A Sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church of Palo Alto
Sunday, October 25, 2015
“Let me see again.” It seems to me that this is both the quest of Job and the cry of Bartimaeus and so we find these texts linked today. Last week, we reviewed the ancient story of Job – how he was on top of the world at one moment and crying out from dust and ashes the next. He seems to be the pawn in some cruel game played by Yahweh and the Satan. He neither understands nor accept the injustice of his pain and suffering, but he will not turn his back on God. He continues to speak out, pleading with God for answers. We considered how God finally speaks from the whirlwind, offering Job neither satisfaction nor comfort. I argued that it may be simply that God responds to Job at all that produces a measure of healing, transformation, salvation. At the very least God draws Job out of his self-absorbed suffering and gives him a new perspective. There is a powerful acknowledgement of Job’s worth in the encounter itself.
Now we come to the last chapter of the book. Job makes his second response to God, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted…Therefore 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.” It is both a humble and a wise response. Job’s eyes are opened – in a great symbolic opening – to the majesty of God, the wonders of creation, the limitations and the possibilities of human capacity to know and understand. God let’s Job see again what it means to be a human being in relationship with the living God – but with new eyes, new insight, new understanding. “I had a vague idea but now I see in ways I never imagined before.”
The tension between Yahweh and Job, between God and humanity, between the holy and the lowly is unresolvable, but we have the capacity to live with that tension, to see beyond what we understand and follow the vision into God’s future. Samuel Balentine writes, “The idea that faith permits, indeed sometimes requires, one to argue with God is seldom endorsed by the religious establishment.” But, he continues, “I am…inclined to say that what Job has learned is that humankind may image God not by acquiescing to innocent suffering but rather by protesting it, contending with the powers that occasion it, and, when necessary, taking the fight directly to God. It is such power, courage and resolve that God seems to commend to Job…” (Samuel E. Balentine, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Job, p. 698, 697).
To say that Job “despises” himself and “repents in dust and ashes” is one very challengeable translation of the Hebrew original. It may be that this is a hyperbolic way of expressing his new-found humility. However, another, that makes more sense to me, is that Job sees himself clearly as a creature of value and repents, not so much of his pride as of his resort to living in “dust and ashes.” With renewed vision, he rejects his victim status and understands that, even in his distress, he is made in the image and likeness of God, a little lower than the angels. Of course that does not entitle him to see equality with the Creator as within his grasp. Still there is something uniquely wonderful built into his humanity that lifts him out of the “dust and ashes” and puts him on a different path. I relinquish dust and ashes to live in the light of your glory and the wonder of your ways, O God.
I’m skipping the epilogue today because I think it somehow cheapens Job’s great grasp of truth and wonder gained from his encounter with God. The epilogue leads us back to the very system of punishment and reward that Job’s friends tried to lay on him. “You must have done something wrong to bring on so much calamity. That system has been undone in what is spoken from the whirlwind. Let’s just sit with that magnificent insecurity of knowing and not knowing that in the end seems to satisfy Job. He has grown, matured, into a different sort of faith than the one dependent on rewards and punishments. He has been face to face to with God and lived to tell the tale.
It is another suffering one that Jesus encounters on the Jericho road, headed toward Jerusalem. Bartimaeus is a blind beggar, about as low as you can get on the social scale. We are not told how, but we no he was not born that way. Like Job, he may have been a man of wealth and position before he lost his sight. You can be sure that there were plenty who believed he had done something wrong to bring this fate on himself.
When Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” The answer, quick and sure, is “…let me see again.” He has at least some distant memory of what it’s like to see and he is desperate to see again.
Bartimaeus is like Job in that he insists on speaking out. He will not be quiet. Sometimes desperate situations demand desperate actions. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” The more the crowd tries to shut him up, the louder he cries. Job kept pleading his case until he got God’s attention and response. Bartimaeus keeps crying out until Jesus hears him and calls him over. What do you want. Job? To be seen and heard and made whole. What do you want Bartimaeus? To be heard and seen and made whole. It is an ancient and familiar story. See me, hear me, heal me. Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Have mercy on me, O God. Have compassion on me, O Christ.
Let me see again. In both stories the healing happens in the encounter. Indeed, each is brought to sight in his encounter with the Holy, though in different ways. If we forego the epilogue of Job, his healing comes in the way God takes him seriously, opens his eyes, gives him wisdom and understanding. If everything he lost is restored, that’s just icing on the cake. The real substance is his proclamation, ”I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you. You have come close to me, my God and now I know you in ways I never knew were possible. This is enough.” Like Jacob, Job has wrestled with God and come away both wounded and blessed.
In her commentary on the gospel of Mark, May Ann Tolbert suggests that one function of the story of Bartimaeus is to contrast the faith of the disciples and that of the blind man. Mark’s gospel recounts that this is Jesus’ last encounter before he enters Jerusalem to face his final week. She argues that the disciples in this gospel are exceedingly dense, slow to see and slower to respond to what Jesus is trying to teach them. As they approach the end of this phase of their journey together, she suggests that the disciples follow in fear. In contrast, Bartimaeus follows in faith. In seeing again, he sees further and deeper in the moment than the disciples have in three years. How many of the disciples were among those who ordered Bartimaeus to keep quiet? Don’t bother Jesus. He doesn’t have time for one like you. We’ve heard them utter such orders before only to be overruled by the Compassionate One. “Call him here” and they change their tune. “Take heart, Bartimaeus; get up, he is calling you.” What an unnecessary word. Bartimaeus is up and on his way before they can finish their extraneous instructions. He has already begun to see, even before Jesus opens his eyes.
The invitation is enough to help him see that this encounter will change his life forever. He is healed in his very recognition of Jesus’ power to heal. He sees the Messiah clearly in ways that the disciples do not yet see. Tolbert writes, “Like the disciples, Bartimaeus is named, called, and follows Jesus on the way; like the [other] ones healed, he initiates the action, expresses confident belief, is commanded to go, for his faith has saved him. He is the last who has become first, the epitome of the good earth and the faithful follower. He is what the Twelve are not, the fruitful ground, not the rocky ground” (Mary Ann Tolbert, Sowing the Gospel: Mark’s World in Literary Historical Perspective, p. 192).
With Job, Bartimaeus can proclaim, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you,” except for him that is now both literally and symbolically true. Let me see again, not only with my eyes but also with the eyes of my heart. Let my seeing be both practical and visionary, functional and faithful. Is this a prayer we might share with Job and Bartimaeus – let me see again – perhaps for the first time or with new eyes or a deeper faith or higher hopes or Christ-like compassion or Godly grace? “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you,” and I am forever changed.
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
“’Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.” Amen.