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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Ordinary Sunday 30, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
October 25, 2015

Job 42:1-6,10-17 Psalm 34; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

‘Saving sight’

Our readings from Job and Mark are mutually enlightening.God be with you

Bartimaeus is a beggar. He overcomes social and religious pressures to cry out for help and wholeness. He is then affirmed by Jesus as a person of faith and becomes a model disciple/believer. His eyes are opened not just to the world around him, but to Jesus as “Heir of David” or Messiah that is, to a new way of being. At a key point in Mark’s Gospel, Bartimaeus, in contrast to the ignorant and ambitious insider-disciples, is someone with real insight. This son of Timaeus (the Hebrew can mean either “despised” or “favoured”) is both courageous and committed, humble and wise.

The story echoes that of Job who loses his wealth, his children and health, and overcomes social and religious pressures to cry out for help and justice. Job is affirmed by God as a person of faith and becomes a model believer and priest at the centre of a new community. Job says that his eyes are opened not just to the world around him as revealed by the God of the whirlwind but to a divine being, a power of creativity and inquiry (the Hebrew name for God in this verse, El, is similar to the word for “question”). Job, like Bartimaeus, is a model student or scholar. Job, too, is a complex character: courageous and defiant, humble and wise.

These are two stories about restoration crying out for mercy/pity/justice and receiving a blessing. And in both cases it’s not entirely clear what Jesus/God has done to enable the transformation/restoration. It happens.

Our artwork shows Jesus touching the eyes of the blind person, but that’s not what Mark describes in our passage. The restoration of sight comes (simply) by way of a question. Jesus says to Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?”

On one level it may seem an odd question to ask a blind beggar. But Bartimaeus may well have asked for pity, money, some form of security or validation. (He may have wanted, as James and John demanded earlier in the chapter, some kind of glory.) His throwing off his beggar’s cloak along with his forthright answer to Jesus might be understood as expressing a desire for the impossible. And Jesus is impressed.

[Intriguingly, another young man loses his garment in the Gethsemane scene of chapter 14. This young man is a witness to the arrest of Jesus. In chapter 16 we are shown a young man seated and clothed in a white garment inside the tomb of Jesus a witness to the resurrection. Some scholars see a link between these enigmatic scenes and the scene of Bartimaeus’ healing and calling.]

Job’s encounter with the God of the whirlwind is famously ambiguous. The similar pattern, though, is striking. Job, too, experiences conversion and ultimately a restoration, by way of a series of questions.

Elie Wiesel, survivor of Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz, Buna and Buchenwald, is one contemporary reader of Job who sees that God honours Job with questions. They are questions for all of us existential, social and ecological. And Job’s answer is famously enigmatic. Some commentators think he is repentant in some way. Others argue that he is defiant. Perhaps he is both repentant and defiant and so expressing his desire for the impossible. And God is impressed.

Bartimaeus and Job cooperate in their own salvation. We might recall the adage of St Augustine: “The God who created you without your cooperation will not save you without your cooperation.”

That’s something we might “see again” or “see anew” today. Salvation wellness, wholeness, happiness entails awareness of needs and expression of desire. A wise blending or balancing of defiance and repentance. And not simply for one’s own sake, but in response to the nearness of God the nearness of mercy, goodness, creativity … the promise of redemption, justice, love. In response to the nearness of Jesus whose vision is a rule of love, a kindom of heaven on earth.

Reading these texts for today, it struck me that Bartimaeus and Job would not likely forget their suffering, nor the suffering of those known to them over many days. Their insight and godly vision surely entail keen awareness of many prayers for healing and restoration. An impossible desire to see all souls respected and restored to life and dignity.

Both characters have little to say (according to the texts) following their respective restorations. They follow. They share life. They love. They open their eyes.

And then I opened a letter from Frontier Services. “Each year Australians waste millions of dollars at Christmas on unwanted gifts,” I read. “In 2015, your gift of a Frontier Services Christmas gift card will make an enormous difference to isolated families and communities across remote Australia.

“Frontier Services Gift Cards are life-changing gifts that go towards Frontier Services work, directly supporting those who need it most.”

It struck me that a blind spot for an inner-city congregation like ours might well be the plight of isolated individuals, families and communities in remote and drought-stricken parts of the country.

Financial challenges for the synod and presbytery (and pressures in respect of our own property and finances) can blind us to hardships faced by brothers and sisters and blind us to ministries like the Outback Links volunteering program and the Patrol Minister pastoral care teams.

Is this a way for us to complete the homily together? To follow. To share life. To love. To open our eyes. Might we see (again), like Bartimaeus and Job, that the God who created us without our cooperation will not does not save us without our cooperation? … Amen.