22nd Sunday After Pentecost
Proper 25B: Job 42:1-6, 10-17; Ps 34:1-8
Heb 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52
October 24, 2021
Good morning on this rainy day. I have noticed these last few days as the rain has spread across our region, and especially at night as the ambient noise of the day goes quiet, the beautiful sound of flowing water-- dripping off the roof, hitting the windows, washing everything clean, seeping into the parched ground. After the seemingly unending dryness of this past year, it is such a bone deep relief, such a welcome sound. It is very good. This morning would be a good morning even without it—and indeed as Amy thoughtfully reflected last week, we could still say “today is a good day” – but on such a morning as this, I feel it all the more powerfully. I feel the invitation, as Amy put it, to “arise with God and with one another through knowing our belovedness and belonging with God.” We can extend that web of interconnection to creation itself— God calls us to arise with one another and with all creation. God uplifts us and invites us to uplift one another and indeed the world about us in a deeply felt, compassionate, and intimate recognition of our agency and interconnection. The goodness of our created belovedness is always with us—even on days when the rain is not slaking the thirsty earth.
Last week’s passage from Job featured God telling him to gird his loins and stand up “like a man” (Job 38:3) – and let me insert, whatever on earth that means, for any of you who may have been berated with that over the years. If we can take gender out of it, God’s challenge was more than simply for Job to step forward and take in God’s divine agency as the one who wove the vast expanse of creation (not to mention Eucharistic Prayer C's “interstellar space") into being. God’s challenge to Job was a deeply relational, indeed beloved, as Amy emphasized. It was a call to interconnected agency. The flow of that call, that location of Job in the vast yet intimate scheme of creation continues in our passage today where Job’s fortunes are dramatically restored. But before that narrative resolution, what we hear is Job’s recognition of God’s challenge—his standing up like and as himself, a human being made in God’s image, humble in the limitation of his knowledge: “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3). And further, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:5). He uses imagery of his own senses to gesture toward a deeper learning, a sinking in of what he had earlier rebuffed. And now, recognizing how his limitation as a fallible human being had earlier put a barrier of ignorance between himself and his maker, he feels terrible—and he says so. He repents—he turns. And he receives a new life. He experiences dramatic restoration. More than the concrete specifics of that new life (however many camels, oxen, or even family members he now had), what stands out to me in the conclusion of this saga is the combination of Job’s turning and the story’s flow of compassion. Job located himself honestly and authentically in relation to God, his family expresses sympathy for all that he had gone through, and God restores him. New life seeps into his soil. The goodness of his creation, of all creation, arises and becomes known anew.
Our passage from Mark’s gospel also highlights a process of stepping forth, arising in co-created action to claim a mantle of belovedness and relational agency. Prior to this point in Mark’s gospel, in its tenth chapter, Jesus had encountered the rich young man (Mk 10: 17-31 – as I preached about two weeks ago) and had dealt with James and John seeking to distort his relationship with them by asking him to grant them “to sit, one at [his] right hand and one at [his] left, in [his] glory” (Mk 10: 37). And just prior to that power exchange, Jesus had foretold his death for a third time, and in much more terrible detail—more than his confused disciples could handle at that moment (Mk 10: 32-34). They were on their way to Jerusalem as all of this was unfolding, you may recall. This is the last chapter in Mark with Jesus, the disciples, and crowd on the road, on the way to his capture and death. Right after our story comes the “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem. As they come through and out of Jericho, which is about twenty miles northeast of the holy city, they pass by a man whom Mark describes as “Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar [who] was sitting by the roadside” (Mk 10:46). First of all, note the prominence of naming in this description. This man is depicted with dignity. Not simply Bartimaeus but Bartimaeus son of Timaeus. This man is named in a way that indicates at least a previous if not perhaps current, familial belonging. Mark further describes him as without sight and as one who needs to ask for assistance for his subsistence. He is also literally marginal—sitting at the side of the road. But perhaps most notably from the start, this man has chutzpah. He refuses to be unheard. Having been pushed to the side likely many times in his life, he will not allow his agency to be squelched. Hearing who it is that is coming along the road, he calls out. His shouting disturbs the crowd, or at least “many” who tell him to be quiet.
