community? Can we proclaim Christ, crucified and Risen even in days of unbelief and persecution?”

What of Loving Power?
The early church of John, upon hearing this lesson was called by the writer to cast unbelief, persecutions and death at God’s feet. Thus we too are called as well to do act in faith whenever we suffer loss. As the people of God we are admonished by John to corporately “only believe” when we are assailed by times of trial.
 Note Jesus’ tender sympathy with faithless mourning was shown by tears. Whether it was tearful anger at sin, or sorrow because of unbelief… we cannot know. We do know that he loved greatly. His feelings for mourning friends showed up immediately. He asked after the remains of the deceased man.
 Jesus arrived at the tomb and he demonstrated that God does not let death have the final say. Being a man of tears and acquainted with grief, Jesus Christ thus set an example in that we too should be brought to tears in our comforting of the afflicted today. We too are called to cry out… but not just for the passing and missing of someone deeply cared about… but rather we are called to mourn a greater loss. We are to grieve sinful stubbornness and unbelief.
 By this lesson we are surely to know that we have not a High Priest who is distant from our infirmities and finitude. Indeed, Jesus could have raised Lazarus by a distant and silent exertion of his power and will. He could have acted in a remote, unseen way.  Instead, John tells us that God is intimately involved and willing to shed tears. So should we be also involved in the lives and deaths of others. Jesus provided a call for each of us in full sight of others. Surely those whom Christ loves become sick and bodily die. This tells us that Jesus came not to preserve his people from afflictions, for we still suffer under the condemnation of the Law… but he came into the world to save us from the penalty of our sins. We are not abandoned to the grave. Through the mercy of God provided through his Son, death like sleep shall not eternally hold us.
 For the church of John this lesson provided a prophetic call as they were sent out into a hostile world. Persecutions were hard upon the young church in the last years of the first century, but here they were pronounced as not standing over against the love of God. John told that Lazarus had been revived and had returned not only to life, but to health. So it was told to be the future with John’s church as they faced the world. They proclaimed the gospel of God on into the next era. The church had been separated, disdained, and declared dead by authorities. Yet those churches of John were proven alive, even though they were driven into the cemetery catacombs that housed the dead. The church endured to see God’s glory and we are its descendants.
 This good news comes to us today as we live in our own turbulent time. Evil powers of this modern world still assail faithful saints of God. Here we are reminded by John, however, that these things are not new. We are encouraged by the Word of God that despair, isolation, and even death shall not seize the day. Through the Word given by the Spirit even unto eternal life we know that believing in his redemptive power, we of the church eternal shall see the glory of God. So it was then, and so it shall be now
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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Mantle Aside...



WITHIN THE Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost we of the church shall hear a message concerning the final healing done by our Lord before his crucifixion in Jerusalem. From the Gospel According to Saint Mark, we are slated to read…

And they came to Jericho; and as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great multitude, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
 And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; rise, he is calling you.” And throwing off his mantle he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Master, let me receive my sight.”
 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.”
 And immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.
                                                                                                   (Mark 10:46-52)

In A Name?
Herein we find that two sons meet on the road. First was Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, who was healed by Jesus. Bartimaeus was a blind man who sat begging for donations on the road near Jericho. The city of Jericho, a fairly well-to-do urban area, was a suitable location for his begging. As he sat there, however, Jesus arrived and was acclaimed by Bartimaeus as the Son of David.
 As to the name of the blind man, there has been some scholarly conversation. His name is unusual in several ways. First is that a name was mentioned at all, for it is not the usual pattern for this gospel writer to give the name of any person who had been healed. Second, his name is explicitly translated here as "Son of Timaeus.". Some biblical scholars see the name used as a reference back to a particular historical disciple who may have been personally known by the writer and the community of Mark. Other scholars however, view it with yet another significance. We know that the name is of a rather strange Semitic-Greek hybrid. The name, if illustrative, may point figuratively to Plato's “Timaeus”, a man who delivered the philosopher's important cosmological and theological treatise… one which involved sight as being the foundation of knowledge.
 Here in this instance, however, I tend to lean in my usual habit toward recognizing all of these possibilities. I consider that there was indeed a blind man named Bartimaeus, and he possessed a name which indicated that he would stand out boldly. He represents collectively... those in the church who he would soon see clearly.
 How is this possible.., that a man truly-named as Bartimaeus was found as present at that moment in time, and at that location… and was suited so well for the edification of the church? Indeed, in answer, consider this. Notice that we often read in scripture where other persons of faith had been urged or directed by the deliberate circumstances of life, as sheep toward a chute or gate… in order that they may experience a divine encounter. In these cases we see that even if their steps were previously sinful, crossing of paths with the divine nature of God resulted in a great benefit not only for them, but for those like ourselves who observe the occasion. Thus the grace of God was revealed.
  We note typically here that the gospel portrayed Jesus’ followers as rather callous, as narrowly focused on great aspirations. They wished to quiet Bartimaeus’ plea, seeing him as a waste of time and effort. However, the blind man called loudly upon Jesus as the “Son of David”. By calling upon Jesus with such a title, he showed that he recognized our Lord verbally as the Messiah. While we might note that this was something that others did as well, Jesus knew that many of the others misinterpreted just what the title meant. By doing so, they selfishly had cast aside his predictions of his own crucifixion.

