A sermon for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost
A few months ago, I bought a book for my grandchildren from Barney’s Boutique. It was a book about dinosaurs. It was quite short and the pictures were big but fuzzy. The exciting thing about this book was that it came with special glasses and when you wore those glasses to look at the pictures, the dinosaurs jumped into sharp 3D focus. Very exciting.
Today’s Gospel story about Bartimaeus is like that dinosaur book. It’s short and at first sight, you might wonder what is special about it. Bartimaeus calls to Jesus, says he would like to be healed, and Jesus heals him. That sounds like a conventional report on the sort of healing that Jesus commonly did. But this story comes in a sequence of stories, many of them about people who want something of Jesus. When you lay the story of Bartimaeus alongside these other stories, quite a few things snap into focus. Let’s look at just one.
Last week we heard of another man, a rich man, who wanted something from Jesus. He wanted eternal life and he thought he was well on the way. His strategy just needed a bit of fine-tuning. Bartimaeus also wanted just one thing, the restoration of his sight. One ended up disappointed while the other ended up very happy. Let’s look at them side by side.
The rich man is not named while Bartimaeus is known by name, but just this once, even though he became a follower of Jesus.
The rich man ran up and knelt before Jesus. He has agency. He can come and go as he pleases while Bartimaeus must call from the roadside where he is seated. He is limited in what he can do.
The rich man calls Jesus “good teacher “and asks him for lifestyle advice, while Bartimaeus calls him “son of David”, a Messiah reference, and asks for mercy from the one who saves.
The rich man is self-justifying and cannot let go of his possessions. While Bartimaeus flings off his cloak, possibly his precious only possession, as a mere hindrance to his approach to Jesus.
And ultimately, the rich man who was called to follow went sadly away while Bartimaeus, who was told that he was free to go, instead chose to follow Jesus. The rich man and Bartimaeus not only experienced different results, but they saw Jesus with different eyes.
Who is this Jesus? Who is the one that both the rich man and the blind man were drawn to?
He’s the one you want to be with, the one you want to be with you.
Our reading from Hebrews tells us just some of who and what Jesus was and is. The letter to the Hebrews is an extraordinary book. It speaks to the faithful, those who are committed to the one true God and who have followed the law all of their lives. They know their scriptures and they will hear about Jesus in a very different way from the way in which the gentiles hear of this Jesus, this man who was more than a man.
Paul may or may not have written the letter to the Hebrews. The writing itself is somewhat different from those things more surely written by Paul but although many scholars now think it was written by someone else, they still agree that the content is entirely consistent with Paul’s teaching about Jesus. So, we can think of it as Pauline. If it was written by another, that other had a deep knowledge of Jesus and of the scriptures.
What are we told about Jesus? We know many ways to see, understand and think of Jesus. Friend, brother, saviour, healer, rock, refuge, advocate, son of God, Messiah or Christ, there seems to be no end to the titles and descriptions. Today’s reading concentrates on the priestly role of Jesus. This is not a role much emphasised in our theology or our hymns and worship but it has great resonance through the scriptures and helps to place Jesus within the roles that link humankind and God.
Jesus is described as being made a priest by oath. This oath is not an oath to serve, sworn by Jesus, but an oath of appointment sworn by the Father. This is where Jesus’ priesthood originates. It is not by descent from Aaron like the other priests that the Hebrews were familiar with. It is not an accident of birth but an anointing by God. This links Jesus’ priesthood with his role as Messiah or Christ, both titles which mean the anointed one. Jesus identity and role are from God.
The next unique thing we hear about Jesus’ priesthood is that it is forever. It will not be relinquished or withdrawn. Not even death can take it away or make it pass away. The longest human position or role we can think of can never be longer than a lifetime. There are very few jobs for life. Perhaps the Queen’s role is one. She is sworn to serve for life but even kings and queens have been known to abdicate from time to time. And eventually, at the end of her life, her role will pass to another. Not so for Jesus. His role continues because death has no power to take it away. His priesthood is forever.
As the one who spans heaven and earth, he is God’s pledge and guarantee of a better covenant. He is both the advocate and the sign of the covenant with God. We hear in 1 John 2. 1, My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
Jesus is the saviour, the one who intercedes for all who approach God.
He became like us but is not entirely the same as us. He is holy, blameless, undefiled and exulted high above the heavens. Yet this holy, blameless, undefiled and exulted one is our saviour and our advocate.
While Jesus is presented here as a great high priest, he is also beyond all conventional priesthood. As with his likeness to sinners, it is a likeness but not a limitation. For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever. (Hebrews 7. 28)
Here is another form of sharpened focus. His reality is beyond whatever we can declare him to be like. He is greater and his priesthood, as with his other attributes, is beyond all limits just as the grace and mercy of God are beyond all limits. And yet he is our Lord and Saviour, our advocate, our Messiah, our Christ.
Like Bartimaeus, we are free to go our own way.
Like Bartimaeus, may we also see clearly and choose to follow Jesus. Amen