Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Kneeling Beggar  Vasily Surikov (1886)
This week's readings continue a pattern they have followed for several weeks past --  passages from the Epistle to the Hebrews are set alongside passages from the Gospel of Mark. It is an interesting, but also slightly puzzling combination. For the most part Mark relates episodes in which Jesus figures as a teacher, a prophet, a leader and a healer. The extracts from Hebrews, on the other hand, insist again and again that we should see Jesus as priest. This is a label Mark never employs. The readings for this week follow the same pattern. Mark tells the story of Bartimaeus, a blind beggar whose persistence finally wins him the attention of Jesus. His request is plain and simple – ‘I want to see again’ and his sight is indeed restored. How does this healing ministry fit with the description of Jesus in Hebrews as ‘high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled’?
Jesus’ ‘healing ministry’ is not as straightforward as it may appear. First, in many of the examples Mark gives us – the crazy man by the lakeside, the woman with the hemorrhage, the centurion -- Jesus does not seek out the sufferers in order to heal them. Rather, they push themselves forward. Second, he makes no claim to healing powers, but says ‘Your faith has made you well’. Third, when healing takes place – to the astonishment of lookers – the disciples are told not to spread the word, to keep it secret. All these are clues that however much their new found health  means to the individuals concerned, in the context of Jesus' ministry, physical healing must not be the main focus. We will, in fact, have lost its true meaning, if we do not see it pointing beyond the physical to things spiritual.

Christ Blessing -- Messina (1495)
‘Actions speak louder than words’. When say this we are generally thinking of cases in which deeds communicate a message with a force that mere words would lack. This is how it is with the actions of Jesus. Often, the healing miracles should be interpreted as spiritual ‘signs’ rather than medical ‘wonders’. Bartimaeous embodies both the sort of deep longing that has the strength to persist, and a faith founded on absolute trust. His physical blindness, and the restoration of his sight, provide Jesus with an occasion that he can use to prompt the onlookers, and Bartimaeous, and us, to a new awareness of spiritual blindness. The dark and narrow minded  paths in which our lives so often go is the  blindness from which Christ continues to free us, if only we sincerely long for him to do so. He does this, Hebrews tells us, because on the Cross he makes a sacrifice that renders every other sacrifice redundant. Priest and healer, it seems, are not so far apart after all.

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