Mark 12:38–44 (NRSV)
Jesus Denounces the Scribes
(Mt 23:1–7; Lk 20:45–47)
38 As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
The Widow’s Offering
41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
At times there are things that annoy me about organizations. Things like absolutely no overtime at work. It is not like I am one to work a ton of overtime, but when I am told to cut my overtime when there is only three minutes it just seems a bit petty. But even when things annoy me about an organization that same organization can amaze me.
Religious organizations are often the source of these mixed feelings. If we were to listen to those who do not attend meetings for worship, we would hear horror stories at times for why they neglect the gathering together. I even have a few of my own comments to add to them. At times we as a collective whole can be judgmental over things that really do not matter to salvation. But this same organization can also give assistance to people that can nearly be overwhelming to those they have blessed. This has happened to me several times within my life. At times I question if God can use people like us and then I wonder how God pulled it off because I know the people involved.
Today I approach this scripture and to be honest I do not really know what to say. I studied all week, had a good idea of which direction to go, and then something happens on Saturday which brings me to my knees. And this time it is not prayers of a grieving heart but prayers of praise. All because God uses people like us in ways that just confound me.
Let us remember where this passage is taking place. This portion of Mark’s Gospel is during the passion week of Christ. The time we recognize between Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. The crowds have cheered him on proclaiming him to be their long-awaited king, and the religious leaders are left stewing over their loss of influence. It was one thing when Jesus was up in Galilee teaching and healing, but now he is on their home turf, he is teaching in the temple courts. This is where they teach, this is where their teaching reigns supreme and no one is supposed to question them, because they hold guard the gates of redemption. Yet here is Jesus teaching right there in the temple courts.
That Sunday, Jesus was proclaimed king, he came to the temple and left. He returned the next day He again entered the temple courts. And this time he came with vengeance. The temple courts were filled with venders. The temple would not allow Imperial currency to be used within so there were people exchanging currencies. If you happen to read the currency markets, you would know that at times you can make a great living just by simply converting one currency to another at the proper times. This happens to be a time leading up to one of the greatest feasts of the year. All of Israel is making pilgrimages to the temple to offer sacrifices and celebrate the feast of Passover. And when there is high demand for temple currency the exchange rate shifts. There is more to the story though, not only are there people exchanging currency but there are people selling animals for sacrifice. This is very convenient for the worshipers. They no longer have to make their pilgrimage while hauling animals acceptable for a sacrifice, they can simply buy on when they get there. There is a flip side to this enterprise as well. Who authorized the sacrificial animals to be sold and are they getting a cut of the profits? It does not take much imagination that the religious leaders would be involved in this enterprise. A priest inspects an animal and deems it unworthy and sends the penitent worshiper to their dealer, who sells them an animal that is guaranteed to be acceptable for the altar. There is a closed market, people must convert their money to temple currency, they are potentially required to make a purchase of an animal using only temple currency. This is an enterprise that reeks of opportunistic and predatory greed. What does Jesus do? He storms into the temple courts and he turns the tables over, he drives releases the animals and chases the venders out. The then proclaims, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers”.
He has embarrassed the religious leaders. He has removed a profitable source of income from them. He has the ear of all the worshipers. He has just caused the status quo of the temple to crash, and the religious leaders are furious. By what authority does he do this they ask, and they join forces with their religious opponents to take on this common threat. They begin debating and asking questions in the attempt to catch Jesus in his words. For the next several days they do this. Each time a question is asked Jesus steps around it in such a manner that the truth is revealed while and their religious ideologies are shown to be what they truly are, human attempts to control the masses.
Then one wise scribe asks a question, of all the commands and laws what is the most important. This question, which we discussed last Sunday, was one that Jesus answered head on, because this is a question of value. It was one that spoke to the truth of why everyone was at the temple in the first place. It was a question that spoke to life and not just religious observance. “Hear O Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord with all of your heart, with all of your soul, with all of your mind, and with all of your strength. And the second is this, Love your neighbor as yourself.” The wise scribe agrees with Jesus, and even says you are right, and this is more important than all the sacrifices. To which Jesus replies, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
It is important to visualize the scene. It is important to recognize what Jesus a few days had just done prior and why the religious leaders were asking these questions, because if we do not recognize the context of the story, we might miss something important. In today’s passage Jesus begins his teaching by saying watch out for the teachers of the law.
