28th Oct 2018 Sermon – Blind and Unperceiving
5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
6 therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.’
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.
The Biblical Scholar Karla Suomala says:
Job is rejecting or renouncing his previous ideas about God — his entire sense that God simply functions as a machine that processes human behavior, rewarding and punishing accordingly.
Job’s universe has just exploded! He has been challenged to think differently about everything in his life and see anew what is around him.
Suomala also suggests that verses 5 and 6 could equally be translated
… but now my eyes see you;
Therefore I recant of what I have said,
And I change my mind, in dust and ashes.
There is a sense that Job and his friends and perhaps the whole people of Israel have been blind. Job’s encounter with God means that he can now see. He sees that God is not some kind of Machine crushing the sinful humans on the conveyor belt or like a headmaster of a school caning the naughty pupils. That mechanistic or judgemental image of God has itself been smashed. Perhaps the core question at the heart of the book of Job remains unanswered: why do bad things happen to good people, and why do good things happen to bad people? That whole question is still current when the evangelist John writes the Gospel and includes the story of the blind man coming to Jesus. John 9:2 “Who sinned this man or his parents?” In John’s Gospel Jesus explains “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
Now that may seem just as confusing but God’s work that is revealed in him is not merely a blind man regaining his sight. The great work of God that Bartimaeus can see and sense even when he is blind is that God has come into our midst in Jesus. That is the great message that John tries to capture in the prologue of the Gospel. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) This work of God of incarnation, with suffering and death, and resurrection was already there for the “Jobs” of this world to see. Job needed to be able to let go of the blinkers that contain God to a particular way of imagining God.
The Lutheran Pastor Sarah Hinlicky Wilson reminds us to pay attention to the placement of the story in Mark’s Gospel.
As always in Mark, the placement of a story and its contrasts contribute to the meaning. He’s the second blind man to be healed, but the first time was the slightly embarrassing “trees walking” episode. What happens between the first and the second healing of sight is Jesus’ three prophecies of his crucifixion. At first the hearer/reader, like the first blind man, gets only a garbled, blurry view of Jesus — but after the news of the cross, with Bartimaeus, things come at last into crisp focus.
Bartimaeus’ story is also wedged between the Zebedee boys’ massive miscalculation on the nature of glory and Jesus’ apparently glorious entry into Jerusalem. Between these two manifestations of glory is a manifestation of mercy, sought and bestowed.
Bartimaeus was blind but he could see in his heart, he knew who Jesus was and he called out ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ (Mark 10:47) He would not be told to be quiet.
What about us in the 21st century in Australia. Are we blind, do we have preconceived ideas of God that get in the way? When I was in New York I noticed a statue the same as the one Dawn Courtman had seen in Townsville. It was outside the Anglican Cathedral of St John the Divine. I realise now that it is in a garden called the Street People’s Garden. The man with me suggested I should have my photo taken as if I was pick pocketing the homeless person while he slept. I pointed out the wounds on the feet and then he realised who the homeless person was. He understood why I wanted to be photographed alongside the homeless man rather than steeling from him. Until that moment he had not seen the statue even though he had seen it many times before. Do we fail to see God present in our midst perhaps sleeping on a park bench or locked up in our prisons alongside other indigenous people. May be we don’t notice him because he is just a child in a detention centre on Nauru. Blindness to the presence of God takes many forms.
May be the blinkers that we wear, mean that we only see God present in our midst when he is white and respectable looking. The Hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful used to have a challenging verse:
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.
Is God only really God when the poor man is in his place? What is God up to when there is a caravan of desperate frightened Central Americans searching for a safe home?
May be another set of blinkers we wear is of God who has the world so totally in his control that human beings can do whatever they like to the earth and God will just fix it. May be if we allow the blinkers to fall off we might see God walking in the Garden as Adam did. Then we may understand that we are called to be in solidarity with the earth rather than “picking the pocket of the earth”. Our blinkers were created because we firmly believed we are meant to subdue the earth; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing. But we never pay much attention to the notion of being created in the image of God except where it allows us to be over and above creation. Hopefully our blindness and blinkers fall away when we see God present in our midst, incarnate, made flesh.
So today as we reflect on Job’s encounter with God and Bartimaeus’ noisy desire to meet Jesus let’s pray for the capacity to see. Let’s pray that we might see Jesus in the unattractive, in the dishevelled, and those who threaten our safety. Let us pray that our notions of who God is will not blind us from seeing God present in so many situations happening around us.
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