Proper 25(30) B
23rd Sunday after Pentecost
By Rev. Miriam Spies
As a woman who lives with a disability (Cerebral Palsy), I have a complicated relationship with healing stories in our scriptures. I tend to read physical healing stories as restoring people into life in community, and restoring community to live as a whole. That being said, the story of Bartimaeus is a call story, as well as a healing story, demonstrating it requires truth-telling even and especially in our vulnerability to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Colleen Grant writes,
“There is also another type of healing story found in the Gospels, a type that shifts the focus from Jesus to the individual being healed. Its aim is to communicate something about the nature of discipleship and the necessity of having faith in Jesus. Thus, upon healing blind Bartimaeus, Jesus tells him, ‘Go, your faith has made you well’. At these words, Bartimaeus regains his sight and he assumes the quality of a disciple, that is, he follows Jesus on the way.” (74)
In reflecting on the story of Bartimaeus and the call to seek ecological justice, there is much to ponder and to hope for. In our world, climate change has an adverse impact on people in so-called developing countries, people on the margins of society, including indigenous peoples and people with disabilities. As a tiny example, this summer I was struck by how banning plastic straws was the new answer to solve climate change. Like others with physical disabilities, I require a straw to drink any liquid, period. Like others with physical disabilities, I do not drive and so depend on public transit, I do not have a high income and live with other people, and do not have the means to shop a lot (though I do shop more than I need). I do not say this to say I’m mightier than you, or to justify my use of straws; it’s an example on placing the blame on marginalized peoples rather than looking closer at our dependence on oil, single-family housing, consumerism, and other factors leading to climate change. Our world does not want to hear this truth. People, especially those on the margins, are told to keep silent lest we disrupt status quo, lest we think our voices are worthy of the world’s attention, or God’s attention.
Many people Jesus heals are unnamed, and yet here we have a name as well as his father’s name, reminding us that these are real people with a real family history. How often do we forget or disregard the names and histories of those suffering the impacts of climate change? How often do we disregard the truth of our indigenous peoples’ relationship with and history of living on the land? Bartimaeus’ community did not want to hear the truth he spoke, he yelled. In fact, they did not only ignore him, they demanded he keep quiet. But he kept on speaking the truth. Jesus opens up a conversation with him, creating a boundary-breaking relationship by saying, “What do you want from me?” Whereas, the disciples previously asked for greatness and status, Bartimaeus asked for mercy.
Like Bartimaeus, our world, we need mercy to be transformed in how we live in God’s world. We need mercy and a new understanding of how our dependence on fossil fuels, for example, has devastating impacts on our neighbour. We need to live as servant for those the world calls the last and the least, rather than disregarding their story and their voice.
It is interesting to note that Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem is interrupted by a man yelling in Jericho. The location brings us back to the book of Joshua where the walls of the city came down, though not without people suffering war, but with a shout proclaiming God’s truth. Our dependence, our exploitation of the world’s resources have made walls go higher between countries, between the rich and the poor, between the needs of people and the needs of creation. What truth is needed to be spoken, to be yelled, in order for these human-made walls to come down?
Bartimaeus called Jesus the Son of David, the first instance Jesus is given a royal title as he prepares to make his way into the city of Jerusalem, onto the cross when he is mocked as “King of the Jews.” Bartimaeus throws off his cloak, perhaps his only possession, and starts the way for Jesus to walk to the cross. Discipleship, as we are reminded by this story is not about the search for greatness; rather, discipleship requires our humility and service of God as we follow Jesus to the cross, and as we greet a world transformed at the empty tomb.
The hope for Bartimaeus, the hope for us, is in our courageous persistence of proclaiming the truth so that all might understand and follow. The hope is that even if our path leads to Jerusalem and the cross, it continues to the empty tomb, to a way of life not only restored, but renewed. In that transformation, in that search for mercy, in that care for and with those on the margins, we can serve God’s good and holy creation together.
Rev. Miriam Spies lives in Ancaster, Ontario, the traditional territory of the Haudensaunee and Anishnaabeg. This territory is covered by the Upper Canada Treaties and directly adjacent to Haldiman Treaty territory. I live in the watershed area of Lake Ontario. I am an ordained minister in The United Church of Canada, currently serving the Christian Reformed Church of North America working in the area of disability ministry and abuse awareness, prevention, and response.
Wild Lectionary, a weekly reflection on land, creation and environmental justice themes in the texts of the revised common lectionary, is curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territories.