We have been journeying to Jerusalem. and we are finding ourselves very close to where we started. Jericho. We had the story of the good Samaritan on the road to Jericho and now Jesus is arriving, coming in from the other direction. It means we’re very close to Jerusalem. Remember, this is a suitcase community for Jerusalem, with homes for the wealthy, and the priests. Jericho is an ancient city, it claims itself to be 13,000 years old. This is a city of historical significance for the Jewish people, it was one of their first big successful battles, opening up Cana to them. It also had many Romans there, keeping an eye on the people they have occupied.
Our reading seems to have 3 stories in it today, stories that don’t usually get told together. First off, this is the third and last time that Jesus foretells his death. it is also the most graphic, the most intense, the most explicit of the versions that Jesus tells them. And the disciples are no less confused. I imagine that they looked at each other and were bewildered and then someone asked a question about where they were going next, who was picking the next song on their playlist, where they might stop and get food later, anything to change the subject.
The other stories are known. The story of the blind man is in more than just this gospel. But they give him a name, they call him Bartimaeus. And one of the ways that we can understand or translate the name Bartimaeus is unclean one, as if leaving him outside the city walls isolated and alone and blind wasn’t enough, he must be given the name the unclean one. Now in the ancient world being blind wasn’t the same as being blind today, no in the ancient world being blind would have been the cause for many problems. It was almost a death sentence. How does one get food, how can one provide, how can one care for a family if they cannot see what is around them. There is a story where someone asked Jesus of a different blind man, who had sinned him or his parents assuming that blindness was some sort of punch Divine punishment. This of course went on for way longer than just the ancient world as there were centuries of people trying to figure out how a person who is blind be useful to society, as if usefulness is the only reason someone might exist.
The blind man is sitting outside the city Gates. It’s where he would sit and wait and hope like Lazarus did last week, for someone to offer him coins or food. It’s where he would go to earn whatever money he could to survive. But being outside the city Gates also meant that he was living outside of the community, outside of the society, outside of where others are. He had been rejected by his community, by his City, and possibly by his family. he just didn’t have a place among them.
My guess is that his time there was often quiet, so it’s not surprising when w asked about the commotion was coming near him as Jesus and his entourage was coming up from the Jordan up to Jericho on his way to Jerusalem while the blind man was sitting in his place outside of the city outside of the gates waiting for compassion. The crowds told him that it was Jesus of Nazareth coming into Jericho and he must have heard of this Jesus because he immediately shouts: Jesus Son of David, have mercy.
Son of David was not with the people in the crowd said to him. that was not the name that they had given Jesus when they spoke to the blind man. Son of David as a political statement, it is a statement of a revolution, it is the statement of rising up, it is a statement of a unified Kingdom that did not exist at the moment when Jesus was coming through town but one that many were hoping and expecting would drive out their oppressors and be established again. It was a statement of a promise. It’s a statement of Hope. It’s a statement of salvation.
The crowds told him to be quiet, for multiple reasons I’m sure starting with: why is this man even bothering talking. He doesn’t have a place in this community and he’s bothering Jesus, who’s a big deal. Also that’s the kind of statement that can get a whole group of people killed, so their be quiet might have been “shh, man, they might hear you. they might come after us!” But the blind man doesn’t stay silent and Jesus doesn’t ask him to. When Jesus asked him what he wanted his answer was simple “I want to see.” Jesus tells him your faith has healed you.
This story is given to us and stands alongside the story of Zacchaeus. And apparently despite the song We sang when we are children about Zacchaeus being a wee little man it’s apparently a little ambiguous in the Greek and we’re not really sure who was so short that’s the key is couldn’t see over the crowds if it was Zacchaeus or Jesus. Zaccheaus was a tax collector who heard from his place inside the city of Jericho that Jesus had arrived and wants desperately to see Jesus, maybe he wants to be a part of what’s happening because he has been completely rejected by the community in Jericho by his people by the people of his community of his City. possibly even his family.
So, Zaccheus is resigned to the most undignified of actions: climbing a tree to try to see over the people who wouldn’t let him join their tight knit circle, their street celebrations, because they knew that a tax collector was not the good guy. The tax collector is going to lie and cheat and be unkind and was a traitor to their Community. they knew it. Either in an all knowing-ness, or because someone pointed to the tax collector in a tree in true mean girl fashion, Jesus knew his name and had some kind of desperate need to show up and be a part of Zacchaeus has life, to be in his home, and to dine with him. And the people grumbled, not unlike the crowds that tried to keep the blind man quiet. There were standards that needed to be kept, there were Sinners and there were those who were unclean who needed to be kept from the place and away from the rest of us.
I know you have been taught or least I have understood that Zaccheus was changed by meeting and dining with Jesus, by hearing what Jesus had to say, Zaccheaus turned his life around, he repented. and one translation of the Bible Zaccheaus says “I will give half of my possessions to the poor and if I have to deceived anyone anything, I will pay back four times as much.” But another translated the Greek into English is translated differently. This one suggests that Zacchaeus said “Lord, I give half of my possessions to the poor and if I have cheated them, I do repay them.” he says it’s not as if this is the thing that I will do that will make me righteous but this is the thing that I do already.
Imagine being part of the crowds and being so convinced you know who this person is. so convinced that you know that he is the bad guy in this story and you’re waiting for Jesus to tell him to sell everything that he has and to give it to the poor, only to find out but his name Zacchaeus mean Righteous and he was righteous all along. and Jesus doesn’t condemn him at all, doesn’t tell him to change his ways, to turn around and to be different. What he says is that salvation has come to this household because Zaccaeus too is a son of Abraham. And he understood that part of the role, part of the expectation, part of what it means to be a child of Abraham is to live in the promise and the expectation of justice, of mercy, of kindness, of caring for the poor, the marginalized.
