Possible In The New…

Posted: October 24, 2018 in Uncategorized

Pentecost 23B, 2018
Mark 10: 46-52

Possible In The New…

Ian Cairns’ writes: “Mark [the storyteller] also wishes to stress that faith, rightly understood, is not dependence-inducing, but rather is eliciting of a sturdy independence.  Faith is choosing to trust that life’s kindliness does not support us, however circumstances seem to contradict this…”.

The Jesus of the Marcan story we just read, saw and heard Bartimaeus and did something about it. He offered some simple words and ordinary caring. Jack Spong says that “In Jesus we have met a presence of God… come among us offering life, love, and being to this world” (J S Spong. 2003).

The question we have now is; is this what blind Bartimaeus saw in Jesus? Did he see a God presence offering life, love and being? Tom Boomershine, an Australian storyteller when working with this story, says: “Jesus response is a word of affirmation and encouragement in which he gives permission for Bartimaeus to act on the power implicit in his own faith” (Boomershine 1988:128).

If we put this scene into our context today we might get a bit confused given that our environment seems to be caught up in the loss of absolute truth and the power of perception and the importance of rhetoric. The wild debates around what is and is not PC or politically correct and just scuttlebutt. Where is common sense in all this, in fact what is common sense anymore. Our human systems of order seem to be in some chaotic meltdown process and it is hard to discern where to from here. In the context of our story, who is the nobody in the world’s eyes? It might be the gullible, or the naïve or even the sensible.

On the perhaps more positive side of this picture is the concern for education, and the concern for mental health. Sir Ken Robinson says that “Given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed — it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.” This needs good teachers and good teachers are teachers for whom teaching is a vocation not a job, it is not an exchange of offering for reward, it is a valuing of a gift, a making an authentic place for an offering of love for humanity. Pay is part of it but only when it is alongside a true valuing of the person.

Here we have a nobody in the world’s eyes, a sidelined person, a blind beggar sitting in the dust. And then, suddenly, and to the surprise of all, he becomes the hero of the story. When he raised his voice, when he spoke out, when he challenged the culturally expected people were quick to remind him he was a nobody. Hey! Shut up! Be quiet! No-one wants to listen to you! Get back in the closet! But then with the persistence which can characterize the desperate, the deviant, the different he doesn’t shy away from being a nuisance… I am not odd, I am not stupid, I am not a case to be handled, I am not a need to be met. I’m a person, not a discounted person or a person to be discounted. Mark’s Jesus responds, hears his request, and, we are told, makes him whole.

William Loader, the Australian biblical scholar, suggests this is storyteller Mark at his subversive best. “Mark can do this because he knew such stories.  Jesus did not sideline people. Jesus responded to what were seen as the ‘hopeless cases’ of his day” (William Loader/Web site-2003). This is a central theme to the ministry of Jesus and here again “Whether at the symbolic level or at a literal level, the story illustrates an approach to people which is central to Jesus’ teaching” (WLoader/Web site-2003).

About now you might be saying yes; we recognize this theme. It’s a familiar one in almost all of Marks stories We hear this ‘inclusive’ theme in Mark as we hear of children, legalism, Toll collectors, Lepers, Purity Rules and women. “The invisible domain of God is populated with the poor, the destitute, with women and unwanted children, with lepers, and toll collectors, all considered under some circumstances to be the dregs of society.  They are outsiders and outcasts.  They are exiles from their native social, political, economic and religious traditions.

One of the reasons perhaps as to why we hear these themes often is that they are humanity’s most likely areas of neglect. We remember also that much of Jesus’ energy in controversy is with his fellow Jews. He spent lots of his energy trying to show that scripture needed to be interpreted in a way which sees its priority as concern for human well-being.

In responding as he did to Bartimaeus as he did Jesus is giving him permission to express and act on the power implicit in their own faith or religious journey, especially when others want to say to them: shut up! His action is an affirmation of courage and faith and encouragement which allow that faith or religious journey to be fully lived out… offering life, love and being. The challenge is also to see the shut up, get back in your closet response is born in the fear of change, the fear of having to integrate a huge change of world view. That’s the clear defining characteristic of a life lived out of fear. It sees the loss of fear as a life of chaos, of frightening openness. A life of so much choice it is akin to madness. It is threatened by the possible in the new.

Another dimension to this dilemma is what might be termed neo-liberalism or trickle-down theory. Leave it to the free market to provide. This seems to have ignored the fact that human resources are like natural resources; they’re often buried deep. One has to go looking for them, they’re not just lying around on the surface waiting to be turned into money. One has to create the circumstances where they show themselves.” One has to listen and I mean really listen to Bartimaeus. No good just paying lip-service. Co-creators must participate, take responsibility for one’s role, act in God’s image if you like.

I want to interject a note on systemic, archetypal and mythical suggestion here in that I think we are at a point in time where we need to listen to Bartimaeus again. Not to argue for the replacement of neo-liberalism by state control or some sort of socialist expression but rather to suggest that most of us who hold power in the world in all areas of human endeavour are facing obsolescence on a big scale if we don’t listen hard enough. Get beyond our partisan positions and listen to the big picture that underlies the voice of our Bartimaeus. Our particular world in our particular part of history was created in the interests and images of industrialism. In many ways, we reflect the culture our world was designed to support. Our systems are based on the principles of the assembly line and the efficient division of labour and our economies are exchange based. We do this in exchange for that, we provide this in exchange for that. Our knowledge is a commodity to be valued monetarily and we divide it up into specialist segments in order to impose a value on it.: We arrange our days in standard units of time, marked out by the clocking on and off, or the amount of product we produce. Students are educated in batches, according to age, as if the most important thing they have in common is their date of manufacture. Our super schemes are related to age in the workforce, thus the debate about superannuation being paid for by one’s tax contribution. What I think the voice of Bartimaeus is saying here is “Hey, I am here, its my worth you are talking about, am I of any value?” ‘Just because I can’t see do this mean that I am of no value?” Just because I can’t till fields, make mats, herd sheep, build houses, doesn’t mean I can’t sing songs, tell stories, teach and participate in human flourishing. What if the world was based on the assumption that what I as one of billions of persons bring to the world is of value? What if what I did was of value not for what it gets in return but just for what I give?

Given our current worldwide disillusionment with politics, international relationships, economic uncertainty and chaotic diplomacy Mark’s story about a bloke called Bartimaeus is an important story. Especially in our religious tradition, at this time as we need to listen to all the Bartimaeus’. Jesus had to hear him and enable him to transform his place in the society. Human flourishing is not a mechanical process; it’s an organic process. And we cannot predict the outcome of human development. What we are called to do is to create the conditions under which the oppressed may begin to flourish.” We need to listen to all the voices that speak up against injustice, apathy, ignorance and assumption. For when we do listen, we know they affirm the journey we are all on. We invite them into the sacred conversation and enable their voice to share in the journey of transformation. And in that journeying which we might call life or living we and others are blessed. Amen.

Bausch, W. A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers. Mystic. Twenty-Third Publications, 1998.
Boomershine, T. E. Story Journey. An Invitation to the Gospel as Storytelling. Nashville. Abingdon Press, 1988.
Cairns, I. J. Mark of a Non-realist. A Contemporary Reading of the Second Gospel. Masterton. Fraser Books., 2004
Funk, R. W. A Credible Jesus. Fragments of a Vision. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2002.

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