Hope, Restoration and Responsibility

 22 Pentecost B 2015       

 October 25, 2015

 In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Here’s are some big themes I see in these readings today:  hope, restoration, and responsibility.  Let’s concentrate on our gospel and our psalm as we reflect.

Our gospel gives us the story of Jesus’ encounter with the blind beggar named Bar-timaeus outside the walls of Jericho.  Jesus and his disciples visited the town for a while, but we don’t hear anything in this gospel about what happened in Jericho, that city that is the lowest in elevation of any city in the world.  (It’s actually well below sea level!)

So Jesus leaves town and on the way out, he and his entourage run into Bar-timaeus.  This beggar shouts several times—“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 

He doesn’t give up, and he doesn’t listen to the disciples who are trying to shut him up.

Maybe Jesus is his last hope.  And Bar-timaeus is cashing in every bit of hope he has for a restoration of his sight.  So as he flings off his cloak and runs up to Jesus, he throws all his hope on him.

Jesus asks Bar-timaeus the same thing he asked James and John in last week’s gospel story, “What do you want me to do for you?”  And Bar-timaeus answers, “My teacher, let me see again.” 

He’s asking for a restoration of his sight.  Apparently he did see at one point, and then went blind.  He wants to be restored to his former self.  He wants to see again. 

Have you ever been in a place in your life when it seemed you had no hope left—and all you could do was to throw yourself onto God’s mercy, like Bar-timaeus did?  I think many of us have been there.  So Bar-timaeus is our patron saint, in a way.

Now, our psalm today talks about restoration in a very big way.  Actually it’s talking about new life coming back after hope has gone.  The end of the psalm is a plaintive cry to God to restore the fortunes of Israel, like the watercourses of the Negev. I know I’ve talked about the Negev before, but indulge me one more time.  It’s a desert region, and it takes up a huge amount of the territory south of Jerusalem and westward to the Dead Sea.  I was there 4 years ago on sabbatical.  We drove over a dry, hot, dusty plateau.  The land was gently rolling and everywhere it was a golden brown.  Every now and then the landscape would be broken by a big gully incised into the plateau.  And we all know that gullies are made when rainwater drains an area.   Those gullies held the only moisture, and hence the only greenery in the desert.

Apparently in the rainy season, which is winter in Israel, the rain washes down the gullies and floods the plains below.  In Jesus’ day those plains would be planted in the dry season, then after the rains the seeds would sprout.  Hence the last verses from the psalm,

Those who sowed with tears

        will reap with songs of joy.

Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed,

        will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

                        [Ps 126:6-7]

It’s a deep metaphor for all those times in our lives when we had lost hope—and then when our hope had been restored.  Like the watercourses of the Negev, we finally knew what it was to be restored, and it was as refreshing as cool water running over a sere landscape.

 *  *  *

 The last big idea I want to mention today is responsibility.  Bar-timaeus was healed and his sight restored because of his faith.  And what did he do next?  He did the responsible thing.  He followed Jesus on the way.

The same applies to us.  We receive grace upon grace from him who loves us.  We are healed daily, actually.  If you stop and think of it, we are healed in some way every day.  And what’s our response?

If you’re like me, usually your response to grace may not be much of a response.  If you’re like me, you’re probably too preoccupied to notice the healing.  But with healing comes responsibility.  We’re responsible for following Jesus on the way, for taking the good news further along, for putting into action what we’ve learned and received, so that others may see and may grow. 

When our eyes are opened, we have a responsibility to give back.  Sometimes it’s easier to remain blind than to have eyes opened to what needs to be done…so be careful what you ask for.

*  *  *

In a few minutes on this Creativity Sunday we’ll see the cardboard testimonies of 10 of our parishioners.  I’m not going to explain what that will be—you’ll see soon enough.  Each parishioner is a woman this time, since we already heard from two of our men in their spoken testimonies.  Each person today gives witness to how she has been healed in some way.  How her hope has been restored.  How she is now following him on the way. 

In this Stewardship time, as we consider giving back to the parish in thanksgiving for all kinds of hope and restoration, may we not lose sight that it’s God who does this work within us.  It’s God’s amazing grace that holds us and restores us. 

So--what’s our response to God’s restoring grace? 

May it be that we take more and more responsibility—each of us—to follow him on the Way.  To give our time and our talent.  And, yes, may we stretch to shower our monetary donations on the work of the parish, so that we may continue to touch lots of other people, and to change lives together.