Here it strikes me that this man does not simply shout, but he also names. Just as he himself has been named from the start of this story, he names Jesus. Not just once but three times. And not in the same way each time, but in a pattern of growing relational recognition and intimacy. He begins by saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mk 10:47). The phrase “Son of David” has a Messianic ring. It locates Jesus in the Davidic line, a family line of abiding hope and expectation. Then, again, he says, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mk 10:48). Notice that now, the name Jesus has dropped out. The emphasis, in this absence, lands all the more on Jesus’ Messianic stature. As William Placher puts it, Bartimaeus “sees who Jesus really is.” And now Jesus, embedded in the flow of the crowd stops and stands still. He will not let inertia carry him away from this man’s call, his naming of Jesus’ transformative relationship to the world in which they all were located. And so Jesus asks for Bartimaeus to be brought to him. “Call him here” (Mk 10:49). Call. This is not an impersonal summons. This is the call of God the Son to this particular human being, to each and every one of us in relationship to our Creator, to one another, to creation itself. “Call him here.” “Take heart,” anonymous sympathizers in the crowd say to him, “he is calling you” (Mk 10:49). Him, Bartimaeus. In joy, in agency, in life, he flings away his cloak—perhaps his only possession – and springs up, coming to Jesus.The motion in this moment expresses the belovedness of this relationship before the two can even speak to one another. Jesus’ question to him is open and respectful: “what do you want me to do for you?” (Mk 10: 51). Not, “do you want me to restore your sight,” not presuming how this man frames his own embodiment. When Bartimaeus responds, he continues the relational current, “my teacher” – Rabbi, in Greek—"let me see again” (Mk 10:51). Let me see again—the Greek verb has the prefix ana in it – this is when we learn that the man had previously been sighted. His request was for that sight to be restored. In response to this request Jesus makes no dramatic motions. Instead, his words affirm what has become true in Bartimaeus’ speaking: his faith had made him well, had saved him, as the verb σῴζω can also be translated (Mk 10:52)s. But even before that declaration, Jesus had said “go.” Continue in your springing motion, your flinging away of cloak and baggage, your letting go of anything that stands between you and your call. Go. And indeed, Bartimaeus did go—but not away. He joined the flow of following Jesus to Jerusalem.
The healing obviously lies at the dramatic heart of this story, yet the combination of motion and naming catches at my heart. I especially love Bartimaeus’ final naming of Jesus in this sequence. As in the second instance, the name Jesus has dropped out, but another appellation has come in: my teacher, Rabbi. I love the relational closeness that this final example of naming lifts up. There is something in being named aright, even by one who does not necessarily know you well, that evokes such life. As one who in my adult life claimed my name as it is now – was claimed by it – I know the joy of being rightfully and respectfully named, of having space made for the gift of claiming of one’s life and embodiment. As I sat with the loving quality of this encounter, I was also reminded of the power of nicknames—those that are endearingly discovered and applied. I remember with love several of those from my childhood. And I remember, too, a more recent one, specific to its context. Around 2003, not long after I returned to Massachusetts after my transition, I was a counselor for a Vacation Bible school at a parish near my sponsoring congregation. I was part of a fun-loving team of adults who shepherded youth through a week on the theme of being ambassadors with Christ. Somewhere along the line, I have no idea how, the kids started calling me Cameroon. It didn’t have anything to do with the country. It was a kind of sound play—the way they said it was like my name as a cookie. It was endearing and goofy. I remember they made a card for me at some point with that name. I loved it. It reflected the quality of the relationship, the joy of play that had emerged among all of us that week and affirmed me as I made my way forward in ministry just a few months before my ordination. The flow of God’s creative force, and of our embeddedness in that life was rightfully named as we made space for one another’s growth, claiming the new life into which God was calling us. Perhaps you, too, have stories of such joyous communal naming in your life.
Dear friends, know this rainy morning that you are beloved, called into fullness of life and growth, honored by Christ in your agency, in the image in which God created you. Our invitation today and every day is to embrace our embeddedness in relationship, in beloved community, to rightfully name and uplift one another in respect, and to give thanks to the God who created us and invites us into the newness of life.
 John R. Donahue, “Mark” in The HarperCollins Bible Commentary (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1988, 2000), 914.  William C. Placher, Mark: A Theological Commentary (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 154.  Placher, 154  William Placher comments, “Not since the calling of the twelve and Levi early in the Gospel has Jesus called anyone.” Placher, 155  Placher, 155