Homily for Pentecost 23
October 25, 2015 – The Venerable Grant Rodgers
“Seeing is believing” could very much be the theme this morning. In the first reading today, Job says to God: “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know . . . I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
Job is portrayed as a man who underwent a painful transformation, beginning as someone who was seen as perfect – the man with the perfect wife and family, the man who fulfilled all the rules and obligations to a T, the guy with the perfect and charmed life. But like a pilot flying blind, in dense cloud or darkness, who suddenly crashes into the side of a mountain, Job’s life unexpectedly became a complete disaster, and everything that could go wrong went horribly wrong.
As he deals with the catastrophes that afflict him, and fends off the well-meaning but inadequate advice and arguments of his friends, he demands an audience with God – he demands to present his case directly to God.
And ultimately (as we read this morning) God is merciful to him, but in humility Job realizes he knew virtually nothing about God, even though he had seen himself as a godly man and been labeled as such by his community. It all meant very little, and so he repents, which is a sign of being willing to start all over again
He had been flying blind – he had become fixed in a certain way of seeing things and he crashed. He had seen himself in certain ways, he had thought of God in certain ways, and he had been proven wrong – obviously his spirituality was merely conventional and superficial. As he went through his struggles, all sorts of things emerged that he had obviously been clueless about. For Job, initially God was only a concept, something he heard about from others, but once he has a direct encounter, his outlook is completely transformed and he sees both himself and God in very different terms.
Job is (among other things) a lesson in human suffering, in learning wisdom through adversity, and about our proper place in the scheme of things. Job comes to realize he is not perfect and he is not impervious to the problems that happen to ordinary people in the course of life, and he is actually a much more human and likeable figure after his struggles than before, when he comes across as rather pompous and self-important. Even the fact the he demands a personal audience with God speaks of how presumptuous he is. When he finally encounters God, and experiences God, he repents of his rather entitled, naïve and ignorant attitudes. His humility opens the door for God to be able to usher him in to a new life.
The good news is that God grants us vision but it seems like we have to know we need it.
“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” Job says. Like those obnoxious people who shout out “Amen!” at evangelical rallies, eager to let others know that they get it, that they see better than others, no one is as blind as those who think they see, as Jesus pointed out in John 9:39—41: “‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.’”
Even deeply spiritual people like Thomas Merton do not take this knowledge or insight for granted, recognizing in humility their own frailty and fallibility. In one of his famous prayers he says: “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end . . .”
In the first reading from Job we hear of a man who sees but admits that he is blind. In today’s Gospel, we hear of a man physically blind but who appears to have deep insight into the true identity of the man called Jesus of Nazareth.
The blind man by the road represents a lot of aspects of our humanity as he sits there and cries out to Jesus for a mercy he has not experienced but still believes in. The road might be seen as a metaphor, representing life, or a way of life, and typically, let’s remember that a road is meant to lead us somewhere.
All of us occupy a place along the road, but a lot of people get sidelined due to age, sickness, mental incapacity, physical abnormalities, or anxiety, fear, lack of confidence, disappointment and depression. Anyone can end up at the side of the road, having lost perspective, having had their vision of what life is about snuffed out. Some are like Bartimaeus, never having been able to see or participate in the way of life others take for granted.
Pablo Picasso once said: “If I paint a wild horse, you might not see the horse … but surely you will see the wildness!” (by the way, a perfect description of Picasso’s art). Bartimaeus may not have been able to see Jesus but he was able to sense and appreciate the spirit that surrounded him and came with him – the energy and life that led people to start saying that Jesus is the way and the life.
What Bartimaeus seems to know or perceive is that Jesus is the way, and that by connecting with Jesus he can be relieved of the blindness that keeps him immobilized in darkness. Meister Eckhart “The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.” This seems to be the eye or the vision that Bartimaeus uses to perceive that the Son of God is before him. Part of the message is that the invisible God is not perceived by the physical eye – that requires inner sight, and that is the kind of sight the blind man demonstrates.
A lot of us are not aware that we have blind spots. In Revelation, the angel says to the Church at Laodicea “you say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.” You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”
Today’s readings reveal a lot of things to us, if we have ears to hear and eyes to see. One thing is that blindness can be a choice. Perhaps all this is why Jesus asks the man a question, and it’s the kind of question we should be asked as well: do you really want to see? Are we really willing to be healed from spiritual blindness?
We need to be humble enough to acknowledge that we have areas of blindness, to realize that what we see is not necessarily all there is to see. As St Paul says, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of this calling . . .” Eph 1:18. We need to pray that God might open our eyes to the fullness of the truth, but in a way it is a very daring thing to do, because in some ways it is easier to be blind. As John Lennon wrote so intuitively:
Living is easy with eyes closed,
Misunderstanding all you see
Again, the good news is that God grants us vision but it seems like we have to know we need it.
Isaiah 29: “On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a scroll, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The humble shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One . . . the tyrant shall be no more, and the scoffer shall cease to be . . . and those who err in spirit will come to understanding, and those who grumble will accept instruction.” Let us pray in faith and hope that God will fulfill this prophecy in our time.
To close, I want to use the words of Theologian Mary McGlone:
“This weeks Gospel invites us to place ourselves along the way with Bartimaeus to contemplate and admit our own blind spots. To the extent that we can recognize our own blindness, we can also call out with Bartimaeus to ask for help, repeating as necessary the “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy” that the liturgy itself puts on our lips.
Then, if we can scrounge up the interior freedom and courage to do so honestly, we may repeat with Bartimaeus, “Master, I want to see.” When we do that, our faith assures us that the Son of God present in word, sacrament and the community will lead us beyond any horizon we had previously envisioned.”
Open my eyes O God that I may see myself as I am and not just as I want to see myself. Open my eyes that I may see the love of God and His mercy and grace in Jesus the Christ. Open my eyes that I may see the kind of Christian God wants me to be. Open my eyes that I may see the way ahead, and by your Spirit inspire me to get up and start walking in the way of life. Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me and on the world you love.
The Ven. Grant Rodgers+
Job 42:1-6, 10-17 Then Job answered the LORD: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring. The LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. And Job died, old and full of days.
Hebrews 7:23-28 Furthermore, the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.
Mark 10:46-52 They 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.