Sunday, October 25, 2009

Who is the Real Blind Man

Good news folks, I am now officially a Bronco fan! I registered for free agency and have been welcomed with open arms by the Bronco fans. This will probably also be helpful for my son and my in laws since they have always been Bronco fans. When my father in law passed away my wife came home with a bag full of Bronco swag for the kids and herself to wear, so I guess you could say it is about time!
But even though I left the Seahawks behind I don’t think I will ever lose my allegiance to the Mariners. You see I have loved the Mariners since they began as an expansion team for the American league west in 1977. My uncle was a King County sheriff at the time and had spent some over-time hours guarding the Kingdom as it was being built for the Mariners (and the Seahawks but we are already beyond there so…) He was able to work tickets out to at least a few of the games that season. Good tickets too right behind home plate about 15 or 20 rows up from the field. The first time I walked into the Kingdom it was magical. Even those of us living in Seattle knew this building was UGLY from day one. This huge hulking concrete structure had about as much character as a northwest banana slug. But once you got inside and walked through the tunnel the magic began to happen the unnatural green turf lit up everything the Mariner blue walls pulled your attention down to the playing field and there in the pre-game warm up were the hero’s of the day having a catch with each other for our amusement! I was 7 years old the first time I went and I have spent the last 32 years of my life going to any Mariners game I can!
So as you can see I have a passion for this team and moving into Safeco field (which coincidently was designed by the same folks that did Coors field) and the ensuing seasons only helped build that passion. Yep sorry no amount of jeering or loss of pennant races will deter me from loving the Mariners! In fact just this last summer the Mariners were playing the Rockies and I of course was there, wearing my 2001 (that is the 116 year) commemorative t-shirt under my Ken “the Kid” Griffey Jr. jersey. My wife and kids had their Mariners attire on too. To our surprise we were not completely surrounded by Rockies fans. I guess Mariner passion runs deep for lots of others too. But as we sat there being those visiting fans cheering on our team and jeering the home team, one gentleman was getting very upset. He had mentioned a number of times that maybe we had better just shut up. Maybe we had better not share our comments out loud about our love for the Mariners. But it did not stop us! We just continued on. Our passion could not be put aside. I mean hey the Mariners were right here in front of us!
I think Bartimaeus had this strong, probably stronger passion for Jesus. Here he is sitting in the dirt on the side of the road yelling out at the top of his lungs "Son of David, Jesus! Mercy, have mercy on me!" He is being threatened with bodily harm if he did not shut up and all the more he shouted, "Son of David, Jesus! Mercy, have mercy on me!" Where did he get such a passion for Jesus? How did he gain such a strong faith?
And how ironic is it that Mark has been telling his story of Jesus and of restoring sight to the blind with the Apostles in tow all along and yet as he performs his final miracle before heading to the cross the only people Jesus met who are still blind are his own Apostles! I wonder how much of this story can been seen as a symbolic telling of how blind we are in seeing Christ in our midst and only when we sit in the dirt helpless and hopeless that we can see him for who he is. How symbolic is it that while we continue to theorize about the “true” Jesus, about who the person of Jesus was, we are blind to the divinity of who Christ is, of how we can’t see his mercy pouring out or recognize his work in our own lives today when we are so focused on yesterday.
The story of Bartimaeus, as recorded in Mark’s story of Jesus, is an interesting and important story. A nobody in the world’s eyes, a sidelined person, a blind beggar sitting in the dust, suddenly, and to the surprise of all, becomes the hero of the story. When he raised his voice, people were quick to remind him he was a nobody. Shut up they shout back to him.
With the persistence which can characterize the desperate, he does not shy away from being a nuisance... I am not odd, stupid, a case, a need. I’m a person, not a discounted person nor a person to be discounted. Jesus responds, hears his request, and, just as we are told, makes him whole.
William Loader suggests this is Mark at his subversive best. “Mark can do this because he knew such stories. Jesus did not sideline people. Jesus responded to what were seen as the ‘hopeless cases’ of his day”. He continues; “Whether at the symbolic level or at a literal level, the story illustrates an approach to people which is central to Jesus’ teaching”. (WLoader/Web site-2003)
Again we see this inclusive theme coming straight to the top of Jesus life and ministry that Mark never fails to include. We have seen Jesus include so many outsiders whether they are whores or children, tax collectors or lepers, “unclean” women, or legalists. All are invited, none are excluded.
