Diary entry # 3: Blind Bartimaeus – Jesus empowers a person’s faith.
Hello again! Welcome to diary entry number three. For this week, we move into the New Testament. This diary entry comes to us from the book of Mark. Before we delve into the story, there are two things that I wish to make clear. The first is that, like always, we’ll take some time to put the book into context. That’s to help you relate the biblical story to your personal story. The second thing is to have a look at the theology of healing miracles. That’s to avoid hurtful misunderstandings around what people may or may not believe around miracles.
So, first, let’s start with the context. The book of Mark was the first of the Gospels to be written that we have in our Bible. It likely comes out of the church in Rome and was written to introduce non-Jewish people to the person of Jesus. This book aims to inspire a person into action, to take up the charge of the movement, so to speak. In a word, this book is meant to encourage you to become a disciple. The book has been described as a passion story (i.e. – a story about the significance of the event of Jesus’ crucifixion) with an extended introduction. Unlike Matthew, Luke and John that contain a lot of teaching, Mark is short and to the point. Things move at a really quick pace, as if to say, once you hear about Jesus and what Jesus gave his life for, then what could possibility stop you from becoming a follower? The answer according to Mark is, well, nothing would stop you. Jesus is just that compelling, his cause just that important. The first six and a half chapters of the book are essentially a whirlwind of Jesus travelling and doing all kinds of miraculous things. A word that figures prominently in this part of the book is the word “immediately” – as in Jesus did or said such and such, and immediately people followed. Then next part of the book, half of chapter 7 until the halfway mark of chapter 10, is where the actual teachings of Jesus take place. These teachings take the form of one-line sentences that are mixed in with more miracles: Things like, it’s what in a person’s heart that counts, not their appearance. Or, things cannot get better until we are truly at peace with one another. Or, the famous statement about treating children as full members of the kingdom and that the first shall be last and the last shall be first regarding what we would call “social justice” today. This is of course, a thumbnail sketch of the book. I would encourage you to ready it. Depending on how fast you read, it can be read in two to three hours.
The basic point that I am hearing, what I would call my take away from Mark, is that in an “actions speak louder than words” kind of way, we’re being told that you don’t fully become something new until you fully put lessons into concrete action over a lifetime.
So that covers the first thing I wanted to make clear. The second thing deals with the healing of a blind person. What I am about to share with you is personal. And in sharing something personal, I hope to accomplish two things. One is to shed some light were my own biases come from. Two is to invite you to be free in allowing these stories to speak to your own lives, free of superstition and full of the meaning your own life needs. The personal thing that I will share with you is that there is one person in my family who had a condition “disappear” as a child while they were on the operating table. I have spoken to people who have had what they would consider miracles in their lives, including near death experiences. All this to say, my personal position is to on one hand be open to the possibility of miracles and on the other hand being entirely comfortable with accepting mystery as a part of life and resisting the need for “proof” one way or another. Psychotherapeutically, I would say that suspending disbelief to get to a deeper meaning where stories in the Bible are concerned is a healthy thing. That’s a fancy way of saying that it’s okay to see the bible stories as being “true accounts”, provided that they don’t cause you to ignore the challenges is your life by banking on a fantasy coming true. This can cause much grief – even more so when so called able-bodied people “pray to God” for others who have physical challenges. And, I am also saying that it’s okay to see the Bible as metaphor, provided that your belief that “these are only stories” doesn’t lead you to ignore the deep truth of the power of their lessons.
As always, if you have questions and/or comments, you know where to reach me.
Now, finally, let’s get to the story of Blind Bartimaeus. The story is actually very simple. Simple enough that instead of telling you about it, we’re going to read it.
Jesus and his disciples came to Jericho. As they and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When Bartimaeus 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 Jesus on the way.
I have two “bible study” type questions. With all of his challenges, what pushes Bartimaeus to become unstuck in the story? In what way does Bartimaeus make his soul available to become unstuck?
Given what I have said about the Book of Mark and its general message, what jumps out at you in this story? Any sense as to why whatever jumps out at you does so? Are you intrigued? If you are, I’d really encourage you to read the entire book. It is a powerful, empowering experience if you let it get into the pores of your soul.
And just like the previous weeks – go through the same process. Sit with this story for a few days. Return to your questions. By now, this should start to feel like second nature.
