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Sunday 24 October 2021

Trinity 21 (Last after Trinity), Thirtieth in Ordinary time, Proper 25

‘Let Me See’

Jeremiah 31:7-9; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

 

By Nicholas Frayling

Anglican Cathedral Dean (retired). Permission to Officiate

Context: Parish Eucharist in a poor dockland church, shared with a new ‘church plant’. A faithful congregation of about 25, fearful for the future of their parish

Aim: To give encouragement in worship and witness

THE IMPORTANCE OF PERSISTENCE

A diocese sent a questionnaire to churchgoers asking if each was ‘a regular worshipper’. Hilda, a daily communicant, replied: ‘I am not regular, I am a persistent worshipper.’ Persistence is important in our Christian lives, as today’s Gospel illustrates. If we read it carefully, we find, as so often, that there is more going on than meets the eye. A blind man was healed by Jesus, but let’s look more closely.

Jesus had just predicted his coming death and had set out with the disciples to go to Jerusalem. It was a time of heightened tension. The blind beggar was given a name, Bartimaeus. This is unusual. Perhaps Mark, the writer, regarded this miracle as especially important, or perhaps Bartimaeus was well known as a member of the early Church. At any rate, he is not an anonymous figure.

Bartimaeus called Jesus ‘Son of David’. That’s the title that would be given Jesus by the crowd on Palm Sunday as he entered Jerusalem. It identified him as the Messiah, which was the principal reason he was condemned to death. The blind man, an outcast, recognised Jesus for who and what he was.

Jesus asked, ‘What do you want me to do for you? And he listened to the answer. He gave Bartimaeus time and respect, unlike the disciples, who tried to shut him up. He was not crying out for money but for health and new life, which he knew only Jesus could give: ‘My Teacher, let me see again.’

Jesus healed him, telling him it was his faith that had made him well; and we learn that he followed Jesus on the way. Bartimaeus was aware of his need; he was persistent in his cries; he was heard, healed, and called by Jesus.

ARE WE WILLING TO SEE?

In our worship, we reflect on the presence of Jesus, but what difference does that make? Do we, like Bartimaeus, cry out for sight? Do we long for understanding about God’s kingdom and our part in it? Are we prepared to follow him on the way? More to the point, do we really want to see?

I attended a conference in Richmond, Virginia, at which people spoke about their experience of racial prejudice in that heavily segregated city. A retired African-American doctor turned to an elderly white businessman and said ‘Excuse me, Sir, but when you were being taken to your private school each day, you passed our wooden shacks and saw us playing in the mud. What did you think about that?’

The man replied, ‘Doctor, I was not allowed to see.’ Of course, he had seen with his eyes, but he was unable to make a connection between what he saw and his own way of life, his ingrained prejudice. Those two men, both lifelong residents of Richmond, went off to lunch arm in arm, perhaps to become friends.

It’s clear from the Gospels that many people saw Jesus, but could not perceive, or would not allow themselves to understand, the importance of his teaching. Perhaps their upbringing had blurred their vision, or perhaps they were simply afraid to accept his demands.

‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asks. ‘Teacher, let me see again’. That’s a risky response because it’s a plea to be admitted into a new way of life: the way that stands up to the world and its values; the way that recognises and wants to be alongside those whom God counts as especially blessed: the pure in heart and the poor, the meek and the merciful, the peacemakers and the persecuted. That is our calling, however ill-equipped we may feel. God chooses the most unlikely people to do his work.

A FAITHFUL REMNANT

In our first reading, Jeremiah urged the Israelites, who were in exile and despondent - ‘a remnant’ he had called them - nevertheless to praise God and cry for deliverance. Then the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews offered even deeper encouragement because ‘[Jesus] is able for all time to save those who approach God through him ...’

Risky? Ill-equipped? A faithful remnant, even? Well, perhaps; but in 1963 Martin Luther King wrote from a jail cell in Alabama about the earliest Christians - ‘a colony of heaven’ he called them - and he added, ‘They were small in number but big in commitment.'

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