October 28, 2018

EVERYONE IS WORTHY BEFORE GOD

BIBLE READINGS
Mark 10:46-52 
Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm 126 

REFLECTION

The story about the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, is probably one of the well-known stories in the Bible But we know nothing about him. We don’t know where he came from or what his background was or whether he had a family or not. We don’t know whether he was a Jew or a Gentile or, if he was a Jew, which tribe he belonged to. All we are told was that he was a blind beggar. 

But, that’s probably what people really cared about him. They didn’t want to know more about him. All they knew was that he was a ‘regular’ who liked to beg to people going in and out of Jericho. 

Indeed, as a beggar, Bartimeus was used to being invisible and ignored and sidelined. He knew that his place was on the side of the road outside of the city. He knew that, in the eyes of other, he was a non-entity. Beggars like him were not even allowed to enter the temple.[1] As far as others were concerned, he didn’t count as a child of God. 

But when he heard that Jesus was near him, he raised his voice! He let his presence known. He didn’t want to stay hidden anymore.

For sure, others didn’t like with what he was doing. So they asked him to be quiet. They reminded him of who he was and where he belonged. This was their opportunity to meet Jesus and they didn’t want their opportunity to be ruined by a beggar. 

But this time, Bartimaeus wouldn’t’ let other people put him down. He knew that Jesus would not ignore his plight. He knew that Jesus would treat him as a human being. Bartimeaus chose not to be a passive recipient of other people’s generosity anymore. There and then, he claimed his right as a child of God, worthy of His blessing. 

And his effort bore fruits. Jesus noticed him and stopped on his way. The crowd stopped with him and their loud noise suddenly turned into silence. 

“Call him over,” Jesus said.[2] He asked Bartimaeus to come from the sideline to the main road where the real action was.

One of the biggest events happening in Australia today is the Duke and Duchess of Susex’ visit down under. Just imagine that you are amongst the crowd who is cheering Harry and Meghan in their public outing. And, suddenly, this royal couple stop and pick you from amongst the crowd. They asked you to come to them, passing their security details. How would you feel? A bit embarrassed, perhaps, but definitely elated.

The same with Bartimaeus. He responded to Jesus’ invitation by throwing off his coat. It may have been a chilly winter day and the coat was the only thing that kept him warm. But he wanted to bare everything before Jesus. He did not want to hide anything from him. 

Or, perhaps, the coat was a symbol of the label that people had always put on him. The coat represented his identity as a beggar, a pariah of the society. So, when Jesus called him, he threw off the garment that made him invisible all this time. No, he wasn’t invisible anymore because Jesus, of all people, wanted to see him. 

And he finally found what he was looking for: his sight was restored. But he wasn’t the only person who was healed that day; the crowd was also healed. They too had been blind. They had been unable or unwilling to pay attention to people like Bartimaees. But Jesus had opened their eyes to see that people like Bartimaeus were also God’ children. As such, they deserved to be treated like ones.

Friends, no one is beyond God’s redemption. Even those whom society have rejected or labeled as failures; God’s redemption is available to them also.

We hear similar message in our reading from Jeremiah. The reading was written after the Kingdom of Judah was invaded and most of its population taken as captives. Jeremiah was one of the remnants who were not taken to Babylon and stayed in his homeland in Judah. 

His prophecy was thus written to encourage the people in captivity that they were not forgotten. God had looked on them with mercy and God would bring them from exile back to the land of promise. 

The journey from exile back to homeland would be like their second exodus. And God would not only choose a selected group of people to return. God would gather the blind, the lame, the limp, pregnant women, and even the women who were in labour!

This was such a contrast to what happened when the Babylonians invaded and captured the land of Judah. They were only deporting a selective group of people. They took as captives especially those with high standing in the society and those with certain skills. They took the princes and the best soldiers, craftsmen and artisans. But they left behind the poorest people in the land.[3] They left behind those who would only be a burden in Babylon.

We can draw similar comparison to what the Nazi regime did in WWII. They too only chose the strong from amongst the Jewish communities under their rule; those who could do labor work in the camps. But the rest: the disable, the old, the sick, and the little children – they eliminated them all. 

But the return from exile would be a different thing. God would not be selective. God would not only invite the strong and the powerful and the rich and the skillful to return to Judah. God would take everyone, including those whom society often considered as a burden. 

Imagine travelling hundreds of kilometers away in the stifling heat of the desert. And you have amongst you people who are lame and blind and limp and some pregnant women. This group of people would surely slow you down.

But God would not leave these people behind. They too were His children. They too deserved to be taken back to their home.

Friends, no one is a lost cause in God’s eyes. Other people may dismiss us or put us down. They may tell us that we are not worthy of receiving any goodness from God. But everyone is deserving of God’s blessing. 

That’s why we should take every opportunity to thrive. Whoever we are, in whatever circumstance we are in, we should always look for God’s blessing. And just like Bartimaeus, we should never stop until we find the blessing that we are after. 

When Fanny Crosby was only six weeks old, she lost her sight. The doctor who was treating an inflammation in her eyes was negligent, causing her to lose sight on both eyes. She would be blind for the rest of her life. 

Because she was blind, people often dismissed her. They told her that she couldn’t do this or that. But Fanny never gave up. She was never bitter nor complaining. She once wrote a song titled, Never Give Up. It says in the chorus:

            “Never give up, never give up.
            Never give up to thy sorrows.
            Jesus will bid them depart.
            Trust in the Lord, trust in the Lord.
            Sing when your trials are greatest.
            Trust in the Lord and take heart.”

"Blindness," she once wrote, "cannot keep the sunlight of hope from the trusting soul." 

Fanny Crosby made the most of her life by using her gift of writing poetry and creating song. She would write 8000 poems in her lifetime. Many of the poems were made into hymns, many of which are still popular even today. They include "To God Be the Glory," "I Am Thine, O Lord," "Tell Me the Story of Jesus," "Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross," "All the Way My Saviour Leads Me," and “Blessed Assurance.”[4]

Once again friends, no one is a lost cause and everyone has a place in God’s world. We are to claim that place no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in. 

This too is the message of Psalm 126. The Psalm was written years after the people of Israel had returned from exile and resettled in their homeland. There, they faced a new challenge. It may have been drought, but the drought could only be a metaphor for something else. 

Whatever the problem was, the Psalm approaches the problem by looking back to the past. The Psalm looks back to the time of Israel’s deliverance from exile. It claims that just like God did not forget the people in exile, God would not forget the people now. 

Indeed, the Psalm doesn’t imagine God’s deliverance as a spectacular event. The Psalm uses the examples taken from the agricultural life - of sowing seeds and harvesting. According to the Psalm, in the midst of life’s drought, our job is to keep on sowing the seed of faith and hope. If we do so, perhaps one day, we will gather the harvest of our labour. 

Friends, Jesus didn’t advocate a passive spirituality, but an active one. We are to ask, search, and, if necessary, knock on the door to find God’s blessing.[5] We are called not to be complacent with our situations. Restlessness can be the nudge that God put in our heart to move us in the right direction. And perhaps, perhaps when we keep on asking and searching and knocking, the door will finally be opened. And just like Bartimaeus and Fanny Crosby, we will finally find our true purpose in life.

Amen.
Toby Keva

[1] Moira Laidlaw’s Liturgies Online (PENTECOST 22B - October 23-29). 

[2] Mark 10:49-50 – The Message.

[3] 1 Kings 24:14.

[4] From I Want to See Jesus (Proper 25 [30] Yr. B) and Never Give Up (Proper 15 [20] Yr. A) on Sermon4Kids website.

[5] Matthew 7:7.