Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 28 October 2012
Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126; Hebrews 5:1-6; Mark 10:46-52
Two related themes run through today’s readings: restoration from exile and the restoration of sight. The historical experience of exile – when the people of God were carried off into captivity by the Babylonian armies – is emblematic of a spiritual experience, a sense of alienation from God and from fullness of life. The land of promise is lost to us. The prophet Jeremiah addresses those in exile to give them hope. He looks forward to the time when those who cry out to the Lord for mercy will know themselves heard and those who are struggling will walk on paths made straight for them.
I wonder what kind of weeping the prophet imagines? The weeping of relief, tears expressing the sadness and happiness which come together in deep joy? It is the depth of emotion expressed in Psalm 126, a song of the restoration. This prayer looks back to the wonder-filled time when, contrary to all expectations, the people of God were restored, returned to the land of promise. In a time of darkness, God’s goodness had broken through. There is also a sense of nostalgia here; the everyday world of rebuilding has taken some of the shine off that glorious hope. They are back in the land, but many remain in exile. The kingdom of God is still not very evident in their midst. And so they must keep looking forward in hope and keep on sowing, knowing that the harvest will finally come.
Bartimaeus knows better than many just how far from the fullness of the Kingdom the people are in 1st century Palestine. Blind, he survives by begging. He is ignored and pushed aside by the crowd,. Yet he is still someone with deep faith and a hope in God’s salvation. He has heard about Jesus, and what he has heard has convinced him that this is God’s promised messiah. That is why he cries out to the ‘Son of David’ for mercy. His first intimation of the goodness of God comes when Jesus stops to respond. When the crowd realises that Jesus is interested in the blind beggar, they are immediately kinder themselves. Jesus is deeply respectful of Bartimaeus, not assuming that he knows what he wants, but acknowledging his agency by inviting him to name his request: “I want to see.” Jesus not only gives him physical sight, but sets him free to live the life he chooses: “Go on your way.” His newly gained physical sight combines with his spiritual insight so that he chooses to follow Jesus on the way.
The book of Hebrews reminds us of the function of the priest in ancient Judaism – to be the one who represents the people to God and God to the people. Jesus , the fully human one, is able to reach out with sympathy. He is the one, as Bartimaeus recognised, who brings God close. He does so in a way that changes people fundamentally, so that they can see things they never saw before and do things they were unable to do before.Jesus gives us new sight which sets us free to follow him on the way.