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Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

If you were to ask me what has been the worst year of my life, then I would say that 2007 would have to be right up there. In March of that year I was made redundant from my job as Sales Director of a multinational food company, where I’d worked for six years, and I was out of work until the October of that year. And then in the September, my second marriage ended, because of difficulties in my wife’s relationship with my children. At that point in my life, I began asking God what I had done to deserve the suffering that I was experiencing.

This is not dissimilar to the question that Job posed to God in the Book of Job. And in last week’s reading from the Book of Job, we heard a portion of God’s response to Job. God basically wanted to know what Job thought gave him the right to question God. Was Job present when God made all of Creation? Did Job know what God’s purpose had been when He made Creation? If not, then who was Job to be questioning God now?

In today’s reading, which brings the Book of Job to a close, we hear Job admit that he has spoken out of turn. Job recognises that God has an inescapable purpose in whatever He does. Job’s suffering makes sense to God, even though God has in no way explained or justified it to Job. Job’s mistake has been to demand an answer from God to the problem of suffering, which is to intrude into an area that is beyond human understanding or comprehension. Job realises that now, and he is genuinely remorseful and repentant. Job is then vindicated by God in the eyes of his friends, and in the eyes of his relatives and fellow–citizens when his fortunes are restored in double measure. God has showered blessings on Job.

Coming back to my own story from 2007; when I look back on that time now, in the context of where my life is today, then I too feel like God has showered me with blessings. I couldn’t be any happier, or content with my life, than I am right now. This is a reminder to me that, like Job, I can’t understand or comprehend the inescapable purpose that God had for me. 

It reminded of me the following verses from the Book of Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is. 55:8–9) 

In much the same way as Isaiah tells us that our thoughts and ways cannot be compared to those of God, in today’s passage from the Letter to the Hebrews, the author tells their audience that Jesus, whom the author has referred to as a high priest, is unlike any high priest the people have ever seen. Under the law of Moses (which we also know as the Torah) men were chosen from the tribe of Levi to be priests. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us in verse 28 of today’s passage that these priests are subject to weakness, because they are merely men. Jesus, on the other hand, is entirely different, because he is the Son of God.

Unlike the high priests of Judaism, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. The perfection of his sacrifice is associated with the perfection of the victim. Jesus himself did not sin, therefore he does not need to offer up a sacrifice for his own sin. He has offered himself up as a sacrifice for the sins of all people, and because his sacrifice is perfect, it only needs to be offered once.

In the readings we have heard in recent weeks from Mark’s Gospel, while on the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, Jesus has been instructing his disciples about this sacrifice that he is to make. He has told them that he must go to Jerusalem, where he will be betrayed and killed, and after three days will rise again. Just prior to commencing the journey from Galilee, Jesus had healed a blind man at Bethsaida, and now as the journey comes to a close, just before he is to enter Jerusalem, Jesus once again heals a blind man (Bartimaeus), in the city of Jericho. 

The positioning of these two healing stories, one at the beginning of the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, and the other at the end, play a symbolic role, as they actually bracket the attempt by Jesus to overcome the spiritual “blindness” of the disciples, who fail to see and understand his true identity and mission.

In today’s reading from Mark’s Gospel, Jesus asks Bartimaeus the question, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus replies, “Let me see again”. Immediately he regains his sight, and he follows Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. The question that Jesus asks Bartimaeus, is the same question that he asked James and John, which we heard in last week’s gospel passage. “What do you want me to do for you?” They wanted places of power and authority for themselves at his right and left hand, which highlighted their spiritual “blindness”. The request of Bartimaeus to “see again”, draws attention to what James and John badly need, but which in their arrogance and ignorance they fail to ask for: the capacity to “see” and truly understand. 

Throughout the journey with Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem, and despite the teaching that Jesus has provided along the way, the disciples have struggled to comprehend what Jesus has been telling them about his identity and mission. Bartimaeus on the other hand, gets it at once. Note that he refers to Jesus as ‘Son of David’. He believes that Jesus is the Messiah, and he follows Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem, and the fate that awaits him there.

In so doing Bartimaeus becomes a model of discipleship and faith. With open eyes of faith like his, we are all invited to follow Jesus.

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