Tag Archives: Jericho

We, too, are blind


Bartimaeus

Lord, we too are blind,
But we don’t want to see again.
We are blind to the pain and the poverty around us;
We are blind to the loneliness of people we meet;
We are blind to the violence and disrespect people suffer,
to the quiet desperation caused by debt, and addiction,
by ill-health and fear.
We have seen too much; there are too many broken people;
Lord, we don’t want to see anymore.
We feel safe in our blindness.


But, Lord, our blindness paralyses us.
Our lives are empty if they are not filled with people.
We lack integrity if we isolate ourselves and remain alone.
“A person is a person through other people.”
Without them we are less than human;
And through other people we come face to face with you.
You come to us, not on the clouds,
But in the poor, and the blind, and the lame.
Our blindness cuts us off from them
And we are cut off from you.


Help us, Lord, to recognise our blindness
To know just how paralysed we are.
Give us the will to see again,
To shout with Bartimaeus:
“Jesus, Son of David, take pity on us.”
“Teacher, Lord, we want to see again.”

Amen

A prayer written  for use with the Bartimaeus story

1 Comment

Filed under Meditation & Prayer

Blind Faith: Bartimaeus’s Story


I want to tell you a story about someone who refused to just send off a shopping-list prayer and ‘hope for the best’.  His prayer was a determined effort to make a difference; in his case a difference to his own life.  And he discovered that, if prayer and healing don’t come out of a relationship with God, they just might lead to one.  (Mark 10:46-52)

BEGINNINGS
Bartimaeus was blind.  He went blind when he was five years old.  But Bartimaeus wasn’t the sort of person to sit back and wait for stuff to happen.  He had a cousin, Samuel, who was paralyzed as a young boy when he fell out of a tree.  Sam had given up on life.  His parents took him to the pool of Bethesda a few years after it happened.  They had tried everything else.  Bethesda is where an angel was said to trouble the water—the first person in the water when the bubbles came was healed, they said.  The problem is that there were just too many people there.  The family worked hard.  For a few years someone would stay with Sam all week and try to get him in the water, but even getting near was a mission.  Eventually Sam gave up and told them not to worry.  He began to make friends and enjoy the company, so his family would take him there at the beginning of the week and fetch him before the Sabbath.  No one expected him ever to walk again, least of all Sam.

BETHESDA
When Bartimaeus was about ten, his family took him along to the Bethesda pool.  Sam had already been there nearly 20 years, but Bart couldn’t stand it.  He couldn’t see the people but he felt the atmosphere.  “Everyone’s sick here,” he said.  “I don’t want to sit around with sick people all day.”

“But you’re also sick,” his Dad said.
“No I’m not!  I just can’t see.”
“Yes,” said his Mom.  “But here you can get better and then you’ll be able to see again.”
“But Sam isn’t better,” Bart said, “And he’s been here forever.”  Well no one could deny that, so Bart stayed at home.

GROWING UP
Bart made friends pretty easily and he played with the boys in the village.  But once he was old enough to start working, no one would have him.  His old friends were trying to find work themselves and saw Bart as a liability.  Bart’s family didn’t have much, and when his father died, his brother had to look after their Mom.  He would have helped Bart too, but there wasn’t very much to go around, so Bart decided to look after himself.  His Mom worried about him.  She said he should go back to the pool of Bethesda.  “At least you can get a bit of food there and, who knows, maybe you’ll be lucky and get healed.”

“I’ll be alright, Mom,” he said.  “A couple of friends of mine have got a plan.  We’ll be fine.”

He didn’t tell his mom that his friends were also blind and that the “plan” was to beg.  And for the next 15 years or so, that’s what he did.

“And what’s wrong with that?” he said to his brother a few years later.  “You’re stuck here trying to make ends meet, and me?  I’ve seen the whole country.”
“Anyway, I’m owed something,” he went on.  “There are plenty of fat cats who’ve got more than enough and to spare.  It’s their duty to give to the poor; especially if the poor happen to be blind as well.”