When Jesus is saying this, he is not meaning all teachers are like this, because he just said that some…well one was not far from the Kingdom. Jesus is speaking about those that exploit the system, the ones that make the temple into a den of robbers instead of a house of prayer for all nations. He says, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
Those who like to walk around in long robes. Recently we discussed long robes in our Sunday morning bible study. This is like the multicolored coat that was given to Joseph that enraged his brothers. As people have gained more understanding of the ancient languages that were used in scripture, they have decided that the coat given to Joseph might not have been multicolored, although that is probably part of it, but it might have been irritating because it was long sleeved. If we were to find something similar today the difference between this coat and the clothing of the others, it would be like a suit compared to a uniform. So, Joseph was clothed in the garments of management and the brothers wore the clothing of labor. When Jesus refers to the teachers wearing long robes, he is speaking not only of their clothing but the divisions among people. They made sure that people knew their position and they also wanted you to be aware of your own. They were not leaders who walked with those they managed but they were separate elites.
The people Jesus warned his disciples about were those who made demands not based on character but on position. These teachers make interpretations of the law, yet they themselves do not live by them because they can twist their interpretations to allow themselves to live how they desire while requiring everyone else do what they say. And these same people were the ones that could deny your offering within the temple if you did not support their agenda. They like their position because people were required to give them respect. They walked around in the finest of clothes and when they walked by people would greet them with proper words. They would have the seats of honor in the places of worship and you would not think of giving them a seat anywhere but at the head of the table at a feast. These are people totally disconnected with reality, and they consume the faithful.
Our early Friends had something to say about these types of people too. They called them the hirelings. They were religious leaders that had positions but did not have true life. This is why our spiritual ancestors of faith turned from the steeple houses of England, stopped the use of religious sacraments and met in silence. Because many of the leaders were void of life. They went through the motions, they said the right things but lived contrary to what they spoke. They were dishonest to the people and themselves. Beware of people like that Jesus said.
But not all the religious leaders are like this. Jesus knows this and even said that one of those people that held position was not far from the kingdom. And there were others as well, one of those religious leaders gave up his own tomb so that Jesus could be laid to rest in it. But it should cause us all to take note and consider our words and actions.
This is why Friends have the spiritual exercise that we call the Queries. These are simple questions that we read in every business meeting, we discuss them on occasion and hopefully we sit with them and consider our answers. Questions like, “Do you love one another as becomes the followers of Christ? Are you careful of the reputation of others? When differences arise do you make earnest efforts to end them speedily?” We could simply answer, yes or no, but are we being honest? Beware Jesus tell his disciples. The words and lifestyles should match. And if they do not, then listen more closely.
Then Jesus takes the disciples and they sit and observe as people place alms in the treasury box. They watch as some place large sums of money into it, and they observe a widow that places seemingly nothing, two small copper coins. Jesus tells them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
The warning and this observation are connected. The cleansing of the temple and this observation are connected. Jesus’s advent and this observation are connected. I imagine that the disciples sat there watching countless pilgrims placing money in the treasury box. They probably gasped as some place into this box a month’s wages or possibly more money than they made in a year. And as the widow approached with her coppers they probably laughed. But the words of Jesus probably leapt to mind. BEWARE, and they took a second look. They might have even thought about who these people were, because they had probably greeted some of them in the marketplace earlier that day.
Then as they watch Jesus speaks again. He tells them that the widow gave everything she had, and the others gave out of their abundance. The others gave large sums but what they gave was only a fraction of what they had available, but the widow she did not even consider herself.
I speak often about the rhythm of Jesus’s life. He has a distinct cycle in his life and lifestyle. He made it his custom to worship in the community he visited, and he went to the synagogues on the appointed days. He withdrew often to isolated places to pray. And after worship and prayer he would move out into the community and minister to the needs of the people and taught them what life with God was like. Throughout the Gospels we see Jesus doing these things, showing this lifestyle to the disciples and encouraging them to participate. Jesus lived a certain way. And to be his disciple we are called to take on his life. This does not mean we simply say magic words, but we take on a new life. We take on the lifestyle of Jesus. No longer do we look only to our own good, but we look out for the good of others.
Jesus showed his disciples what that looked like. He told them beware of the teachers, the teachers who built an economic religious empire selling redemption to feed their greed. And then he shows them the sacrifice of the widow who gave her last two copper coins.
