Monday, October 19, 2015

Christmas Is Coming

I can tell that Christmas is coming. No, it's not because the local home improvement store has stocked its "seasonal" section with trees and lights and other decorations (though my son was perplexed by that). No, it's not because the radio has started playing Christmas carols (though I'm sure that will happen soon). It's because Sunday's gospel lesson (Mark 10:46-52) is the story of Blind Bartimaeus receiving his sight.

Here's what I mean. Yesterday, we read about the fallout of Jesus final passion prediction, the last detailed warning he gave to his disciples before they hit the home stretch to Jerusalem. This Sunday, they make it as far as Jericho. At this point, we're only 17 miles away from Jerusalem. More importantly, as we turn the page in our bibles and look to Mark 11, we see that the next thing in the story is Jesus' triumphal entry into the holy city, so, clearly, we're getting close. In liturgical terms, we will end the year with a crucifixion account on the Last Sunday after Pentecost, and there isn't a lot that happens between Jesus' entry into Jerusalem and his death on the cross. And, as soon as the liturgical year is over, we start Advent, and then come Christmas and so on...

But, first, Bartimaeus. I can't remember all of the details about the uniqueness of this story, but I remember Bartimaeus being special. For starters, he has a name--one that is recorded for us. Why would Mark bother to remember his name? And not just his name but also his father's name (Timaeus)? Probably because he was known to his readers--or at least his reputation was. This isn't just a story about a healing. It's a story about calling a disciple. And there's another important detail. Unlike most (if not all) of those whom Jesus heals in Mark's account, Bartimaeus is invited to follow Jesus. He jumps up, throws off his cloak, and joins the procession to Jerusalem. And the shedding of the cloak may be a baptismal image--perhaps a stretch, but a nice image for one who is "healed" and then becomes a disciple, which is a little like our understanding of baptism.

Hear Bartimaeus' cry: "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Although unable to see with his eyes, Bartimaeus is able to see the one who approaches. He recognizes what others could not understand--that Jesus is the descendant of David. This appellation sets Jesus' journey toward Jerusalem as the march of an entering king. As we saw last Sunday, though, Jesus' kingship is not what any expect...except, perhaps, Bartimaeus.

His story is different. He knows where Jesus is going. His ability to "see" the savior makes the healing of his blindness almost an extra detail in the story. I read it and wonder whether he needed healing at all. There is no magic spell--no spit on the ground, no anointing of the eyes, no bold word "Be opened!" This healing is a reflection of a faith that already exists--the kind of mature faith that the disciples, most recently represented by James and John and their foolish request, seemed to lack.

We're getting close now--close not to Christmas but close to the culmination of Jesus' earthly ministry. Bartimaeus can see it. Even when no one else can, he can see. As we sprint through these last few weeks before the holiday season really kicks off, will we see it too?

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