For Bartimaeus it was merely an obstacle for his faith to overcome in order to regain his sight. But what about us what keeps us blind? Is it a similar obstacle for our faith or is it an obstacle to overcome to have faith? Jesus says to him, without even so much as a touch, “Go, your faith has healed you!”
But what about our contemporary culture? Are we ready to hear these words or are we more like the rest of the apostles that leave this story still spiritually blind? As Eugene Peterson puts it has our Spiritual grounding in the Word of God wandered into the self help isle and become just an accomplishment of time management and organization? It is Jesus Christ at the root of our spiritual journey. It is the Word of God that is the root of our Spiritual quest. If we lose track of this, - church quickly becomes a place to come and feel good about yourself, a place where it is all about me and not about the other.
Robert Funk, founder of the Jesus Seminar, was quoted as saying “The invisible domain of God is populated with the poor, the destitute, with women and unwanted children, with lepers, and toll collectors, all considered under some circumstances to be the dregs of society. They are outsiders and outcasts. They are exiles from their native religious tradition” (Funk 2002: 55). Yet there is Jesus. Much of Jesus’ energy in controversy with his fellow Jews was spent trying to show that we must interpret scripture in a way which sees its priority as concern for well being of the other, of the outside and the outcast.
I can’t help but think of a movie I just watched Thursday night, John Q. In it, John Quincy Archibald, a father and husband whose son is diagnosed with an enlarged heart and then finds out he cannot receive a transplant because HMO insurance will not cover it. Therefore, he decides to take a hospital full of patients hostage until the hospital puts his son's name on the recipient's list. He screamed out at the top of his lungs; “Have Mercy on me”, and the insurance industry responded shut up!
While I would never condone such actions as justified, the movie clearly highlights the messed up healthcare system we currently deal with. Rapidly escalating health care costs are crushing families, and business. Employer-sponsored health insurance premiums have doubled in the last 9 years, a rate 3 times faster than corresponding wages. This forces families to sit around the kitchen table to make impossible choices between paying rent or paying health premiums. The United States spent approximately $2.2 trillion on health care in 2007, or $7,421 per person, even if not everybody saw a benefit. – That’s nearly twice the average of other developed nations. Americans are now spending more on health care than on housing or food.
Last spring I was having horrible headaches. They would come on in the middle of the day and last two or three days. I went to the doctor to find out if it was anything serious. He was pretty sure it was stress related but wanted to do an MRI just to rule out anything else. When the insurance company found out about this I was informed that with my deductable and co-pay it would cost me $1200 to have the MRI. I did not get it. Now given I am still alive it likely is not something more serious - but why should we have to decide between loading up our credit cards or getting a clean bill of health?
The people of our nation are screaming out “Have mercy on me!” We the Church have an obligation to be involved. Jesus does not call us to silence the outspoken but bring them to Him!
Please do not mistake this for support of any particular political plan. I am not a politician nor an expert on how to fix the problem. All the same - as Christians we have a calling to take care of the least of these. We need to scream out with our brothers and sisters that are dying alongside us because they can’t afford a doctor or have to claim bankruptcy because their child gets cancer. We need to be able to say to those in need “Take heart; Get up, He is calling you!”
Let me end with this parable: The shocked family was standing on the sidewalk in front of their house, watching the firemen swarming in and out. A grease fire had severely damaged the kitchen and smoke was saturating everything they owned. They watched in dismay as the fire was put out. Holes in the walls. Scorched ceilings. Broken plates. A real mess awaited them.
Suddenly a pizza delivery car pulled up next to the curb, and a young guy jumped out carrying one of those large pizza delivery bags. The father of the family looked puzzled: “Sorry fellow! You must have the wrong address. None of us ordered a pizza, and besides, my wallet was in my coat pocket - in the kitchen”.
The delivery guy smiled, shock his head and said: “Yea, I know you didn’t order this. But I saw you all just standing there and I had to do something. “There’s no charge. Just take it easy and have something to eat”. And with that he jumped back into his car and sped off as the astonished family watched. (A story adapted from William Bausch)
How many people saw the fire, shook their heads, and drove on? How many saw the people in need? One young fellow saw and decided to do something about it. The ‘doing’ was some simple words and ordinary caring. But he saw, his blindness had been lifted and he followed without a hesitation. Let’s do the same!