At times, organizations can bring me sorrow. It pains me when religious groups and teachers get caught up in petty arguments that do not really matter in the larger picture. But then I also see groups that give their last two coins to help those in need. I have seen this small meeting give. We have given to teachers, knowing that new teachers do not always have the funds they need to provide for the children they teach. I have seen us rally around individuals who have had health concerns and trouble financially. I have seen us give to missionaries, enabling them to devote their lives to sharing the Gospel. We have even given to missionaries who have gone to places not to start churches but to simply live their lives to encourage others. I have also sat through meeting where attendees have argued with red faces, making threats and demands.
I have seen a great deal in my life. But there are some things that mean more than the others. The hugs and tears from friends, when words could not express sorrow at my sister’s funeral. The fact that most of this meeting drove to Wichita to attend the event at yearly meeting where I was recorded as a minister. My aunt coming here to Kansas City to watch my son being dedicated in this Meetinghouse. And more recent, with expenses that I really cannot cover our yearly meeting and our Friends here in this monthly meeting have helped. I personally have witnessed people giving of themselves to encourage someone else. I have personally seen them give knowing full well that that gift is a sacrifice.
I have seen true faith and I have seen things that have caused me to beware. I have seen it all around me, but I stand here today because the truth has more power than the lies. I stand here today because a Sunday school teacher loved Jesus enough to put up with unruly boys. Because a pastor shared with me the rich history of Friends. Because a Meeting looked through the sin and offered grace. I am here today because so many people throughout my life have given of their lives for me. Each of these people gave because there was a long line of people that invested in their lives, and people that invested in theirs. And it goes all the way back through history, to this one moment where Jesus stood in the temple and showed the disciples teachers in long robes and a widow with two pennies. And Jesus said some will give everything and some will take. And then later that same week Jesus would say this is my body broken for you and this is my blood as they ate together. And later Jesus would cry from a tree, “Forgive them because they do not know what they are doing.”
Some give it all and some take. Who are you?
Mark 12:28–34 (NRSV)
The First Commandment
(Mt 22:34–40; Lk 10:25–28)
28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.
There are times where seemingly simple things take a whole lot of energy. This week at work all I really had to do was audit the backroom. It is a simple task, the only thing you do is scan and count. Yet when you look at the long line of shelves that go from one side of the room to the other, from the floor to nearly the ceiling, the task seems daunting. The most stressful part was when I got to the DVD’s, you would not believe how many DVD’s can fit in a seemingly small amount of space, imagine how many can fit on a shelf eight feet wide.
While doing this daunting task of counting all the way to four about a million times. I found that I spent a few moments thinking about this week’s passage. It is a seemingly simple passage. It is very straight forward. It does not have words that could trip us up or anything. Yet this seemingly simple passage confounded me this week. Reminding me of the saying that the Gospel is simple enough for a child to understand yet complex enough to stump scholars.
It starts by saying that one of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another. What exactly were they disputing? It is important to know what the context of the scene is. In the previous chapter, Jesus had entered Jerusalem on a donkey, Mark calls it a colt which simply means that the animal was young enough that it had not yet been trained to bear burdens. When Jesus rode this beast into the city, the crowds of people sang his praises and waved palm leaves in the air. They took their coats off and they laid them along with branches on the ground before him. They yelled and screamed hosanna! They did all this because they declared this traveling teacher their king.
This is one of those stories that we often hear, but do we really take the time to contemplate the scene? In the culture of that day Jesus was a common person. Yes, he was God incarnate, but he was a common laborer. He was known by many as the carpenter. And many times, the upper class within their society asked where Jesus obtained the authority to do the things he did, because as far as they knew he was just a carpenter. It irritated them because this common person had a following, they were jealous, and, in their jealousy, they became petty.
Whenever Jesus stopped to teach, they were among the people in the crowd. Jesus would teach, he would perform miracles and people would be amazed. And the elites among the group would become more irritated. They would work their way to the front of the crowd and challenge Jesus on interpretation of scripture. They would say, “Why don’t your disciples wash before they eat as is the custom of the elders?” And they hoped that Jesus would say something to them that they could use against him.
This had gone on for three years. Three years they asked questions, and Jesus answered with parables that caused them to look as if they knew nothing about their own faith. And now the crowd is cheering Jesus on and claiming him to be the king. They are fearful of what might happen. Everything they had worked for is being challenged right before their eyes and they do not know what to do next. They once enjoyed seats of honor and now those seats are being offered to commoners. Jesus and his disciples go into a town and are invited into home and served as they teach. And many of these elite members of society are lucky to even get a seat at the table.
