The readings today are so darned hopeful.
In Jeremiah, we hear about how the LORD will deliver his people, bringing them back, the blind and the lame, the mothers and those with child. They departed in tears, but He will bring them back, consoling and guiding them, leading them to brooks of water on a level road. This is a God who rescues, restores, redeems. He makes all things new.
In Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews, we hear about the process by which a priest finds his calling. Taken from among regular men and women, he draws from his own weaknesses and gifts to serve and make offerings for himself as well as the people. There’s an echo of our own priestly calling in this reading, that we are known and chosen to serve in a particular way, that God has a plan for each one of us.
In Mark’s Gospel, we hear the story of Bartimaeus, a blind beggar who cries out for help. People were tired of hearing from him and they told him to be quiet, but “he kept calling out all the more.” When Jesus called him forward, he sprang up, asked for his sight, and it was given to him immediately. Then Bartimaeus followed Jesus on the way. This is a God who listens, a God who heals.
And this active, planning, healing, resurrecting God is one I really need today. Yet, as I heard the readings proclaimed this morning, I had a hard time believing it. So hard, truly, that I teared up right there on the altar. The homily echoed my doubts, evoking that old C.S. Lewis line about prayer:
“I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me.”
I’m a parent, like God is, and I know that the requests and needs of my children affect me deeply, so this unchangeable, distant God scenario is a bitter pill today. On this topic, my soul is full of contradiction: my mind mostly assents to the belief in an unchangeable but good God, even though it makes me so, so sad, but in my heart there is a flicker of a hope for a God who acts in response to our prayers. In fact, the reading from Jeremiah ends with a statement of the parenthood of God. The reason he acts at all, to save and to restore and to bring back, is because he’s a Dad.
In tears they will return, in prayer I shall lead them. I shall guide them to streams of water, by a smooth path where they will not stumble. For I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born son. Jeremiah 31:9
So, which is it? Is God active or passive? Do our intercessory prayers really matter at all? It’s a question that has been debated through the centuries, and actively, in my heart, for the last year or so. And here’s the truth: I’m tired. I pour out and I pour out and I pour out. Most places I go, I enter with a heart for ministry, to find the one who needs some light so I can share what I have. I continue to pray and hold on to trust that it matters, that God is in it, that He’s working for our good. But then I notice with a sinking heart that the reading from Jeremiah concerning our rescue is all future tense. It’s a promise. It’s a not yet. And like I said, I’m pretty tired, but I’m holding on to hope, sometimes by the tips of my fingers.
Jesus’s disciples and the crowd told Bartimaeus to be quiet, to stop asking for what he needed, and I feel the weight of that in my own heart. But I also see the merciful response of Jesus as He calls Bartimaeus forward and gives him exactly what he asked for in real time. This is a God who listens, who responds to our calls, who heals, who restores and redeems. He gives sight to the blind. He makes water where it was dry land. He counts the hairs on our heads and He planned for each of our lives before we were even born. This is a God of hope and of resurrection. This is a God who makes all things new. Jesus, like your friend, Bartimaeus, I want to see. Please, God, let it be so.
When this year began, I prayerfully chose a word for it, ‘See’, and since this week’s gospel is all about that topic, I thought I’d include the piece here. Take a look if you like.