And so even though his community didn’t seem to care to include him. He participated in the inclusion of others. He gave out of a sense of mercy and justice. which seems to me how Jesus offered healing and kindness to the blind man as well mercy and justice. How often we look to the wealthy and assume negative things. even Jesus told the Rich Young Ruler to sell everything he had and give it to the poor but maybe it wasn’t about percentages. Maybe it was about the intent.
There’s a story I learned while I was in school and seems fitting with our most recent holiday we passed on Wednesday. There was once a man who, while walking in the city, heard a preacher standing on the street corner screaming like they sometimes do. And he heard from the street preacher that what you ought to do if you have a lot of extra wealth and extra money is to do good things with it. The man thought about it, and he decided to start a brewery. So Arthur Guinness started his Brewing company but here’s the thing: it wasn’t just that he started a brewery at a time in history when people needed the extra nutrients from beer that they weren’t getting it other places. What he did was offer more than a living wage to his employees and he offered them housing and 24hr Healthcare and every year they got two weeks of vacation for the employees and their families to the shore because there was an understanding that you needed time off and fresh air. The earliest days of the Guinness Brewing Company were done as an outpouring of his faith, of his generosity resulting from the words that he heard from the Methodist preacher at the time. doesn’t mean he gave everything away, he probably did gain a fortune for his family. But what he also built was an organization of generosity, of compassion, of kindness, of Healthcare, of looking out for each other. It’s not about the amount or the wealth, it’s about what we do with what we have. Does it come from mercy and justice
These two stories are stories of salvation, of healing, and of freedom but I wonder if they’re not the story of Salvation we have been taught.
Jesus enters into these two people’s lives. These two people who could not be more different. I could not be more different on the social Spectrum the blind man sits outside the city. In the end the rich man stands inside the pie man seems to have no home and no ability to earn his own money to acquire his own food and Zacchaeus seems to be lacking nothing. and yet what they share in the same is that they have been completely left out of their society completely left out of their Community completely rejected by those for whom they are meant to be family for they are all children of Abraham they’re all part of the House of Israel. yeah it for different reasons they both are kept at a distance.
It isn’t just that Jesus brought healing to the blind man by giving him his sight he brought healing to everyone who was there. He brought healing to a community. Healing came and salvation wasn’t just for the blind man but everybody won, everyone around the formerly blind man has been brought back into community, brought back together, brought into fellowship.
And that’s how it was for Zacchaeus and the community had been living under the expectation, under the assumption tax collectors were terrible people. Their expectations were that he was a traitor, Zaccheaus lived under their expectations, stereotypes, negative comments and connotations and it kept him separated, left him on the outside, climbing a tree to get a glimpse of salvation walking down the street.
And salvation came to his home, came to Zaccheaus, it isn’t because Zaccheaus is changed, it isn’t because he decided to change his ways because he suddenly became a follower of Jesus. Turns out he was a follower of Jesus all along. What happened was that the community was healed, salvation came to a community. Zaccheaus was brought back into his community, old ways of thinking were torn down, old stereotypes die, and new community and connections are formed, everyone wins.
What does it mean that salvation is not an individual activity but is a community. It is about bringing healing to a community of people. It is about bringing wholeness to each other. It’s about living in a sense of mercy and Justice. It’s about the Beloved Community. Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr. spoke often of the Beloved Community. And for Dr. King the Beloved Community was not just one of racial Equity but one in which all people can share and the economic and the social justice resources of this world. He spoke of the Beloved Community as one that was not a utopian world but one in which we can live in the imagination of goodwill to all people.
And here’s the thing, I think we have from both of these people from the blind man and from Zacchaeus: they both moved and acted and had faith in a community that didn’t yet include them. The blind man had faith that if he asked for Mercy, if he asked to see, that would be given to him. Zaccheaus had faith if he participated in his community with the means that he had in mercy and Justice mercy, that justice and community would exist. For the blind man, it looked like asking for help not as an opportunity to give his peers to give to his community or to give them a chance to help to feel good about themselves, but as an act of faith. He believed so much in the world that the gospel envisioned, that it was possible and that it was coming, that he asked for it. Faith is not an act of certainty, faith is not some intellectual activity that we study. Faith is an act that moves the world closer to the vision of the Gospel, the closer to the Beloved Community, closer to the world that Jesus was trying to present, closer to the kin-dom of God and if we act in faith as if it is already here, is already a reality, is already real-then we are part of what brings kin-dom on earth.
This is the world that Jesus is trying to give to the disciples, trying to reveal to the people that he meets. If we can live as people of the community, if we can live as people of the good news, if we can live as people who welcome The Stranger, welcome The Outsider, include those who we would normally push to the outside and dine at tables with those who are on the edges. if we could put aside our Judgment of what we think people are of what we think they can do, if we don’t value people on arbitrary sense of useful to us or to society, if we can just gather and love and do mercy and kindness and justice, if we can care for one another as if the Beloved Community and the kin-dom of God is already here. if we can share what we have and ask for what we need and Trust, trust each other, trust each other to be the kin-dom, trust each other to be the Beloved Community, Trust each other to be the hands and the feet of Christ in this world, Trust each other work out ways to heal the Brokenness and to be honest about the Brokenness.
Then we can see Christ in each other. We can make reality the kin-dom that Jesus calls us to and the one that we all need. to give what you can, to ask her what you need to trust each other to be the Beloved Community.