October 28 NOTES FOR REFLECTION Ordinary 30
Texts: Jeremiah 31:7-9; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52
[NOTE: Today is the Feast Day of St Simon and St Jude, Apostles. Readings for that feast are given in the Lectionary. Spare a thought for them today; St Jude has gone through history as Jude the Obscure, which is tough enough, but he is also the patron saint of lost causes! As a long-suffering fan of Sheffield Wednesday I have always had a warm spot for him. More seriously, these two remind us that not all apostles seek or enjoy celebrity status: the Kingdom of God is advanced by all faithful people, obscure as well as famous.]
Introduction. Today's readings all strike a positive note as we head for the so-called "Kingdom Season" next week. (Next Sunday is All Saints Sunday.) Our first lesson is a short extract from Jeremiah's "Book of Consolations" (30:1-33:26) in which God makes his promises of re-gathering and restoration to both Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and Judah (the Southern Kingdom). The writer to the Hebrews concludes his long explanation of the role of Jesus as our Great High Priest by assuring us of Jesus' power to grant complete salvation, and of his constant intercession for us. And our gospel passage gives us the wonderful encounter between Jesus and the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, on the main route to Jerusalem as it passes by Jericho. After the struggles of the last few weeks, this is a day for raised spirits all round.
Background. Not much to offer under this heading this week. Perhaps the main thing is to stress again the importance of reading any particular brief passage of Scripture in its context. As stated in the paragraph above, both of our lessons today are taken from sections of some 3-4 chapters, and to get a real feeling of what these passages are about it is helpful to read those whole sections. Similarly, of course, the gospel story is given as one complete narrative; at best, it comes to us Sunday by Sunday rather like a serial in several episodes. Today the clash between our biblical timeline and our liturgical one is particularly evident. The encounter with Bartimaeus in Mark's gospel is followed immediately by the so-called Triumphal Entry: we are at most a day shy of Palm Sunday and the events of Holy Week; whereas in our liturgical calendar all that is still some months away. We are heading for the Kingdom Season, Advent, Christmas, the Epiphany and Lent before we catch up with Mark.
Over the last few weeks the theme of misunderstanding and spiritual blindness, especially among the disciples, has been highlighted; and it is probably no coincidence that we have this story of physical blindness as the last story before Jerusalem. That is not to deny that this episode really happened, that it is literally true. But it is a classic illustration of the way in which Scripture often operates at more than one level. As a general rule, stories of the healing of physical blindness, true in themselves, are also about spiritual blindness, our own included.
The great theological virtues of faith, hope and love and love are all on show in these readings. In Jeremiah hope predominates. The inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom have been in exile for generations; those of the Southern Kingdom have either just gone into exile or are about to do so: it is to the defeated that Jeremiah speaks God's promises of future restoration. In Hebrews, we are exhorted to put our faith in Jesus our Great High Priest who gives salvation to all those who trust in him. In the gospel story Jesus' great love and compassion for others meets the beggar's faith and healing (restoration) comes to one more person.
Jeremiah. This message is for the exiles from Israel. In verse 7 the key term is "remnant": God has never allowed the complete destruction of his people, but has always preserved a faithful remnant. He will do so again, and one day he will bring them back to their own land. Probably the reference to blindness in verse 8 explains why this passage is prescribed for today, but the point is much wider than this. The march back from exile draws on the imagery of the escape from Egypt. Such rushed escapes usually mean "passengers" must be left behind. But when God brings back the exiles no one will be left behind; even the blind the lame and the heavily pregnant will be included. They will be "weeping", perhaps with joy or with contrition or both; and "praying", prayers of praise and thanksgiving, surely, but also prayers of confess and petition. "Streams of water" contrast with the dearth of potable water in the wilderness: there will be no need to strike a rock and hope for a gusher this time. The journey will be smoothed and no one will stumble on the way. All this because of the special relationship between God and these people: that relationship is so much more than merely covenantal; it is the relationship of Father and Son.
Taking It Personally.
· Do you have any sense of exile or estrangement from anyone or anywhere at this time; or looking back, is there someone or somewhere you wish you hadn't left behind? How might today's passage offer you hope of some sort of restoration? Make this a subject of your prayers this week.
