“Mercy and Sight” by Margreta Silverstone

October 24, 2021

Some weeks (months maybe) ago, I knew Celebration Circle was looking for a preacher for October 24. At that time, I thought the Servant Leadership Workgroup would have something that we could share about our experience and thoughts. I’m sorry but this sermon won’t be about that group’s effort. We are trying to get everyone on the team together for a conversation about the recommendations and scheduling has been a bit of a challenge. We are close to wrapping up, but we aren’t there yet. I apologize that the team lost some momentum over the summer – OK, I lost my momentum to lead the group as I dealt with my own life and loss and grief. But, I had agreed to preach and I try to honor my commitments.

As that plan for what to offer for this sermon went off the rails, what do I talk about instead? I usually do follow the lectionary readings and have worked with these scripture passages and will share some reflections today. Please pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditation from my heart be acceptable in your sight, oh my Rock and Redeemer. Amen.

In my theological upbringing, I had heard at some point that the lectionary readings for each week connected to each other.  As the Cor Ardens, a website from the St. Thomas the Apostle parish, stated:

All four lectionary readings are a proclamation of some facet of the Kingdom of God.  Think of the Kingdom of God as a diamond upon which light is shining.  The light causes a bright array of refractions to flash out from the gem.  If the Scripture, the written revelation of the Kingdom of God, is that diamond, then the lectionary readings on any given day are simply a closer look at one refraction—one manageable portion of a brightness almost too dazzling to comprehend all at once.

With that in mind, my focus has been to discern what the core in these readings may be.

Certainly, the Gospel story is the attention grabber.

For context: Jesus is perhaps two weeks out before Passover. Jericho is about 100 miles from Jerusalem. Depending on walking speed, perhaps a 10-day hike. Excitement is building. Based on what we gather time-wise from the other gospels, this event may have followed the Zacchaeus’ banquet in Luke 19.  Here we have a blind beggar wanting to see Jesus.

Mark is very specific as to giving us the blind man’s name. Matthew tells us that there were two blind beggars sitting on the road that day. But Mark was especially intrigued by one of them, so much so that he gives us his name–Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus. Why did this blind beggar capture Mark’s attention? Possibly because, when we look up the Greek meaning of “Timothyaeus,” we discover the word means, “honor”. Apparently Bartimaeus was the son of a socially important man of the region, someone who was well known. And he had a son who was blind. His name – Bartimaeus literally means Son of Timaeus.  It is also of note that Bartimaeus was not born blind. Something happened in his life that then resulted in blindness. He has memories of having seen things in the past. With the loss of his sight, his life prospects became limited and because of his blindness he was now destitute and socially marginalized.

Bartimaeus can hear that there is a crowd and he knows what he wants and is prepared to yell for it. What does Bartimaeus ask for? Mercy.

What is mercy? What does it mean? Webster’s basically names it as “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.”

We certainly believe Jesus had the ability to punish or harm but he rarely chose to use that power. His overall life was filled with acts of compassion and forgiveness. Bartimaeus is just one more. From the edges of society, from the margins of the community, without the ability to care for himself, he calls for mercy and is heard. Bartimaeus gets an audience with God.

When we consider the Hebrew scripture, we are picking up on a previous story line – one about Job. Job, with all of his previous wealth and power found himself stripped of everything. From Job’s friends’ perspective, God hasn’t been very merciful so far. Job has lost a lot – family and possessions. His “friends” encourage him to blame God, after all, it does seem God has harmed him so far. Job seems to ponder and not act on their advice.  The audience with God happens for Job too.

Between these two individuals, Job and Bartimaeus, while my eyesight is pretty crappy, I find myself connecting more to Job. Four years ago, I was keeping busy parenting and working as an independent consultant on IT projects. Jeffrey was parenting, taking occasional bike rides with Ozy and working at his IT job. Four years ago on this day, though, my father made that final transition, having made peace with those around him, surrounded by love. Less than a year later, after a trip to Costa Rica that was full of adventure for the three of us, we found out Jeffrey had two types of cancer and the long haul of radiation and chemo began. A bit less than 2 years ago, COVID-19 started wrecking havoc on our parenting with the school system going into decline and my work diminishing on the IT front. And, recently, Jeffrey lost the battle to cancer. My losses are not as great as Job’s, but I can relate. I have not had friends encourage me to curse God, but in my sleepless hours I have quietly questioned it for myself.

I generally don’t spend a lot of time yelling out for God’s mercy. I’m the more quiet prayer type of gal, in those night time hours asking God for some relief, some sign, some comfort – some mercy. But, that isn’t to say yelling, demanding is wrong. And maybe there is something to be learned by changing my manner of relating to God. Maybe I should yell.

