While in Mark’s gospel Jesus is not all-knowing, he does have a very clear sense of the path he is walking, the same path he is asking followers to join him on. And the disciples, they love this teacher. He sparks something in them that keeps them moving forward, walking through the forest, even as they have no idea where they’re going. Jesus is pointing out trail markers, letting the disciples know what they can anticipate on the path. Yet whenever Jesus offers a lesson on what it means to follow him on the way, or foretells his suffering, death, and resurrection, the disciples experience it quite differently. It’s a bit like he is telling them, on the trail you’ll pass a rock, and then a bit further down there will be a tree. Jesus and the bird looking down can see it quite clearly, but those consumed with the overwhelming current reality, simply feel a bit lost, and as a result, stumble a lot along the way.
In today’s gospel, Bartimaeus is a bit like the bird who can take in the big picture. Jesus is departing Jericho and making his way to Jerusalem, where in the days ahead he will undergo suffering, death, and resurrection. He is accompanied by his disciples and a large crowd. Along the side of the road, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus sensed Jesus’ presence and began to cry out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”*
This was the first time in Mark’s gospel that anyone referred to Jesus as the Son of David, and it would have stood out to those listening. It tells us that while Bartimaeus lacked physical sight, he knew how to truly see God’s world. This Jesus of Nazareth was the one they had all been waiting for.
While members of the crowd attempted to hush Bartimaeus, it only made him cry out more loudly. Jesus instructed that Bartimaeus should be brought over to him, and when members of the crowd called him forward, Bartimaeus threw off his cloak, his only worldly possession, sprang up, and went to Jesus.
“Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?”*
Bartimaeus answered, “My teacher, let me see again.”*
This entire exchange is in stark contrast with the rich young man, who was unwilling to give up his worldly possessions in order to follow Jesus. The cost of discipleship was too much for him. Yet for Bartimaeus, it was his complete willingness to follow that led Jesus to heal his physical sight. Jesus offered an outward sign of healing, to reflect the inward grace already within Bartimaeus, emphasizing his gift for seeing Gods’ world so clearly. From there, Bartimaeus embraced Jesus' invitation to follow him on the way.
More than a story of healing, this encounter plays with the idea of blindness. While Bartimaeus could not physically see, he had an inward sight. While the disciples could physically see, they often lacked an inward sight. Mark is using the story of Bartimaeus to lift up the lack of awareness and faithlessness that the disciples struggled with at times. The story emphasizes what it really looks like to get up and follow Jesus on the way.
The story also begs of us:
Where are we blind or lacking awareness?
Why are we stuck in the thick of the forest?
How are we called to see more clearly?
What is the birdseye view God might be calling us to embrace?
We began today’s service with a version of the Great Litany crafted for our calling to care for creation. The Great Litany helps us to fully confess, lament, pray and hope as the body of Christ. This particular version of the litany focused on creation reminds us that in order “to love God, we must also love what God loves.” **
One week from today, leaders from around the world will gather for COP26, COP26 stands for the 26th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, an international treaty signed in 1992 by countries recognizing the need to control greenhouse gas emissions, which cause global warming and drive climate change.***. Climate change is an area humanity has struggled to come together and successfully address, as we know it requires individuals, communities, corporations, and governments to sacrifice some of our power, privilege, comfort, and economic gains for the sake of the whole world.
This past August, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report, warning in the strongest terms used to date that human activities have: “...unequivocally warmed the planet, and that climate change is now widespread, rapid and intensifying.”*** The report goes on to explain “...how climate change has been fueling extreme weather events and flooding, severe heat waves and droughts, loss and extinction of species, and the melting of ice sheets and rising of sea levels.”***
Leaders have called this report a “code red for humanity” and referred to COP26 as “the last best hope for the world”.*** & **** One of the primary goals of COP26 is to figure out how we can prevent temperatures from rising by more than 1.5C this century. In order to do this it will require we cut carbon emissions by 45% by the year 2030.****** This is no small task.
Now, let me confess. When I hear leaders urge us to address climate change or read in the news about its devastating and irreversible effects, I feel a hell of a lot like those disciples lost and stumbling in the woods. Those leaders may see a clear path, but I am overwhelmed by it all. And when I’m overwhelmed, do you know what I want to do? I want to turn off all technology, close the blinds, lock the door, hunker down with a blanket and book, and pretend the bad thing isn’t really happening. It's a pretty, healthy and mature response, if I do say so myself.
In these moments, I could not relate more to the disciples in their most challenging moments of following the way of love--James and John jockeying for position, the rich young man walking away, Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial, and Heather’s hiding under the blanket. And I know I’m not alone in these moments of faithlessness. Because so many of us find it simpler to more or less ignore the realities of climate change and the work of advocating for God’s world by loving what God loves.
Don’t get me wrong. We are not complete monsters. We recycle. We compost. We attempt to live into zero waste.
We calculate our carbon footprint; strive to reduce it and lead simpler lives.*****
Yet the actual weight of the world is not on any one of us. This is an area where some corporations want us to remain blind. And of those corporations, the fossil fuel industry is the most greedy and glutenous. There was a report earlier this week that the fossil fuel industry is set to soar in the next decade, which is in direct competition with COP26’s goal of reducing the rise in global temperature.******
So while leaders gather next week to figure out how to reduce the rise in temperature, those in charge in the coal, crude oil, and natural gas fields will continue to use and abuse, at detrimental cost to all forms of life, while lining their own pockets.
So what are we to do?
There are no simple solutions, but here are some ways that I am trying to see the work of caring for God’s creation more clearly, to outgrow my own blindness and follow the way of love.
Many of you are already doing these things. I invite you to see if you can take your efforts even one or two steps further. Those of you who would be more comfortable hiding under a blanket, choose one or two ways you will be intentional in choosing to see more clearly.
Let us pray:
Open the eyes of our hearts, God. We want to see you clearly and follow your ways. Amen.
* Mark 10:46-52
**Illia Delio, Keith Douglass Warner, and Pamela Wood, Care for Creation: A Franciscan Spirituality of the Earth, pg 92.
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