A Person of Honor
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A Person of Honor
By The Rev. Charles Hoffacker
Last Sunday’s Gospel tells of two brothers, James and John, who ask Jesus for high positions in the kingdom he has come to establish.
They raise this issue as Jesus travels on his final journey to Jerusalem. What awaits him there is
– no crown of gold, but a crown of thorns;
– no throne of honor, but a cross of shame;
– no obedience from one and all, but rejection and disgrace;
– no life of royal luxury, but a traitor’s death;
– no spacious palace, but a borrowed tomb.
It is with this future before him that Jesus hears the request of these two brothers. Their ignorance of what is happening around them runs painfully deep. What they want is power; what they care about is to be seen. They hope for high office in order that others may look up to them.
The story about James and John is followed immediately by another episode that occurs as Jesus makes his way to the cross at Jerusalem. He and his disciples have reached Jericho, some fifteen miles from the holy city, The streets of Jericho are swarming with pilgrims, pilgrims from all over the world who, like Jesus and his group, are on their way to Jerusalem.
Many in the crowd have heard rumors about Jesus, that perhaps he is the long desired messiah, and so his arrival stimulates the people.
Perhaps they will hear some word of wisdom from his lips as he engages in controversy with his opponents.
Perhaps they will witness a miracle, or receive his blessing.
Just about anything can happen when the messiah comes to town!
As Jesus leaves Jericho in the midst of a seething mob of pilgrims and locals, a voice is heard shouting from the roadside. A blind beggar calls to Jesus, hailing him as David’s son, and asking for mercy. He is a pathetic figure, this man with sightless eyes, sitting beside the road, with his cloak spread out before him to catch the coins tossed his way by generous passers-by.
His eyes are blind, but his voice is strong, and he keeps shouting shamelessly in the direction of Jesus. Those near him attempt to silence him, but to no avail; he only shouts louder, calling out to Jesus, demanding mercy.
Jesus heeds him, and tells those around Bartimaeus, “Bring him here.” Barely has Bartimaeus heard the summons from those around him when he leaps up, leaving behind his cloak, and scattering the coins that were lying upon it.
With the blind man standing expectantly in front of him, Jesus asks him a question that seems to have an obvious answer: “What do you want me to do for you?”
Bartimaeus addresses him as “rabbouni,” an affectionate term that means “teacher,” and then says, “that I may see again.” Jesus does nothing by way of gesture, but simply answers, “Go your way. Your faith has made you well.”
Immediately Bartimaeus is able to see again. From there he follows Jesus on the road leading to Jerusalem; indeed, the road he takes is that of discipleship.
Bartimaeus makes a different request of Jesus than do James and John. He does not seek power over others. He does not hope for high office in order that others will look up to him. He does not care to be seen. What he wants is to see. Bartimaeus does not crave being special. He wants only to be ordinary: to see the world around him. This is the transformation he desires.
To see or to be seen. What Bartimaeus wants, or what the ambitious brothers want. These options wait for us as well. We can be concerned with ambition, distinction, high honors, all that separates us from the rest of the world. Or we can want to see, to look with ordinary eyes upon the ordinary world, yet do so in such a way that our vision becomes extraordinary because it recognizes that we are surrounded by the extraordinary. These two options wait for us as well: to feed our egos, or to find our souls.
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What way do you choose? Do you simply want to be seen, or do you want to see? Are you locked in to your own ambition, or are you willing to follow Jesus down the road?
Ambition can occupy a person for a long time, whether fulfilled or not. Ambition comes across as exciting. Being seen can be fun.
On the other hand, seeing can be painful. When our eyes function, we see a world of tremendous beauty and pain. We become sensitive to the people around us. Our desire remains unabated, for it is ultimately a desire for something past the portals of this world. It costs much to be an artist, an advocate for justice, a servant of the poor, a person of prayer, a saint of any kind.
Consider also just how it is that Bartimaeus moves from blindness to sight. It is not a matter of medicine or magic. Jesus says that it is the blind man’s faith that opens his eyes. Something inside him rises to the surface long enough to make him whole. Faith brings about the transformation.
As for this roadside beggar, so also for us. When we come to see, when blindness gives way to sight, and sight gives way to insight, then what is at work is faith. We give up what blocks the springs of faith: such things as despair, control, fear, and a preference for concepts and prejudices in place of reality. After a while, we simply favor truth with all its rough edges over the smoothness of illusion. Being seen, whether it has happened to us or not, comes across as nothing compared to actual sight, even though sight often costs us tears.
We know the name of the man who sits beside the Jericho road. It is Bartimaeus, a name that means the son of Timaeus. Timaeus in turn appears to mean “honor.” Thus the beggar in this story is a son of honor, someone deserving of honor.
Perhaps you are in the position of this blind beggar, marginalized and living in shame. If so, then your name is Bartimaeus, someone deserving of honor. Jesus is close at hand, and he responds to your outcry. Do not make the mistake of James and John and ask this man on his way to death to grant you a place of honor. Do not seek for others to look up to you; do not care to be seen.
Ask instead for the gift of sight. Ask for the insight that it brings. You’ll be able to look upon the ordinary world and find it extraordinary. You’ll have your own cross and resurrection and encounter the kingdom in unexpected places. You won’t care any more about a place of honor, but you will be a person of honor: perhaps an artist, or an advocate for justice, or a servant of the poor, or a person of prayer, a saint of some sort.
Ask for the gift of sight, and you’ll become a disciple willing to get up and journey with Jesus to Jerusalem and beyond.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
— Copyright 2006, Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission.