Here at St Paul’s we’re always looking to strike a bold balance between life and order. Like all things in life, this is far from an exact science! Over the last few weeks we’ve been doing our best to step into Scripture’s call to pursue the “gifts of the Spirit” for today. It’s reminded me again that we live on the fault-line between two competing stories—the dominant one where the world is a closed system of cause and effect, and the subversive one where Jesus is Lord over all creation and actively engaged in the detail of our lives. Our imaginations and faith are shaped by which story we really believe.
The modern scientific paradigm has set up a closed cosmos where God is locked out of the world and restricted to the spiritual realm at best. But instead of this “God-out-there” way of thinking, Christian Philosopher James K. A. Smith calls us back to a genuinely charismatic or Spirit-centered way of seeing the world where the Spirit is intimately involved within creation: from the restorative work of our jobs and vocations, through the joyous chaos of family life and our relationships, to the dramatic and miraculous works of God.
In this true picture of reality, God is not a stranger or an occasional visitor to His creation, but is already present within it. We see this come to life most vividly in the Gospels and, ironically, it’s often the blind who first see who Jesus really is. For me, the blind beggar Bartimaeus is one of the truly inspiring figures in the Gospel story. Trapped in a dead-end existence of poverty, he refuses to miss the moment when Jesus walks by.
What’s interesting about this story is that Jesus doesn’t seek out Bartimaeus. This guy literally cries out for Jesus’ attention until he can’t be ignored anymore over the hostile and impatient crowd. Despite having no status or standing, he refuses to take “no” for an answer. What seems to catch Jesus’ eye is that Bartimaeus names the truth: that Jesus is the Son of David, the one they’ve been waiting for all these generations. In response Jesus asks him a deceptively simple question: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51).
Bartimaeus’ answer seems too obvious for words—almost rhetorical. It’s literally written all over his face. But seen another way, his answer is unlikely and subversive. The religious leaders of his day believed that someone’s poverty or blindness were God’s judgment for sin. So, for a cursed beggar who relied on the mercy of others for daily survival, the rhetorical answer was: “money, of course.” But instead of playing to script Bartimaeus asks for the impossible: “Rabbi, I want to see.” And yet it’s not a wasted wish because the source of the question is the source of life itself—the Creator-in-the-flesh. Jesus’ response gives Bartimaeus back his dignity and much more: “Go … your faith has healed you.” Perhaps we need to check our vision today; to take another look at who it is that stands before us and asks: “What do you want me to do for you?” If you had the improbable faith of Bartimaeus, how would you answer that question today?
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