Monday, October 26, 2015

The Son of Timaeus

It was the great mystic, poet, theologian, social commentator, and Peanuts character Linus who said, “Happiness is a warm blanket.”  Surely Bartimaeus, the blind beggar in today’s gospel reading, would agree.  But whereas Linus used his blanket to produce a feeling of security, Bartimaeus needed his cloak for to do so much more.  It was a shield from the sun and covering in the rain.  It gave warmth on chilly nights and cushioned the rocky ground on which he sat.  Somewhere in the cloak was a pocket to stow coins produced by begging.  It would be hard to overstate its value to Bartimaeus. 

So it is worth noting that when Jesus calls him, the blind beggar throws off his cloak and leaps up.  It is hard to imagine why he would leave behind something so important to him.  Given he is blind, there is a reasonable chance he will not be able to find his way back to where he let it drop.  It is also likely in the commotion someone else might make off with it.  Why would he do it?  Why would Bartimaeus carelessly leave behind a vital piece of property?  Linus guarded his blanket with the zeal of a bank guard.  We can understand Bart Simpson doing something this careless, but not a beggar whose life depended on this possession.

Perhaps he was too excited to think straight.  Maybe the emotion of the moment got the better of him.  He just sprang up and went to Jesus.  Or maybe Bartimaeus’ act is indicative of a deeper faith.  Maybe he believes so deeply he was going to be healed that he thinks the blanket will no longer be necessary.  Given this possibility, the cloak represents his old lifestyle of begging, which he will not need anymore.

Here is a third possibility.  The name Bartimaeus means “son (bar in Hebrew) of Timaeus.”  Is Mark trying to tell us who the beggar’s father is or perhaps is he trying to tell us something else?  Plato produced a work called Timaeus some 350 years earlier.  It is the philosopher’s attempt to explain the origin and nature of the universe and the role of human beings in it.  To call a person Bartimaeus is to identify him as an adherent to Plato’s school of thought.  In fact, pupils were often said to wear the cloak of their teacher.  Is Mark telling us the beggar sheds his cloak as a tangible sign of forsaking the Plato’s outlook in order to embrace to the teachings of Jesus? 

Did you notice how Bartimaeus addresses Jesus? When Jesus asks the beggar what he wants, Bartimaeus answers, “My teacher, let me see again.”  “My teacher” – isn’t this an indication Bartimaeus wants to see the world in a whole new way; not just with his eyes, but also with his understanding?  “Go,” Jesus tells him.  “Your faith has made you well.”  Bartimaeus immediately receives his sight, but rather than leave, he follows Jesus on the way.  He has the physically ability to see, but needs time with his new teacher in order to gain new insight and perspective.

After this encounter Mark never again mentions Bartimaeus by name, but does he disappear from the story? 

Today’s reading takes place just outside of Jericho.  It is not a long walk from here to Jerusalem.  In just a day or two it will be Palm Sunday.  Within a week Jesus will be crucified and buried.  Mark adds a rather curious detail to the scene of Jesus’ arrest the other three gospels don’t mention.  After all the disciples flee, he notes this:

A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth.  They [the arresting guards] caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked. (14:51-52)

Is this young man Bartimaeus?  Recent scholarship thinks it is.  Why doesn’t Mark identify him by name?  Because he is no longer a son of the Timaeus philosophy.  And what about the linen cloth?  If Bartimaeus had been a beggar and if he left his cloak on the roadside, it is likely he did not have much to wear, perhaps only a linen cloth to wrap around his body.

Before new converts were baptized the early Church  had them engage in a catechumenal process – a time of teaching where they were taught the essentials of the faith.  Once prepared for baptism, candidates were led to a body of water and stripped of their clothing.  Nothing from a person’s old life was to be carried into the new life of following Christ.  Candidates were thrust under water three times, once in the name of the Father, then of the Son, and finally of the Holy Spirit.  This was not gentle dabbling with a few drops of water.  It was a near drowning that brought a person as close to death as possible in order to emphasize sharing in resurrected life with Christ.  The newly baptized person emerged from the water and was clothed immediately in an all-white linen.  It symbolized the washing of sins and the beginning of a new life in Christ.

Bartimaeus, following Jesus closely throughout the events of Holy Week, learns firsthand what the Christian faith and life is all about.  In Mark’s gospel the young man disappears from the story naked and, we assume goes through his own process of dying even as Jesus is tried and crucified.  On Easter morning a group of woman go to Jesus’ tomb to anoint his body with burial spices.  They are shocked to find the sealed tomb open.  Listen to how Mark tells the story from here:

As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.  But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has been raised; he is not here.  Look, there is the place they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:5-7)

In this account the young man is now wearing a white robe, symbolizing he has entered fully into new life with Jesus.  He is sitting of the right hand of where the body had been laid.  Do you remember last week’s reading where James and John ask to sit at Jesus’ side in glory?  Do you remember how Jesus said it was not for him to grant, but that there was one for whom it was prepared?  Bartimaeus was the last person Jesus healed and last to follow him on the way, but the first person to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection.  He becomes a tangible embodiment of Jesus’ teaching that the last will be first. 

And notice what he says to the women:

  “Look” at the place where they laid him.

  Go to Galilee and there you will “see” him. 

There is a strong visual element to his directions.  It is as if seeing is very important to him, perhaps the final clue that Bartimaeus and this young man are one in the same.

Mark did not weave all of this into his gospel as an intriguing literary exercise.  He wanted to entice his readers to ask key questions of themselves.

If the cloak represents the old life of begging – a life of hopelessness and despair Bartimaeus had to shed – what is it you need to get rid of in your life in order to move into new life with Jesus?  It could be a relationship or a habit or a vice or job.  Whatever it is for you, it is emblematic of all that holds you back and all that holds you down.

And what if Bartimaeus’ cloak represents more than an old way of life?  What if it represents an entire worldview or ideology not oriented around the Gospel as made known through the life and teachings of Jesus?  What will it take for you to see the world in a whole new way?

Today we are told there is no objective truth.  Each of us, we are told, must find our own way.  It is your job to construct a reality that works for you.  Much about modern technology provides us with the tools and resources we need to pursue this task with greater or lesser vigor depending on our interest.  We are even encouraged to pick and choose elements from various worldviews that tickle our fancy. 

Jesus did not come to give people interesting tidbits to add to their stew of ideas and philosophies.  He came to proclaim God’s Good News:

· God created all that is and creation belongs to God.

· Each person is unique and special because each person bears the image of God.  Thus, each one of us is capable of producing incredible beauty.

· And while we have immeasurable value and potential, each one of us is also flawed.  We create brokenness with God, with one another, with creation, and with ourselves.

· This brokenness that flows from our flaws is not the final word.  God’s love is unfathomable, unshakeable, and unbreakable.

· Jesus embodies the depth of God’s love by embracing all who seek God, especially those rejected by others – the lost, the last, and the least.

· Jesus demonstrates the certainty of God’s love by carrying it all the way to the Cross and forgiving those who crucified him.

· By rising from the dead, Jesus assures us that new life is possible for all who turn to him and embrace his way of life.

· All who turn to Jesus are empowered to live as he lived through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

· The Holy Spirit guides us into community with one another and Christ-like compassion for all.

· It is in this community that we engage two practices central to Jesus’ hope for the world: baptism as a way to initiate people into the life and work of Jesus and Eucharist as a way of experiencing Christ’s presence through a community meal.

This is the worldview Bartimaeus grew to embrace after he left his cloak behind.  It is the most beautiful way to “see” the world I know of.  It is a beautiful outlook that beckons each one of us to shed our old cloak and follow Jesus on the way.