Now Jesus makes his way to the temple courts, the very center of their religious culture. He makes his way into their domain and they are beside themselves. There are several different religious philosophies that have a presence in the courts, each have representatives close at hand to teach the pilgrims as they offer their sacrifices. And while Jesus is there they engage in debates. These are not typical debates, but they are carefully crafted challenges. Pharisees and Sadducees join forces and ask questions of Jesus that should cause Jesus to choose one side over the other, yet with each question Jesus again cause them to look worse.
There is a scribe present, he is observing these debates and is impressed with the discourse. We often hear about scribes and at times we do not always know who they are. If we simply look at them based on their name we would think of them as educated individuals that could read and write, and they are. Their purpose is to be counselor for the common people, so they are basically lawyers. If there was a question of conduct of some sort you would consult a scribe, and they would give advice according to their understanding of the law. They are basically lawyers. This scribe was listening to the debates that Jesus was having with the religious scholars and he was probably laughing to himself as these well-respected rabbis were tripping themselves up on the details of various legal interpretations. He laughed because Jesus stepped around all the various interpretations and got to the heart of things.
This man decides to ask Jesus his own question. “Which commandment is first of all?” A simple question, but we need to understand what is meant by first before we can proceed. He is asking what is most important, what is primary, of all the commandment which take priority. Basically, he is asking, if there was only one law what would it be?
I imagine Jesus smiling at this scribe, he might have even given him a wink and a nod, because this is finally a question that makes sense. Every other question that Jesus was asked was one over the finer details over an interpretation. One that was debated among various factions with the hopes that this popular teacher would move to their side giving them more power and influence over the people. But this question is an honest question. It reminds me of the conversation that Jesus had with the rich ruler, the man that did everything right, but lacked one thing. This scribe is asking Jesus what is that one thing that is most important.
Jesus astonishes the crowd with his answer. The thing about Jesus is that he did not teach anything new. This might surprise people because the disciples of Jesus basically formed a new religion. But he did not teach anything new. Truth is truth no matter what. It is always truth even if it is not accepted. We look back in history think of Christianity being a new religion that was formed at the close of the first century it really is not, what happened is that the ancient faith of the Hebrews divided and took two different paths. The truth remains the same.
And that truth is simply this, “Hear O Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” There is nothing new here. This is a teaching that has been part of the faith of Israel since Israel existed.
A simple answer, yet this simple answer caused me to think this week. What does this really mean?
Heart. The heart had an interesting meaning to ancient cultures. Today if we look at the word we have basically two thoughts, heart is love or it is the organ that pumps blood through our bodies. In ancient times the heart was the seat of passion. It is what gave your drive to live. It was like a wild horse or a colt that had yet been trained to ride. The heart is filled with raw energy and potential that can lead us to greatness or great trouble. The books of wisdom encourage us to tame and guard our heart, an untrained horse can cause harm, but when it is tamed it can take you places.
Love the Lord your God with all your passion. We are a very passionate culture. It is one of the greatest things about America, we have the freedom to be passionate. And when people pursue their passions at times they become the stuff of legend. Athletes are passionate about their sport and they can become professionals. People with a passion of making life a bit easier have built technical empires that produce iPhones and windows operating systems, Google algorithms, and pandora music streaming. Things that even thirty years ago were wild dreams. Love the Lord your God with all your passion.
Soul. The soul is our inner life, our will. If our heart is our passion, our soul is our determination. The soul is what tames the passion. Love the Lord with all your will and determination. There are many people that have a passion for something but very few have the will to bring it about. It is our soul that take the athlete to the gym when their muscles hurt. It is the soul that causes the entrepreneur to invest the time and resources into a business that others do not see potential in. The soul is what carries a student through medical school, when they cannot figure out why they are studying at three in the morning. Love the Lord your God with all your determination and will.
Mind. This one also appears to be self-explanatory. When we consider our mind, we consider our wisdom and our intelligence. But there is more to our mind than just knowledge. When Jesus and the prophets of old speak of the mind they are speaking of our ability to reason. They speak of the process we take when we make decisions. It is our philosophy of life, and our methods. To love God with all your mind is to love God with not only what but how we think. It is our perception, how we interpret information, our judgment, our reasoning, basically your faith. Science is one aspect of the mind. It is taking observations and applying interpretations to those observations and formulating a conclusion. Mysticism is also an aspect of the mind, it also observes things, interprets things and forms conclusions. Your political ideology is an aspect of your mind. All of this is taking what we observe and formulating a conclusion based on our interpretation. Love the Lord with all your mind, Love him with your judgement, intentions, and your faith.
