The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s142g09 Sunday 30 25/10/09
'what do you want me to do for you?' Mark 10.51
This question is in stark contrast to Jesus' reaction to James and John, in the gospel reading for last week (for those who didn't celebrate the feast of St Luke). They initiated the request to Jesus to do anything they wanted: 'we want you to do .. whatever we ask' Mark 10.35 There's nothing like being confident in faith and making your requests known to God! Jesus has to silence the crowd who wanted to keep the blind man from Jesus. Jesus initiated this contact with this blind person, the person marginalised by his blindness and ostracised by the crowds. Jesus invites this person to approach and to make his request. Such a privilege is NOT extended to the chief of Jesus' disciples!
So the conception that Jesus' disciples have especial influence with Jesus is completely wrong! And before anyone suggests that Jesus initiated this contact and healing to gain a disciple, we have to hear the command that the cured man was not to follow Jesus, but to 'go' the RSV makes the point even stronger, it has 'Go your way'.
Many people jokingly say things that imply that I have a special relationship with 'the one upstairs' or that my prayers are especially effective. These words of scripture suggest that precisely the opposite is the case. It is others' prayers that are welcomed and effective, not mine!
It is one of the curiosities of the Old Testament that the blind were not permitted in the Temple, as well as the lame, women and eunuchs despite the prayer of Solomon that it would be a house of prayer for all people. Jerusalem was the last outpost of the original inhabitants of the land to be captured. And it was King David who took Jerusalem, whose inhabitants so confident were they of the city's defences that they taunted David with the words: '"You will not come in here, even the blind and the lame will turn you back" .. Therefore it is said, "The blind and the lame shall not come into the house."' 2 Samuel 5.6,9
And the prayers of James and John and this blind person were starkly different. James and John want Jesus to do anything they wanted. The unnamed blind man wanted to see again, and hence be able to worship in the Temple. And I reflect that 'christians', myself as much as any other, often pray out of an abundance, for God to do things **their** way rather than someone else's way - when God encourages the outsider to make his or her prayer for his or her personal need and to be included.
How often does our worship implicitly imply a prayer that God accepts the way we do worship and not someone else's? It doesn't matter if we are Anglo-catholic, Evangelical or Charismatic, there is the implicit assumption that God listens to us more than others, or we pray that it is so! Is not this the same prayer as James and John? How often do the established members of a congregation say in their hearts (if not in a vestry meeting) 'we do it this way here?'
So if we become a Christian in the hope that God will listen to our prayers, this comparison shows us that the opposite is more likely to be the case!
And it is instructive that Jesus says to the cured blind man: 'Go; your faith has made you well'. Jesus sees faith in this blind person that he certainly doesn't see in James and John. For all their 'faith' in Jesus it was faith in the power of Jesus and ambition for their own positions of authority over others to be 'the power behind the throne'. Again how different is this to our sectarian ambitions that **our** interpretation of the faith prevails over that of others?
Jesus sees faith in this excluded person, that he should be included. If the kingdom really is God's kingdom then all should be included, including himself. He shouldn't be excluded because he was a sinner, for we are all sinners. He had done nothing to deserve being a blind beggar. He did nothing to deserve the ostracism of the crowd who wanted him to be quiet and to shield Jesus from him.
And so often religion expresses itself in wanting to shield God from the awful realities of life. 'Christians' want to do this to the God who was incarnated into the real world, not the pretend one. We want God to fulfil our expectations, including us good Anglicans and excluding others. We want to shield God from the undesirables, those who don't measure up to our expectations, we want to have divine excuses to continue to marginalise women and alienate gay persons.
This blind man had not only to fight his own blindness but also the disapprobation of the crowd. The crowd tried to make sure that he never saw the goodness of God for all, and how often does the church try to do the same thing? We only want people to see the goodness of God in all 'anglicans', or 'christians' or whoever. But in doing so those in the crowd showed themselves to not know the goodness of God for all, and by their disapprobation were in danger of missing this fundamental of faith. The crowd, for all their apparent lack of disabilities, were blind to the goodness of God for all. And the fact that this story comes immediately after James and John's request indicates that the message was for the disciples, and therefore us, as well.
Any religion, including 'christianity', can be deceptive. I am reminded of the old collect for 'Good Friday' that prays 'Have mercy upon all Jews, Turks, Infidels and Hereticks, and take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word' as if we are more merciful than God. Good Lord, some Anglicans won't worship in the parish next door! How often does the new priest have to measure up to the old one? How often do we piously recite: 'If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us' (1 John 1.8) implying that we are exempt because we are worshippers in a kosher church saying these words? We might endlessly berate ourselves (like I have endlessly berated myself) for personal misdemeanours, and fail to see that endless self examination doesn't grant us eternal life denied to others. It is association with others that brings eternal life.
How often do we enthusiastically share the greeting of peace amongst our fellow worshippers, but look down on our next-door neighbour who mows his lawn on Sunday morning? I was interested to read the Church Times article on the WCC recently entitled: 'Avoid kissy kissy unity, WCC told' by Dame Mary Tanner a WCC president. http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/content.asp?id=83346 Is it not the corporate sin that because we are 'christians' we have to look down on others that is the more poisonous?
Time and again, St Paul in his letters argues against a false religion of exclusion, not against personal moral failures; even though he well knows these exist. Yet, sadly, time and again we interpret the bible as all about our personal moral failures, and preachers of the 'fire and brimstone' variety interpret the bible as all about other's moral failures.
'What do you want me to do for you?' asks Jesus. I want to be included! But I don't need to be reassured that I am included I am included. I am called to include others. Do you want to be reassured that you are included? Well you are already. Now know just as certainly that others are included as well.
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