Sunday, 24 October 2021

When am I blind and
deaf to the signs of
the Kingdom of God?

The window depicting Christ the healer in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

24 October 2021 (Fifth Sunday before Advent, Bible Sunday)

9.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Castletown Church

11.30 a.m.: Parish Eucharist, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale

Readings: Job 42: 1-6, 10-17; Psalm 34: 1-8 (19-22); Hebrews 7: 23-28; Mark 10: 46-52

There is link to the readings HERE.

The healing of the young blind man depicted in a Byzantine-style fresco in Analipsi Church or the Church of the Ascension in Georgioupoli, Crete … those looking on can hardly believe what they see (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

When I started working as a journalist, it was driven into me from the very beginning how important it is to ask the very basic questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? …

In this morning’s Gospel reading (Mark 10: 46-52) these questions are very important.

Bartimaeus, the blind beggar outside the gates of Jericho, does not have to see to realise that he is in the presence of Christ.

Why do all the Gospel writers answer the ‘Where?’ question immediately and emphasise that this event takes place outside the walls of Jericho? And why do they tell us that when they heard the man’s loud cry that ‘many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly’ (verse 48)?

At the time, the Hebrew name of Jesus, Yeshua (ישוע‎), was a common alternative form of the name Joshua (ְהוֹשֻׁעַ‎).

You may remember the story of Joshua (see Joshua 6), as the wandering, freed slaves are coming to the end of their journey. When they arrive at Jericho, the city is shut up, and no-one goes in or out.

Joshua tells the people not to shout or let their voices be heard until he tells them. And then, when he tells them to make a loud noise on the seventh day, the walls of Jericho fall.

Making a loud noise on the seventh day at Jericho breaks down all the barriers, and it is a sign of the fulfilment of the promises of the coming Kingdom of God.

By the time of Christ, Jericho is an important commercial city, a crossroads, the winter resort for Jerusalem’s aristocracy and the ruling priestly class. Which explains why, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, a priest and a Levite were regular passers-by on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem (Luke 10: 30-37).

Jericho was also the home of Zacchaeus, the repentant tax collector (Luke 19: 1-10).

Christ and his disciples are now near the end of their journey from Caesarea Philippi in the north to Jerusalem; Jericho is about 25 km from Jerusalem. On their journey, the disciples have misunderstood the message of Jesus and have been blind to who he truly is. But in this Gospel reading, it is a blind man who sees who Christ truly is.

Earlier in the Gospel – but not in the lectionary readings provided for this year – Saint Mark is alone in telling the story of an unnamed blind man who is healed gradually at Bethsaida (Mark 8: 22-26).

Have you ever noticed that when you are trying really hard to concentrate, you sometimes close your eyes to help you to focus?

Throughout the Talmud, the blind are called sagi nahor – ‘enough of light’ or ‘full of light.’ Jewish tradition says this is so because one’s physical sight, which gazes out at the mundane and materialistic world, often contradicts and weakens one’s inner or spiritual sight.

It is a universal Jewish custom to cover the eyes with the right hand when saying the first six words of the Shema, the fundamental Jewish declaration of faith. It is said that in doing this, the person who is praying is able to concentrate properly without visual distractions.

As the words are said, the focus is not just on their meaning, but also on accepting the yoke of heaven.

The person saying the Shema is expected to concentrate on the idea that God is the one and only true reality. This intention is so important that one who recites the words of this verse but does not think about its meaning is expected to recite it again.

In today’s reading, Saint Mark gives us – or seems to tell us – the name of this blind beggar, ‘Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus’ (verse 46).

But the name Bartimaeus literally means ‘Son of Timaeus,’ and so we are told only the name of this man’s father. Bartimaeus is an unusual Semitic-Greek hybrid, and Timaeus is an unusual Greek name for this place and at that time.

The cultural significance of this name is in Timaeus (Τίμαιος), one of Plato’s dialogues. This is mostly in the form of a long monologue by the title character, Timaeus of Locri. He delivers Plato’s most important cosmological and theological treatise, involving sight as the foundation of knowledge, and describing the nature of the physical world, the purpose of the universe, and the creation of the soul.

The blind son of Timaeus cries out to ‘Jesus, Son of David’ and asks for mercy. This cry is one of the Biblical foundations of the Jesus Prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.’

Until now, the disciples have been blind to who Jesus truly is. It takes a blind man to see the truth. When he does, Bartimaeus makes a politically charged statement. Jesus is the ‘Son of David,’ King of the Jews, and Messiah. In other places, Christ orders silence on the matter, but not here. His time is approaching. We shall soon understand the true nature of the physical world, the purpose of the universe, and the creation of the soul.

The cloak Bartimaeus throws off (verse 50) is probably the cloth he uses to receive the alms he is begging for. When he throws away his cloak, he gives up all he has to follow Christ. In this Gospel, garments often indicate the old order, so Bartimaeus accepts the new order.

The question Christ now puts to Bartimaeus – ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ (verse 51) – is the same question he put in last Sunday’s reading to James and John when they sought status in the kingdom: ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ (Mark 10: 36).

James and John asked to be seated at his right hand and his left hand, symbolising power and prestige (see Mark 10: 37). But Bartimaeus is humble in his reply: ‘My teacher, let me see again’ (verse 51).

Christ tells him simply that his faith ‘has made you well.’ Bartimaeus is not only cured immediately, but he follows Jesus on the way (verse 52).

The way is not going to be an easy one. As the parable of the Good Samaritan reminds us, in the time of Christ, the road from Jericho to Jerusalem was notorious for its danger and difficulty. It was known as the ‘Way of Blood’ because of the blood that was often shed there by robbers.

But Christ is also about to shed his blood. He is now on the road used by priests and by kings as they set out from Jericho to Jerusalem, and the next chapter of Saint Mark’s Gospel brings us to Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11: 1-11).

What am I blind to that stops me from seeing and grasping the Kingdom of God?

Who am I blind to that stops me from seeing their needs?

How do I respond to the plight of others in ways that become promises, signs or sacraments of the Kingdom of God?

And so, may all we think, say and do be to praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

What can blind Bartimaeus see that the 12 have passed by? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 10: 46-52 (NRSVA):

[Jesus and his disciples] 46 [They] came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 49 Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ 52 Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Plato is depicted in Raphael’s ‘The School of Athens’ carrying a bound copy of ‘The Timaeus’

Liturgical Colour: Green (Ordinary Time, Year B)

The Collect of the Day:

Blessed Lord,
who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:
Help us to hear them,
to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them
that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word,
we may embrace and for ever hold fast
the blessed hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

The Collect (Bible Sunday):

Blessed Lord,
who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:
Help us to hear them,
to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them
that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word,
we may embrace and for ever hold fast
the blessed hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Collect of the Word:

O God,
you give light to the blind
and comfort to the sorrowing,
and in your Son you have given us a High Priest
who has offered the true sacrifice for us
and yet can sympathise with us in our weakness:
hear the cry of your people
and lead us home to our true country,
where with your Son
and the Holy Spirit
you live and reign, one God,
in glory everlasting.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God of all grace,
your Son Jesus Christ fed the hungry
with the bread of his life and the word of his kingdom.
Renew your people with your heavenly grace,
and in all our weakness
sustain us by your true and living bread,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

‘Christ Healing the Blind’ (ca 1570) by El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) … in the Met, New York

Hymns:

52, Christ, whose glory fills the skies (CD 4)
553, Jesu, lover of my soul (CD 32)
294, Come down, O Love divine (CD 18)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.



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