Monday, October 26, 2015

Brave Bartimaeus: Walls, Gates and Wholehearted Healing

Imagine for a moment, you are a wall.  Perhaps an English country wall, made of stacked and unhewn stones, some ancient, some new, no mortar, just the sheer force of gravity to hold you together.  Someone could leap right over you, but you do a good job of keeping the sheep where they need to be. 

Or perhaps you are an ancient west Asian wall.  You are thick.  So broad that people can live within you.  In the fragmented dirt around modern Jericho, archeologists have found remnants of the oldest known walls in west Asia.  9000 years old.   That is thousands of years older than the Egyptian pyramids.  Yet by the time when the blind Bartimaeus sits outside what must be a gate in the Jericho wall,  you have become fundamentally symbolic, you are a sign of social segregation.  The warfare innovations of Alexander the Great have left you an ineffective defensive mechanism. Now you serve as a social control, you keep the desirable in, and the undesirable out.

If you are in prison a wall is a torment. If you are an outfielder a wall is a danger zone. If you are a king it feels like a strength, If you are on the margins, it can mark the magnitude of your lowliness.

A few years ago I served in a diocese where the summer camp has a road RUNNING RIGHT THROUGH IT.  There were neighbors glittered, and comfortable and struggling. Which doesnt matter, because we had no control over who would come straight through camp.  They could pass through on foot or on wheels, and have an unobstructed view of our campers.  I desperately wanted a wall of some kind.  A dense line of pinon and cedar trees would do, but if I am honest, I wanted a 6-foot high adobe wall.  The openness felt like a dangerous vulnerability.  In that space, in that moment, walls feel priceless.

As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.  When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"  In another Gospel we hear Jesus say I AM the Gate. I AM the space of grace in the middle of the walls of false security.  I AM the opening of hope in the middle of the walls of perfectionistic shame.  Jesus says, I AM the very transformation of those walls.  From the Benedictine tradition we hear this echo. Christ the word I hear, Christ the way I follow, Christ the gate I journey through.

We know not why Bartimaeus is blind.  And it simply does not matter. What we do know is that he sits by Have mercy on me.   One of the hard things about this Jesus wonder worker passage is that most healings are not so quick and simple.  Some of our brokenness will take more than a leap and a shout to be healed.  Other times,  the healing will look quite different than we had imagined.  Yet the heart of the wonder remains, none of what Jesus calls us to be could be done all by ourselves.  Without Jesus unconditional forgiveness, without the life, the cross and Jesus resurrection, without these we could never hope to see the depth and breadth of our defensiveness.  Without Jesus we could not hear the depth and breadth of Gods compassion.  Christ the word I hear, Christ the way I follow, Christ the gate I journey through.

We know not why Bartimaeus is blind.  And it simply does not matter. What we do know is that he sits by the road, and since this is Jericho, presumably he sits by a city wall and its gate.  Blind Bartimaeus sits at the clear sign of comfort and exclusion and he waits.  Waits for forgiveness, hope, and spare coins. When he hears Jesus and his crowd approaching Bartimaeus shouts. Not just once.  Again and again.

I like my walls, material and immaterial.  I imagine that they keep things I dont want from blowing in my yard.  Yet time and time again, the wind still blows and society finds new and inventive ways to transcend my precious walls. If I stay inside, someday it will just be me and the strewn packaging and useless trivia and broken dreams, all the crud that finds its way in will suffocate me.  I have to find some other way.  I need a gate.  How about you?  What are your walls, how do they separate you? Blind you?  Dr. Brene Brown states that our capacity for wholeheartedness can never be greater than our willingness to be broken-hearted. Healthy boundaries will never be greater than our willingness to serve others from a place of daring vulnerability.   

This whole Gospel scene bears a striking resemblance to one of the earliest known baptismal rites.  In those earliest days of the church the person who is being baptized declares, "Have mercy on me!" The Deacon says to the congregation: "Call him." or "Call her." What the congregation replies to their friend is this: "Be brave, get up, he's calling you.Christ the word we heard, Christ the way we followed, Christ the gate we journey through.   Be brave. Get up. He is calling.

St. Paul's, Walla Walla 

*shout out to Bishop Doyles Hitchhiking the Word

*see also a subtext of the childrens book The Quiltmakers Gift