St. Alban’s Episcopal Church
October 24, 2021
Jesus and his disciples came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
Last week, the gospel reading was the passage from Mark immediately preceding this one; in it, James and John baldly laid out their demands for Jesus: if you do what we want you to do, then we’ll follow you. And what they wanted Jesus to do for them turned out to be promising them the prime seats of power on each side of Jesus on the throne of glory. Wow. Talk about being unclear on the concept! And the similarities to lobbyists from the fossil fuel industry and some politicians we won’t name are so striking that you really don’t know whether to laugh or to cry.
In his reflection on the passage, Steve contrasted James and John’s blatant demands with what happens right after: this passage, in which the blind man Bartimaeus asks Jesus to make him see again. Jesus not so much heals Bartimaeus as declares that his faith itself has made him well. As soon as he is healed, Bartimaeus follows his faith, and follows Jesus on the rest of his journey.
When I read this week’s text from Mark, two things stood out for me: the first was this: what does having a faith which heals you look like – how does that work? I spent quite a while exploring this, and wrote an entire reflection about vaccinations, NOT having faith in my own immune system, taking all the help I could get for it, people looking for “faith loopholes” to get out of being vaccinated, and my belief that the Creator guides us in developing vaccines, medicines, and treatments. I talked about the strange, and even deadly, gatekeeping actions we are seeing from some ministers; there’s a Baptist minister in Tennessee who told his congregation that they’d better not wear a mask to church, or he’d kick them out. As near as I can tell, a lot of folks in faith leadership positions are giving us a faith ultimatum, telling us that we’d better have “faith” that we won’t get sick – or else.
But then, after I’d already sent it all to Steve for his input on Wednesday, and he’d already put together all sorts of helpful scriptural interpretations to help me on my path, on Thursday morning I jettisoned the entire reflection, (sorry, Steve!) when I realized that really, the path I wanted to follow was actually the other, related thing which had stood out to me: why on earth do “many” of the folks in the crowd on the road out of Jericho “sternly” order Bartimaeus to be quiet when he asks Jesus to have mercy on him?
When all those people shush Bartimaeus and try to stop him from talking to Jesus, what are they up to; why do they take it upon themselves to be Jesus’ gatekeepers? What makes them think they have that authority?
I note that we are seeing a lot of this behavior lately; ministers and priests who are acting like the soup Nazi in Seinfeld: “no communion for YOU!” They are self-proclaiming themselves as the bouncers at the Lord’s table: “no communion for YOU – you’re married to someone of the same gender. No, not YOU – you’re pro-choice.” This is so contrary to my understanding of Christ’s teachings that I am just stunned all the time.
I often say to my friends and family that I’m not actually an Episcopalian – I’m a St. Albanite. And really, the biggest reason I am a St. Albanite was because every week when we came to church, when it was time for communion, we were ALL invited to the table – I can hear Julie plain as day: “all are welcome at God’s table.” And I could tell that ALL of you wanted – and want – EVERYONE at that table.
It’s God’s table, which Jesus has laid for us; Jesus has invited all of us to join him at the table. Nobody should be telling Bartimaeus to shush when he wants to talk to Jesus. Nobody should be telling folks they aren’t welcome at the table. In fact, I’ll go one step further – it’s not just that no one should try to block celebrants from the table, no one CAN block celebrants from the table. He’s gone to prepare a place for us where nobody will even have the chance to pull those kinds of shenanigans. Alleluia!