Sunday, 25 October 2015

Last after Trinity

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. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 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.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 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.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
Mark 10:46-52

Jericho. The oldest walled city on earth. A place that knows what it is to wait, at times defeated, thrown down, waiting decades, even centuries, to be restored. In classical antiquity, it was the Las Vegas of its day, the playground of the rich and powerful; a city of mixed fortunes. Alexander the Great made Jericho his own private estate. Later, it came into the hands of Roman triumvir Mark Anthony, who gave it as a gift to his lover Cleopatra. When they were defeated by Mark Anthony’s fellow triumvir and former brother-in-law Octavian, Octavian, now styling himself Emperor Augustus, passed control of the city to Herod the Great, who spent his summers there, and had his brother-in-law drowned in the palace swimming pool during a party thrown by his mother-in-law. What happens in ‘the City of Palms’ – as they might say – stays in ‘the City of Palms’…

Sitting in the dust by the side of the road that leaves Jericho to climb up out of the lowest point on the surface of the earth, up, up to Jerusalem far above, a blind beggar. This man, too, knows what it is to wait. He is dependent on the fortunes of others. He waits, hoping that someone has been lucky at the gaming tables, and might share that good fortune with a beggar on his way home. ‘There but for the grace of God go I’, and all that. He waits, hoping that no one has had such a wretched visit that they might rob a blind man just in order not to go home empty handed. Bartimaus sits, and waits.

Who knows how many blind beggars there are out there in their own private darkness? This one has a name. Bartimeaus, son of Timeaus. That is Timaeus’ son, the son of Timaeus. As in, McGregor, the son of Gregor. Or, O’Connor, the son of Connor. Why name Bartimaeus twice? To what is our attention being drawn? ‘Bar’- is the Jewish ‘son of’. ‘Timaeus’ is a Greek name. Bartimaeus – the Jewish son of a Gentile father, or grandfather. The Jews had been called out, from all the peoples of the earth, in order that through them all the peoples might be blessed. This one man restates that call: the Jew, called out from the Gentiles, but remaining intimately connected to them. A child, a blessing to his father. And yet, at some point in his story, there has been the tragedy of losing his sight, of moving from the place where Bartimaeus can act to bless his father, to the place where Bartimaeus is dependent on the blessings bestowed on, and by, others.

In the dust by the road out of Jericho, Bartimaeus sits and waits, day after day. Then, one day, Jesus passes through the city gates. Jesus of Nazareth, they called him. But Bartimaeus calls him something different. The Son of Timaeus calls him Son of David. Why? Perhaps because a descendant of King David – whose grandmother and great-grandmother were both Gentiles; indeed, whose Gentile great-grandmother came from Jericho – might understand what it meant to be Bar-Timaeus? Or perhaps because a Son – an heir – of David knows what it is to wait. You see, David had waited. From when he was first anointed king by Samuel, he waited some seven years serving the king he would replace; then another seven-odd years on the run from that king, hiding from the insane wrath of Saul; and then yet another seven-or-so years between being crowned king of Judah, after the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, and being crowned king over all Israel.

David was king, but refused to take the throne from Saul; refused to depose the one whom the Lord had appointed, even if the same Lord had since rejected Saul for acting independently of revealed instruction. And now, here comes the Son of David, on his way to Jerusalem, where he will refuse to presume the throne by strength, refuse to depose either king or high priest…

Son of David, have mercy on me! You, who understand my waiting, enter-into it with me.
And then three words, three beautiful words: Jesus stood still. Jesus stood still.

Everything stops. You can almost see the camera pan round him, 360 degrees, as time itself is commanded to wait, is halted in its ceaseless motion, and Jesus enters-into Bartimaeus’ waiting.

Then – and only then – does the Son of David order those standing around to help the Son of Timaeus to come to him. Their eyes opened, they speak for Jesus, take heart! Take heart. The wait will soon be over.

The man throws off his tattered outer-garment, and rises from the dust to come to Jesus’ side. And Jesus asks him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ There is incredible tenderness in those words, a wonderful attention to this man’s dignity. ‘My teacher,’ he replies, ‘let me see again.’ My teacher. Let me see again. Not, you who goes around healing people, restore my sight; but, you from whom I have chosen to learn, let me see and understand in a way that I have never seen before.

Go, says Jesus. Go forth from this place, having been made whole, through faith.

Immediately, he regained his sight, and followed Jesus on his way. On his way to Jerusalem. On his way to die. Jesus, you see, is also waiting. Waiting to die. Knowing that his time has drawn near. Waiting, not with resignation, but that deliberate waiting that involves both making sure that everything that needs to be said and done is said and done, and yet at the same time letting go of being the one who does things for others and surrendering to being the one who has things done for, and to, them by others. The Gospels slow right down from here until their end. Days pass like years, decades even.

Ours is a society that can no longer bear to wait. We are conditioned to have everything in an instant, even though we feel the tyranny of that false god: even as it prevents us from giving ourselves to one another; even as it prevents us from beholding one another with mercy. But there are times when we have no choice but to wait; and it is in such moments that Jesus, the Son of David, steps into our waiting and stands still, in order that – together – we might take heart; in order that – together – we might hear him call us to him, and stand in his healing presence. Son of David, have mercy on us!

Bartimaeus passes from our sight, as the crowd carries on its way. But, up ahead, he still walks beside his teacher, with a renewed spring in his step. May we follow after in due course; but for now, it may be all-sufficient grace simply to hear those beautiful words: Jesus stood still.

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