So both Bartimaeus and Job do get an audience with God. For Bartimaeus, he is so excited that he leaves his cloak behind and jumps up to go meet with Jesus. For Job, it seems more that God came to him.

How does the audience with God go for both of these individuals?

For Bartimaeus, he is grateful and excited and the community – the fellow followers – help him get to have an audience with Jesus. The fellow followers may have been a bit miffed at him for taking up Jesus’ time, but they still do help him get to meeting Jesus. Bartimaeus knows what he wants. He also fully believes that Jesus can give him what he is going to ask to be given. Jesus names that his faith has healed him and immediately he can see. We don’t get a lot of detail about what that was like for Bartimaeus, but we do know that for the next weeks, he joined the disciples in following Jesus. Regaining his sight would allow Bartimaeus to become part of the community, no longer marginalized, no longer fully dependent on others for his day to day sustenance.

For Job, this audience with God is now picked up with Job’s response. I’ll remind you of what God said in the previous week,

38:1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements–surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’? Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind? Who has the wisdom to number the clouds? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, when the dust runs into a mass and the clods cling together? Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, when they crouch in their dens, or lie in wait in their covert? Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?

The long list of cares that God has for the world reminds me a bit of an exasperated parent dealing with a child’s tantrum. For the child, the world is focused on them and their needs. For the parent, there is a broader view of considerations. It isn’t a particularly satisfying response to the losses that Job has experienced. But it a realistic assessment of a broader picture and Job recognizes the truth in that. Job confesses his self absorption in the text for this week. Job answers, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Job’s eyes were opened to see the broader context in which he lives his life. Job sees God cares for the lion and the human. God cares for the water and the creatures that depend upon it. While the text doesn’t name it as a mercy, it is what Job is asking for in his confession.

God’s giving of mercy is demonstrated through what happens next. I’m not particularly thrilled with the new riches and new kids (so there would have been a new wife too) as though the previous ones can just be replaced.  Job’s grief cannot simply be replaced. I do value that there is a new normal established for Job, one that includes giving women equal access to inheritances.  Job, with God’s mercy, gets new sight – emotional sight and spiritual sight – a restoring of well being and a long life to enjoy these relationships.

For me, my request for mercy has been quieter. Yet, in the face of my losses, God has reminded me too of a broader context – the many who have lost loved ones to COVID, the many who have been displaced because they lost their jobs or their homes were destroyed by flood or fire, the many who struggle to feed themselves and their children. And so I confess to self absorption and short sightedness.

On our better days, we believers, we faith community gathered here, are like the crowd that helped Bartimaeus take the steps needed to encounter God and gain sight. Sometimes we are not only the enablers but also the hands and feet, the arms and legs, the actors and enactors of God in helping our neighbor see. On our better days, we don’t encourage our friends to curse God.

And, for me, you Seekers as well as some of my neighbors in Takoma Park, have been enactors of Jesus, of God.  God has offered love and compassion – through meals, through Zoom conversations, through walks with neighbors and friends, through flowers. God has also offered love and compassion through the love of a cat, through time to see the sunrise or the moonlight or the ocean waves. In the work of settling the estate, I have been blessed to find that there has been more than sufficient financial means to survive.

So, when I get too focused on my loss, it is good for me to call out for mercy and be reminded of the larger picture.

In the components of the lectionary as a window on a common theme, I confess I don’t get the first couple of verses of Hebrews about the previous high priests and death, but I do understand his culmination – Jesus. Jesus is available to have an audience with us, collectively and individually, whenever we are ready to ask for it. Jesus is ready with compassion and forgiveness 24/7. Jesus is ready to help us see – that may mean seeing and making space for the marginalized, seeing and recognizing our place in relationship to all of creation, seeing our relationship to each individual in this faith community and how we might help them see, seeing and (with humility) naming the riches that still remain in our lives – individually and collectively.

I invite you to experience the gift of sight, from the very direct observation to the deeper meanings. From where you are, find someone on the Zoom screen (not me) or in the pod of people with you to focus on. Take the time to see. See their shape, their face, their hair, the colors around them, their forms. See the backdrop of the space they inhabit. [silence] Now see that person not simply as an object but the stories and history they convey – What do you know of how they got here? What do you see of their manner in being present? What story does the grey hair or eye wrinkle lines or turn of the mouth say about their emotional state? What connection do you have with this person?  What joy or care has this person brought into your life? How does that person belong in the larger story of your life? Where is the love? How might you help them see? [silence]

Jesus have mercy! Jesus have mercy! Jesus help me see. Jesus help us see – whether we need to physically see or emotionally see or spiritually see. Help us see the love that is present. AMEN.

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