October 25, 2015 - Giving to Deepen Our Faith - The 22nd Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. R. Bingham Powell
Mark 10: 46-52

We have been talking about this Gospel passage for weeks now. Not directly. But indirectly. Since September, we have been in this middle section of Mark's Gospel, in which Jesus has been trying to heal the spiritual blindness of his disciples, his followers, us. And as we have been noting, this middle section of Mark's Gospel has been bookended by two stories of the healing of physical blindness. The first was the healing of the blind man in Bethsaida and the second is today's Gospel about Bartimaeus.

Bartimaeus is a pivot point in Mark's Gospel. Immediately before this passage, we had the third prediction by Jesus he will be killed and rise again. And for the third time, we had the disciples not understanding. And immediately after this passage, they approach Jerusalem, get the donkey, and we are at Palm Sunday. It is not just Bartimaeus who is going to have his sight opened, but the disciples as they finally encounter the crucifixion and resurrection in Jerusalem. We should not just see this as a contrast to the disciples continued blindness, that we have been encountering, but a foreshadowing of the opening of their eyes, and hopefully the foreshadowing of the opening of our eyes, in Good Friday and Easter. 

The Bartimaeus healing is unique in Mark's Gospel for it is the only healing story in which the person healed is named. The others are just "a paralytic man," "a Syrophoenician woman," "a leper." Our attention should immediately be drawn to his name and realize that Mark is making a point with his name. Drawing attention more strongly to his name is the additional description that he is the son of Timaeus. He is called Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, which is a redundancy as the name Bartimaeus means son of Timaeus. Bar is Hebrew for son. So, Mark is really drawing our attention to his name and really drawing it to the Timaeus part of his name. If you didn't know that Bartimaeus means son of Timaeus, Mark is going to make sure you know the connection: this guy is connected to Timaeus; this is important. 

So, who is this Timaeus that Mark is drawing our attention to? It is not Biblical; there are no Timaeuses in the Bible. Timaeus is a work by Plato, one of the most widely read works in the Greco-Roman world. Timaeus offers a description of the creation of the world; it offers a view of how the world functions; and it was a dominant worldview in that place and age. Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, isn't the literal son of a father named Timaeus, any more than Jesus, son of David, (which the Gospel also put as there in parallel) is the literal son of a father named David. Jesus is the heir, the descendent, the embodiment, of the Davidic line and the Messianic worldview that goes with it. Bartimaeus is the heir, the descendent, the embodiment, of Timaeus' line, and the worldview that goes with it. 

Ironically, Timaeus in his worldview argues that your eyes are the most important organ in your body because he thinks that sight is the foundation of all knowledge and philosophy. And here, ironically, Timeaus' descendent is blind. The blind one, Bartimaeus, who in Timaeus' worldview shouldn't know anything, is the one who actually understands the truth and knows that Jesus' worldview, one of radical trust/faith in God, is the way forward, the way of life. 

There is a lot in Timaeus' worldview that we could critique; not just the ridiculous idea that the blind can't know anything. But that is not really the point. The point is that Jesus comes to us in our worldviews, in the spiritual blindness they have created in us, and wants to open our eyes up to God's kingdom instead. And so the question before us is: What worldviews dominate our lives today? The worldview that our worth is measured by our success and wealth instead of our intrinsic value as people made in the image of God? The worldview that everything has to be earned and there is no place for true gift and grace? The worldview that errors need to be punished instead of mercifully forgiven? The worldview that might determines right instead of service being a mark of leadership? What worldviews dominate our lives today? The political worldview of Salem or Washington DC? The economic worldview of Silicon Valley or New York City? What worldviews dominate our lives today? The apocalyptic worldview of fear that everything is falling apart and so we should isolate ourselves and hoard our possessions? The consumerist worldview that our salvation is found in stuff and more stuff and yet still more stuff in an unending cycle of accumulation?  What worldviews dominate our lives today? Which worldview personally is our ancestor? For if we know whose son or daughter we are, which worldview we have inherited and guides our lives, we might find our healing, if we would just call out with Bartimaeus: "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" "My teacher, let me see again."

It's interesting that unlike in the other bookend to this blindness healing section in the middle of Mark's Gospel (the blind man in Bethsaida), Jesus doesn't do anything to heal Bartimaeus. In Bethsaida, Jesus engages in this ritual of putting saliva on the man's eyes    and laying his hands on him multiple times. But here, Jesus simply says "Your faith has made you well." Yes, Bartimaeus' healing is a grace given by God, but it is mediated by the simple act of faith, of trust, in Jesus. It is Bartimaeus' actions - to cry out to Jesus over the objections of his peers, to throw off the cloak of his worldview and understanding, to reject that worldview for another, to ask for healing, to trust in Jesus - that mediate the healing he finds. And there are actions we can take to begin to shift our worldview - to cry out to Jesus, to throw off the cloaks of our misunderstandings, to mediate the healing our spiritual blindness like Bartimaeus did. Giving is one such way. 

John Westerhoff, an Episcopal priest and author, tells a story of the great English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, who wrote the famous line, "The world is charged with the grandeur of God." Hopkins was a deeply religious man and one of Hopkins' friends, a fellow poet, Robert Bridges, was concerned by his own lack of faith, and was inspired by Hopkins' own deep and abiding faith. So, Bridges wrote Hopkins asking for advice, asking how he could deepen his own faith. Bridges expected a lengthy response from such a brilliant writer and theologian. But Hopkins simply wrote back "Give alms." How do you deepen your faith? Give alms. Give generously of yourself. And the faith will follow. Westerhoff goes on to say, "Rather than sitting around wishing we had faith, we need to step out boldly and act in faith... To give freely and generously of ourselves and our possessions in love, is to make a step in the direction of growing into an ever deepening and loving relationship with God. In sharing generously with others what we have been given by God. we grow in the life of faith." 

Giving is one way to shift our worldview away from the worldviews that dominate our lives with their anemic and problematic understanding of wealth, success, power, prestige, value, worth, and start opening our eyes to the kingdom of God that is around us and within us already. Giving generously is probably not the only way, but it is one of the most powerful, for our money is tied up so strongly in most every worldview that dominates today. Now, it's pledge campaign time, you know I have to say this. For those of us who call St. Mary's home, making a pledge to financially give to St. Mary's is one way to do just that. Pledging generously is one way that we give to deepen our faith and open our eyes to God. And if you are not of St. Mary's - you are just visiting today or you are too new to call St. Mary's home - I encourage you to find the place where you do find your spiritual home and give there. So we can all start shifting our worldview by opening our eyes to Jesus and following him on the way. Amen.