We have two stories left.
See you next week! In the meantime: Be Blessed. Be a blessing.
Diary entry # 4: The woman at the well in John – Jesus brings her to herself without shame and only in faith.
I have a confession to make – given the reading for today, please pardon the pun – my well has been running dry. I am thankful this will be the last diary entry before a short wrap up next week. I have been feeling rather uninspired. This, for me has been a bit of a concern, because I intentionally chose this reading to finish the biblical stories part of this series precisely because it is one of my favorites. It sits at the intersection of cultural expression, geo-politics, gender-politic, psychology, faith and emotional healing. And in spite of having all that to work with, here I am working with this at the last minute – not feeling it as the expression goes. That is until today – when someone opened my eyes up that, opened my heart up that, made my own soul to become available to become unstuck…. And now the words are flowing.
This person referred to the “liar”, which I took to be another name for the devil or Satan or whichever name might come to mind for something that separates us from G_D. This person said to me – “The liar will say anything to turn you away from yourself. No one goes out into the world wanting to be angry.” My takeaway from that was to realize that the biggest lie we can tell ourselves is that we can live well without G_D; Without G_D in our consciousness, without G_D in community life. That is a lie. Why? Because without ceding room for that, we turn from our created nature and persist in trying to live by our judgements, lived out mostly by our judgements of each other as a way of avoiding what we fear.
I know that this reflection is starting to get a bit abstract at this point, so I’m going to bring us to a more grounded place right now and invite you to reach out to me if you like to continue discussing the spirituality of faith.
By way of grounding, let me return to the human dynamics of the interaction between Jesus and the woman. And then I will leave it up to you to see where my friend’s insights come into play here. And from there, you’ll be on your own to explore the possible lie someone may have told you about the purpose of your life that has turned you away from it, such that you understand it evolving. So here we go.
As some of you know, I write thoughts of the week to go with my sermons. One of my favorites is this: There is no truth about yourself that will cause you to fail. Only the fear of it.
Have you ever wondered why we would fear the truth about ourselves? Take some time think about it. Is there a truth about yourself that you might fear? Here’s an example that I can give: Say someone has a stutter and growing up as a child, that person was bullied. That “truth” about themselves could easily develop into a fear that could lead to all kinds of social anxiety. Now that one seems to be rather clear. So, what about the “truths” about some of the choices that we have made? That one is a little cloudier. When we fear the truth about things like our choices, there can be all kinds of outcomes. And if we are not careful, if we bypass challenging thoughts and emotions, there’s a good chance we become stuck in the fear. And then, next in line, our souls can become stuck. And from that place, things can become very complicated. Can you relate?
Now that we’ve put that piece to rest, let’s hear a story about Jesus meeting a woman at a well.
The story takes place in an area of Israel that would have been considered to have been the cradle of the nation by some people, but not by all. Israel traditionally had a north vs south dynamic that led to civil war that was likely never resolved, even in Jesus’ time. Samaria sat in the middle of all that that cultural turbulence, probably creating a culture of mistrust between family members, be they blood relatives or spiritual ones. You’ll recognize references to this history in the story. Perhaps not surprisingly, the story involves the taboo of divorce, marriages being the casualty of spiritual discord. Taboos, I was taught, usually emerge when spiritual discord is bypassed and people try to avoid facing each other and themselves. You’ll recognize the compassion of Jesus in facing the truth around taboos. And it’s a woman who demonstrates the courage to not fear truth and within that, there is strong feminist message. With all of that in mind, here is the story. Allow it to speak to you without overthinking it. We’ll look at some more pointed questions in a second.
Jesus and the Woman of Samaria Now when Jesuslearned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John”(although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized), he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So, he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but yousay that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You] worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming and is now here when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.
Whew. That’s quite a story. Let’s not worry about what you don’t understand and focus on what sticks. Here is the are the three questions I would like you to ponder: The woman in the story comes to believe that the truth about herself would not cause her to fail. From where did that belief come from? What is the “saving quality” about Jesus? (The word messiah means savior). What are we in need of saving from do you think that this story might speak into?
And finally, back to the routine: Let it all sink in for a few days. Then, go review your questions.
What’s changing? What evolving? What’s taking root?
See you next week for the wrap-up. In the meantime … Be blessed. Be a blessing.