May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
I don’t know about you, but I am appalled by the news of churches burning in St. Louis. Six black churches in a week and mainstream media has barely picked up the story! Why is it that when an oppressed people cries for justice the response is often more violence? I thought that the murders that took place at Mother Emanuel last spring were as bad as it would get; I was wrong. The fact that police officers around the country are still murdering people of color and getting away with it is worse. The fact that churches are burning and no one is paying attention is worse. The fact that I live in a city that has had eight fatal shootings in the last week is worse. These things are horrifying because the cry for justice has been met with an increase in the on-going violence.
Of course, this isn’t new human behavior. Look at the story of Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus had apparently lost his sight previous to our encounter with him. As a blind man he had heard of Jesus and his ability to heal. So when Jesus is traveling near, Bartimaeus shouts from the crowd, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” The crowd is none too thrilled. They try to silence him because he is both unclean and making a political statement even as he asks for mercy. It’s a risky thing to declare Jesus as the true king in a public place where tensions are already running high. Bartimaeus doesn’t want to be silenced; he wants mercy.
What follows is rather remarkable. Jesus ignores the crowds and calls Bartimaeus to him. He makes no assumptions about what Bartimaeus might want, but asks him directly. Bartimaeus is clear what mercy is for him; he wants his sight restored. Jesus restores Bartimaeus vision and tells him to go on his way. Bartimaeus doesn’t leave. Instead, he becomes a follower.
The church could learn a lesson or two from this brief encounter between Jesus and Bartimaeus. Jesus did not ignore the cry for mercy even though it carried political risk. In fact, I suspect that Jesus responded as he did because it was politically risky. Jesus was demonstrating to the crowd that they had a choice about authority and who handed out justice. He also clearly demonstrated that offering mercy is an effective way to gather people in.
Churches tend to complain about losing numbers. Yet, we also tend to be pretty good at ignoring and shushing calls for mercy and justice. It is politically safer to stay quietly aligned with tradition than it is to ask that those crying out for justice come to us and answer what it is that we might do for them. In other words, why do we sit back and watch the violence caused by the systemic racism in this country instead of asking what is needed from us? Jesus asked Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus didn’t define what mercy or justice looked like for Bartimaeus. So we as the church, the Body of Christ, should not be defining justice and mercy for those who are crying out for them; we should be listening carefully to what is already being asked of us. Why are we not listening to groups like Black Lives Matter and responding to the cries for justice with mercy rather than the violence aimed at silencing them? And what might happen in our churches if we started listening better and responding accordingly?
Perhaps it is time that the church ask for Jesus, son of David, to have mercy on us and restore our sight…
There have been enough seeds sown with tears. Isn’t it time for reaping with shouts of joy? What better way to honor Reformation Sunday than to take the risk of responding to cries for justice with more than silence that permits violence…
RCL – Year B – Reformation Sunday – 22nd Sunday after Pentecost – October 25, 2015
Job 42:1-6, 10-17 Photos from Pixabay. Used by permission.
Psalm 34:1-8 [19-22]