Strength. For most people this aspect of life deals with our bodies. And that is a decent interpretation, but it is not full. Strength deals with more than just the body, it also speaks of everything we have access to. It is our abilities, as well as our wealth. It is our property as well as our influence. To love God with all our strength is to love God with our business, our labor, our finances, and our relationships. If our heart is our passion, if our soul is our determination, if our mind is our faith, then strength is our action. It is what we do. It is how we interact with those around us.
Jesus includes the second command, for this reason. It is not because it is a lesser commandment, but it is resolution. It is the result of what proceeded it. When James speaks of faith and works, and we all cringe because we are from protestant traditions that believe in grace through faith not works. His is saying if you have the first this will be the result of it. If our passion, determination, faith, do not lead us to action we have not yet loved. If Steve Jobs and the Apple corporation did not actually produce the iPhone the world we know would not exist. If Henry Ford did not put into action the assembly line in the production of automobiles our world as we know it would not exist. If an author never put ink to paper our world as we know it would not exist. If we do not release our heart, soul, and mind to our strength we are people of fleeting passion, no determination, good intentions but no action. To put it bluntly without action nothing matters.
Love the Lord our God with all our passion, determination, faith and intentions, and all our action. Or as Nike would say JUST DO IT. Live your faith in everything you do. Let the spirit of God saturate every aspect of your life and spill over onto everyone around you.
Let your passion be saturated with God so that it will lead you to righteousness instead of wickedness. Let your will be filled with God so that you are determined to do good instead of evil. Let your judgement, intentions, and faith ooze with the Spirit of God so it will bring hope instead of dread. And may our actions with every resource available to us be directed by God so that we honor instead of dehumanizing those around us.
I thought about these words this week. I thought about my passions. I thought about my will and determination. I considered my thought processes and how I come to conclusions. These thoughts revealed a great deal to me about myself and my faith. What about you?
The scribe looked at Jesus after this and I imagine that this time the scribe smiles at Jesus and possibly winks. He says to the traveling teacher, “You are right. This is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Stop and think about this for a moment. The offerings and sacrifices are the most important aspect of temple worship. Without these there is no need for the temple. This scribe is basically saying without these things there is no reason for us to even exist. Our worship is empty without Love for God and Neighbor. Our songs are nothing, our actions are nothing but dust in the wind. All that matters all that will last is the actions done for one purpose neighbor.
Think about it. The only things that last are the things that are invested in others. Corporations, organizations, churches when they do not invest in the others they cease because they lose their purpose. They lose the passion, will, and faith to put things into action. Fear takes hold, no heart, no soul, mindless, and movement ceases. Death. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but loses his soul?
Love God with everything. But do not forget the one thing, the neighbor. Because others are life.
By Jared A. Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
Mark 10:46–52 (NRSV)
The Healing of Blind Bartimaeus
(Mt 20:29–34; Lk 18:35–43)
46 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. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 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.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 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.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
This week I had many things on my mind. I am sure many of you did as well. But in truth Saturday was one of the days that was filled with the greatest amount of contemplation. Yesterday was a busy day, it was a day filled with achievement, sadness, and fun. We will begin with fun because that is the easiest. It is hockey season and if you know me and my family you understand. You all are staying up all night watching an 18-inning baseball game and we are making sure we are wearing jackets, so we can sit in a building filled with ice.
The second achievement. Yesterday Albert and I had a test at our martial arts school, and both of us passed. But that is not at all what got me thinking. Many of the students I interact with at the school have grown in many ways while they have attended. Each is there for a different reason and each one is impressive. Many people believe that all martial arts are for is to teach kids to fight and yes that is part of it. But there is much more to it, it also teaches them not to fight, confidence, discipline, and respect. Some of the students began much like I was when I was younger, they would hardly use their voice. Some had anger issues, and many have trouble paying attention and staying on task. We have attended classes for less than a year and I can honestly say that everyone has improved immensely in every area and more. Many of them you would not believe were once quiet and others you would not believe lacked discipline.
