This is the sermon the Rev. Karen Calafat preached on the Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, October 24, 2021.
Just in case you haven’t had enough bad news lately, welcome to the sad tales of Job and Blind Bartimaeus! As I contemplated today’s homily, a little ditty got stuck in my head:
“Well, let me tell you a story about a man named Job.” (Think Beverly Hills theme song)
You know the story of Job, the devout, good, and honorable man who was careful to avoid doing evil. One day, Satan appears before God and argues that Job is only good because God has blessed him abundantly. Satan challenges God that, if given permission to punish the man, Job will turn and curse God. God allows Satan to torment Job but forbids Satan to take Job’s life.
In one day, Job receives four messages, each bearing separate news that his livestock, servants, and ten children have all died. Job tears his clothes and shaves his head in mourning, but he still blesses God in his prayers. Next, Job is afflicted with horrible skin sores. His wife encourages him to curse God and to give up and die, but Job refuses, struggling to accept his circumstances.
Then Job’s friends appear on the scene and create other stresses for him, questioning what Job has done wrong, where is he guilty that God would punish him so?
The dominant theme of Job is the difficulty of understanding why an all-powerful God allows good people to suffer. Job wants to find a way to justify God’s actions, but he cannot understand why God allows evil people to cause harm to the innocent. God declines to present a rational explanation for the unfair things in life. God suggests that people should not discuss divine justice since God’s power is so great that humans cannot possibly justify or fully understand God’s ways.
Isn’t that the truth! I have shaken my head a lot lately at the ugliness and injustices we see playing out all around us. I do not pretend to understand what God is up to, but if I can distance myself enough, I can imagine God as a parent who loves each child equally and who doesn’t pick favorites. I can image God being proud of people who have strong convictions and do all they can to live those out, even if they are theologically confused. I can also image God’s compassion for those who are mistreated, even abused, in the name of religion. We catch a glimpse of these two things in God’s treatment of Job’s friends. God is upset with Job’s friends for spouting theologically unsound advice, but Job intercedes on their behalf, and God forgives them.
God eventually interrupts Job’s ordeal, calling from a whirlwind and demanding Job to be brave and respond to God’s questions. The questions are rhetorical, intended to show how little Job knows about the power God has. Job acknowledges God’s unlimited power and admits the limitations of his human knowledge. This response pleases God and God returns Job’s health, providing him with twice as much property as before, a new family and an extremely long life.
While Job’s future is bright, the pain of his past is not simply eliminated. He still suffered great loss, physical pain, relationship stresses. He likely had to live with that pain, work through it emotionally and spiritually while he lived into the new reality God had given him. I would imagine some days were harder than others as he continued his faithful journey with God.
What I glean from Job’s life story is the importance of “keeping the faith.” Trust God is with you even when all hell has broken loose around you. Don’t get stuck in trying to understand God’s way of handling injustices but stand strong for justice and allow God’s way to unfold. When we get to the other side of this life and have a God’s-eye-view, it will likely be able to see more clearly.
Speaking of “seeing,” what might we learn from Blind Bartimaeus’ encounter with God? In Sermon’s that Work, The Rev. Canon Whitney Rice writes, “Here is a man who knows what he wants and goes after it no matter how much he embarrasses everyone else. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” he shouts. His fellow townspeople are mortified. “Be quiet, you hollering maniac!” Bartimaeus doesn’t care. He knows Jesus has what he needs, and he is going after it. He will not be silenced.
Even more important than Bartimaeus’ persistence is Jesus’ response to him. Bartimaeus is yelling and causing a ruckus, and “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?’”
This is one of the most important moments in the entirety of the gospels for telling us about who Jesus is. Jesus does not assume that Bartimaeus wants to be made able to see. He does not assume that Bartimaeus sees his blindness as a disability. Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?”
If we spend time with this question, we find new truths opening up within ourselves. Jesus asks us, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Well, first off, Jesus, it would be great if you could help us find our new church location.
Jesus asks us again, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Well, could you magically make all our financial worries go away?
That would be great, but Jesus asks us again, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Help us to do more, try harder, do better? Getting closer to the truest desire of our hearts, but not there yet.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Help us to love people more, to love people better?
Very close, but Jesus asks us one more time: “What do you want me to do for you?”
“My teacher, let me see.” Let us see.
Bartimaeus’ words become our words. Let us see how loved we are, let us see how hungry for love others are, how precious and beautiful and wonderful our neighbors are. Let us see that all this love comes from you, our Savior Jesus Christ, and God the Creator, and the indwelling Holy Spirit.
“Our teacher, let us see.”
Let us see that underneath all the noise, and through all the distractions, and beyond all the divisions that can isolate us from one another is the Presence of the Holy One that outlasts the stars. That is what we want you to do for us, Jesus. Let us see the Love. And then let us share it.”