· How might this passage guide you in offering hope to someone else who is in difficulty at this time?
· Is there an area of aridity in your life where a stream would be most helpful? Ask the Source of Living Water to flow into that area of your life.
· Is there something particularly challenging facing you in the near future? Ask God to go before you to smooth the way.
· A good day to pray for refugees and all displaced persons around the world.
Hebrews. As stated above, in this passage the writer brings his long explanation of his understanding of Jesus as the Great High Priest to a conclusion, although in the next chapter he uses the idea so segue into the next section on temple worship. Today his main theme is to contrast the human (mortal) priesthood of those who stand in the line of Aaron with the eternal priesthood of Jesus. Verse 25 is particularly interesting in linking salvation through Jesus with intercession by Jesus. The thought here seems to be based again on the idea of the Day of Atonement, when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies bearing on his clothing the names of the clans of Israel. Thus he "took with him" all the people into the presence of God, and all their sins were forgiven through the rituals of that day. Through intercession for us Jesus bears our names into the presence of the Father thereby obtaining forgiveness and salvation for us all. At the root of all this, of course, is the idea of priestly sacrifice: in place of the daily offerings that had to be offered by mortal priests, Jesus, having first been made perfect, has offered himself for all who put their trust in him. No further sacrifices are necessary hereafter.
And here's our wonderful bit of liturgy for this week: Accept our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving which we offer through Christ our great high priest. [Prayer Book, p.423.]
Taking It Personally.
· When you pray for someone, take a moment to recall this verse 25. "Consciously" bear the name of the person (perhaps even write it on a piece of paper and hold it as you pray) into the presence of God. Ask Jesus to pray with you for that person.
· Thank Jesus for interceding for you.
· Read verse 26 through slowly several times. Let it lead you into a time of praise.
· Ponder the relationship between this passage and the one from our liturgy above.
· Pray for all priests today.
Mark. Consider this structure:
10:17-31 Rich Young Man – "what must I do (for myself)".
10:32-34 Jesus predicts his death – "what I will do for others".
10:35-45 James and John – "what do you want me to do for you?" Wrong response.
10:46-52 Bartimaeus – "what do you want me to do for you?" Right response.
9:32: "They did not understand what he meant, and were afraid to ask him..."
10:52 "...he received his sight and followed Jesus".
Where the disciples did not see and were afraid to ask, the blind beggar wanted to see and was not afraid to ask.
The geographical setting of this encounter is very important. The road they were on was an important pilgrimage route (and hence a good place to beg). They had come to Jericho; but which Jericho was that? As the difference in details between this account and the ones in Matthew and Luke suggest, there were at the time two cities, the old largely destroyed and abandoned one, and the new one built by King Herod. Probably the party were passing the old one and nearing the new one: passing from the old to the new is a good backdrop to his story. Here Jesus encounters one beggar, who has a name: in Matthew's account there are two nameless beggars (prompting the temptation to make a silly remark about double vision, which I will firmly resist). This blind beggar calls Jesus by the Messianic title of "Son of David", the only person in this gospel to do so. There is nothing wrong with his insight. The sighted crowd are the blind ones as they try to shut him up. Jesus stops for him, and has him called. The man casts aside his one possession of any value (his cloak) and jumps up in response. Then comes the question, and his fearless and faithful response: "I want to see." Jesus tells him to "go", but he chooses to follow Jesus along the road (to Jerusalem, remember).
Taking It Personally.
· This is a wonderful story for praying with the imagination. Place yourself in that narrative? Where do you see yourself? Are you in Jesus' entourage or a curious bystander? Are you interested when the beggar cries out, or are you one who wants him to shut up? Do you laugh when he asks for a miracle? How do you feel when his sight is restored? Amazed? Fearful? Happy for him? Envious – wishing Jesus had paid you some attention?
· Again, what do you want Jesus to do for you? What do you want to see? Ask him.
· Notice how Jesus allowed himself to be interrupted. How ready are you to set aside your own agenda when someone seeks your attention?
· How ready are you to cast aside your possessions and jump to it when Jesus calls?
· Give thanks for the gift of sight. Ask for more insight.
· Pray for the blind, and those who work for their welfare and minister to them.