The third thing that faced yesterday was sadness. After our martial arts testing right after I had this great sense of pride in the people around me, I take out my phone and read the news. Only to find that someone went into a place of worship with the intent of creating a state of terror. For a person that values and respects human life it saddens me. For a person that attends a class where I learn the skills to fight with the express purpose of learning better ways to control my body, so I will not cause undue harm, it saddens me. I am a person that values life to such a degree even when I am out hunting if I cannot find a bird that I have shot I will stop because life is important even the life of a bird, if that life that was taken is lost without fulfilling the purpose I do not need to take more. It saddens me because life is sacred. All life has the signature of God written within it, and that is most signature and image of God is most fully seen in the lives of humanity. Every person walking the face of this earth bears the image of God and just that one thing gives each one value. My heart is sad because someone went into a place of worship, a place of sanctuary, a place where the value of life should be honored, and they instead dehumanized and disrespected the God I love. Why is the question I asked, and the answer takes the heart that breaks and rips the wound even deeper.
I see joy, achievement and pain in a single day. But I am not without hope.
Today we walk again with Jesus. In the Gospel of Mark, it is difficult to keep track of time because Mark seems to rarely rest. Mark has one event after another. He depicts Jesus and his followers moving over land and sea almost nonstop going from one side to the other. East to west, north to south and in this frenzy, Jesus only sleeps once, and that was during a storm. My son James and I are currently reading through a bible reading plan that encourages only reading one chapter then discussing what is read each day. It began in Mark, and both of us have made comments to the point how can you adequately discuss each chapter in one day when there is so much packed into it. Today is no different Mark sets the scene once again on a road going from one place to another. But in Mark’s fast paced action-packed Gospel we do get glimpses of some very important things.
In a few words Mark will say that Jesus healed a deaf man with impaired speech, and if we stop and think about this we would be able to understand that this miracle that Jesus performed on this man are huge. To have impaired speech would mean that the lack of hearing was something that happened early in life while the language skills were developing. For Jesus to grant a man the ability to hear and then to speak means that Jesus not only healed the man but also rewired the man’s brain to be able to process what is being said. And not only was did he rewire the brain networks, but he installed a speech and vocabulary update that allowed the man to have conversations to the extent that people would never know that there was a previous disability.
Today we see this again. Jesus is walking out of Jericho followed by his disciples and a large crowd. On the road out of Jericho, a blind man was sitting along the side of the road. We are told this man’s name along with the name of his father. It is a man by the name of Bartimaeus the son of Timaeus.
This trip, according to Mark, is the last trip Jesus takes before his passion. He is walking from Jericho and he is going to Jerusalem for the event we know today as Palm Sunday. And this final trip is not one that is without risk. The road between Jericho and Jerusalem was not exactly an interstate highway. It is a narrow path in the mountains. In many places the pathway is barely wide enough for a single person to walk. Not to mention this pathway was filled with bandits. There is a reason the parable Jesus taught about the good Samaritan was so powerful, it was because the people of the day could relate. It was not unlikely that a lone traveler would be robbed, beaten, and left for dead along this path. And when Jesus said that people walked along the other side it does not mean that they just crossed the street, it means that they literally climbed off the path to avoid getting close. Jesus and the disciples were taking this road, followed by a large crowd. The entire path was filled, and as they walk they pass by Bartimaeus.
As we encounter names of people in the Gospels there are often reasons for it. The most common reason is because they are people known within the given community that first received the text. Another reason for the name is because it can tell a story. We know one of the disciples as Peter, but this was not his given name, that was Simon. Jesus gave Simon the name Peter for a reason. Peter means rock, and he gave that name to Peter because it was descriptive of his character. Peter would become the rock of faith in the early church, tradition even names him as being the first pope of Rome. We also know Levi the tax collector who also is known as Matthew, another name from which a story can be told. Levi was the name of the tribe of Israel who did not inherit land, but whose inheritance was the priesthood of God. Yet this man who was named after the priests was a tax collector of Rome, the pagan overlords of Israel. His names tell a story of apostacy and greed, as well as redemption. Names are often mentioned because of the story they tell. So, I investigated the name mentioned here, Bartimaeus.
This name literally means the Son of Timaeus in Aramaic. But the name Timaeus when written in Greek has a similar sound as another name we know as Timothy. The issue is that the two languages are not the same. The sounds that make one word mean something different. If we were to look up Timaeus in a Greek dictionary we would find that the name means highly favored, which is a great name. This is where we must be careful when we study. Bartimaeus is not a Greek name, but Aramaic. The fact that the son has an Aramaic name means we cannot use the Greek definition, but the Aramaic. Timaeus in Aramaic means unclean.