Shedding Security?
 We keenly note here that Bartimaeus shed his cloak when he was called to rise and meet with Jesus. To me that seems a highly symbolic act. The cloak was not just his protection against the elements of nature, but was the catch device laid on the ground for those monetary donations which served to keep him alive. It was thus very meaningful when the blind man willingly, almost carelessly… cast his source of livelihood aside. Without hesitation, in the belief that he could be cured by Jesus… he got up and went forward! At that point our Lord asked the same question that had been spoken to others… ““What do you want me to do for you?”
 Bartimaeus boldly asked him that his blindness would be cured. Many of us may ponder that the blindness could have been both physical and spiritual. However, we also read here that Bartimaeus referred to Jesus as Master... in other words... his own, personal teacher. In faith, therefore, he expressed familiarity! You see, though blind, he could see rather clearly.
 This last thought I take as a sign that the community of Mark who heard this reading was being guided to also throw caution aside. They were asked to get up and meet Jesus just like the blind man. Notice that Bartimaeus had a name that historically has both Jewish and Greek sources. Realizing this, we can hear from an infant church wherein both Jews and Greeks together were gathered. In Bartimaeus they both could identify  and were thus spiritually guided to also hail our Lord as the Messiah. Jesus was thus revealed to all as the Anointed Deliverer whom God had sent into the world. This episode became for them a message promoting unification across lines of genealogical heritage!
 We most importantly note that Jesus then told Bartimaeus that his faith had made him well. So too, the co-identification in Mark’s community carried forward, in that with their blindness cast aside, they could quite clearly see the way forward through burdensome persecutions.
 Note this as guidance! Toward the end of this lesson we read that though our own blindness often hinders us as human beings, Bartimaeus indeed followed Jesus. He followed as our Lord went onward to Jerusalem and eventually died upon the cross. Given this, we might ask ourselves, “Was this particular episode the gospel writer’s method of reminding his congregation… and those who live in today’s world… that after receiving this vision, our path is to follow Jesus to the cross as well. I dare venture to you that this is so.
 In conclusion then, I say to you that we need as the Christian church to follow in faith. Having sat idle and blind for too long along the roadside of the modern world, we are asked by Jesus Christ to stand… and to boldly seek for our Lord to heal our sight. May we be blessed to also view that which is further described in this gospel.
 If seeing truly, we can read further concerning the pompous parade of those who were misguided in this world, those trying to profit from Messianic expectations. We may view the selfish, unrepentant ancient society’s rejection of the good news. We comprehend the prediction of our Lord that soon one stone shall be left upon another. And then, given a true vision of the Son of David, we see the Messiah crucified upon a cross for our sake. Finally... the witness of Mark ended appropriately three days afterward... with startled women standing at the door of an empty tomb. The final scene therefore describes spiritual blindness, chaos and wonder.
 The moment described at the close of the gospel told, makes me wonder if  our brother Bartimaeus, by the gift of healing was one who yet stood nearby. If so, I believe that he could truly see though they could not. I think he could have been standing nearby in faith. And dear readers, I further suggest to you that somehow through the power of the Holy Spirit, blessed Bartimaeus could thus represent... each one of us.