This gives us an interesting picture of what is happening in this story. This blind man is not found in the city, but outside it along the road. He is a beggar attempting to make a living outside the city, this is not exactly an ideal place. Especially when the road he is one is dangerous. And we are given the impression that Bartimaeus does not really know what is going on around him. Remember this is a narrow mountain path, often only wide enough for a single person to walk along it. Jesus is walking along this path and we are told that when Bartimaeus heard it was Jesus, he began to cry out to him. Notice the word used was heard, past tense. Jesus had already walked past the man. Bartimaeus is afraid he had lost his chance and begin to scream out have mercy on me, Son of David!
Jesus had already walked past this man along the narrow pathway, and the crowd is going by the man now as he begins to shout. These people sternly order this man to be quiet. They tell him to shut up. Why would people following Jesus do such a thing? Remember his name, remember where he is. He is outside the city, he is outside the community, his name means son of the unclean. This man by the understanding of the time was cursed. He was blind which they believed was a sign of sin. He was the son of a person named unclean. This man was hopeless, this man was despised by all who knew of him and he was not worth the time of anyone especially a respected rabbi. The visualization of this as it unfolds is profound. He is sitting along the road and he hears a multitude pass, he asks what is going on out of curiosity and possibly fear because it is not exactly the time for the Passover pilgrimage. Someone tells him to be quiet and not to bother Jesus. He hears the name and he begins to recall the stories he had heard, because even the outcasts of society have the pleasure of hearing gossip at times. He knows that Jesus can heal so he cries out to him. And the crowd becomes irritated with him. They see Jesus as their future king, the king that will restore Israel to the glorious era of David, he cannot associate with the likes of this man. A man of no worth, a man cursed by God, a man proven to be a sinner by his disability. Yet the man will not be silenced.
Jesus stops and looks that the man and the crowd and tells them to call Bartimaeus to him. The crowd looks at Bartimaeus in barely veiled displeasure and they say, “take heart; get up, he is calling you.” Imagine the frustration they must feel that Jesus their king is taking the time to associate with the unclean. But the man jumps up and quickly goes to Jesus. We are told that he leaves his cloak behind him, which tells us that he does not even care that his only possession is now lost to him since he cannot see to get it back. He springs up and goes to Jesus. A blind man springing into a crowd…imagine that if you will. You know someone got their toes step one, someone might possibly have gotten knocked over, yet he goes. He bounces off the people as he makes his way to Jesus. And Jesus speaks to him.
Jesus speaks to him; he does not speak of him, or around him, he does not speak to others about him while he is sitting in his presence. Jesus speaks to him and asks this man what he can do for him. And Bartimaeus says, “My teacher, let me see again.”
These are culturally loaded words, because in their culture disability is caused by God as a punishment for sin. This man indicates that he was once able to see and now cannot, in his mind he deserves everything he has endured. He brought this curse upon himself, yet he has hope of redemption. “My teacher,” he says, “let me see again.” What a beautiful statement of humility and confession. This man knows that he is not able to redeem himself for he is a cursed man, the son of an unclean father. He is an outcast with no hope outside of Jesus. But he knows the names of Jesus’ disciples, he knows the stories that former lepers, deaf, lame and mute men have told him as they travel by on the Jericho road. He hopes that one day this teacher that speaks the words of grace and truth will one day pass by and let him see again. He has a hope that the teacher will see beyond the sin to the heart of the man he desires to be. He has hope that he will one day be restored.
This man’s faith brought him healing through Jesus. And the curse he was once known by was cast away Jesus saw him not as the son of the unclean, but as the highly favored. He was once Bartimaeus, but he is now valued.
My heart aches today because we live in a world that does not value life. We see people created in the image of God not as the sons and daughters of great value, but as the sons and daughters of the unclean. My heart aches but like this man I spring to the teacher and am seen by him, my lord and God and he asks what can I do for you. I am seen, and He knows my name and I like Bartimaeus say my teacher, let me see again. I cry let us see again. Let us see each person for who they truly are beloved creatures loved by God, who bear the vary image of our creator. Let us spring forward leaving our cloaks behind, leaving our carefully crafted masks of falsehood and let us repent and see again.