A lot of that was bravado, of course.  What he said was true enough, but Bart wanted to see; he wanted to see more than anything else.  But he wasn’t going to sit around a pool moping about what he didn’t have.  He was going to make the best of what he did have. 

JERICHO
“Jericho!” he once said to his brother.  “Jericho.  That’s where the money is.  Everyone comes to Jerusalem for the big festivals, and they are usually very generous to people like me.  It’s part guilty conscience; they want to make up for all the bad stuff they’ve done before they go to the Temple; and it’s part showing off how good they are.   Whatever!  It works for me.  But in Jerusalem there’re just too many people and you don’t get enough exposure.  But Jericho?  It’s perfect.  Before Jericho everybody’s busy focusing on the journey.  Beggars are just a nuisance.   But once they’ve reached Jericho and had a rest there, the focus is on Jerusalem.  It’s the last stretch, and they start to think about what they are going to do, and that’s where I come in.  I’m part of their preparation.  I’m the opportunity to start putting things right and fixing the wrongs of the world.”

“And after the festival?  When everyone’s going home?  What then?” his brother asked him.

“Well, some people still have money left they are willing to part with, especially if they’ve had a good time.  ‘A good festival, was it?’ I ask with a bit of pain in my voice.  Then they feel sorry for you, and a bit guilty that they can travel to the festival and you can’t.  But you don’t get as much as when people are going to the festival.”

SAM
Then came the day his cousin Sam was healed.  The one at the pool of Bethesda.  Thirty eight years he’d been at that pool—every single week.  He’d given up being healed long before.  Every now and again someone would offer to help him into the water but he’d wave them away.  “Oh, don’t worry about me,” he’d say.  “Help old Joseph over there rather.  He’s far worse off than I am.”  His family wondered if he’d know what to do if he got his legs back.

Then one day he walked into the village.  Yes, walked!

Thirty eight years.  He was 12 when his family first took him; now he was an old man of 50.  After everyone got over the shock of seeing Sam on his feet, he told them what happened.  Jesus, the preacher from Nazareth everyone was talking about, had walked in among the sick around the pool.  He hadn’t made a fuss.  No one seemed to recognise him. 

“I didn’t know who he was,” Sam said, “but he stopped and crouched down next to me.  He looked at me—probably a few seconds, but it seemed like eternity.  Then he said, ‘Do you want to get well?’  I mean, what a stupid question; but somehow it wasn’t.  He seemed to be looking deep inside me and asking about things far more profound than my wasted limbs.  I wanted to say, ‘Of course I do!’ but I wasn’t so sure anymore; so I told him how the water thing worked and how difficult it was to get in.  Then he said, ‘Get up, pick up your mat, and walk.’ ”

“What?” everyone blurted out at once.  “Just like that?  After 38 years, just ‘get up and walk’?”

CHOICE
“It’s crazy, I know,” Sam said.  “But for the first time in 38 years I stopped and looked at myself.  I’ve always waited for other people to help me and I’d given up on any sort of useful life.  I guess I’d become comfortable with the impossibilities.  Now suddenly I was confronted with a possibility; and here was a man saying to me, ‘It’s up to you.’  It’s the first time anyone has said that to me.  Nothing has been up to me; everything depended on other people.  And in those few seconds I saw everyone who had ever helped me and worked so hard for me.  People whose help I’d taken for granted, and probably abused.  You folk!  And I thought, ‘Yes!  I do want to get well.’  And as I began to move, I felt such unbelievable pain in my legs as they started to come to life again.  It lasted about a minute but by then I was on my feet.  I was gobsmacked, and by the time I had enough sense to thank the man he was gone.  Of course I got into trouble because I was carrying my mat on the Sabbath.  I tried to tell them that I wasn’t really working; it was just part of the healing process.  They didn’t believe me; wanted to know who had done it.  Well, it was only later that I saw Jesus in the Temple and realised it who he was.”

BART
When Bart heard about Sam’s healing, he was determined he would see again.  “Jesus is going to heal me,” he kept saying.  Sam tried to play it down a bit.  “There were hundreds of people at the pool.  Jesus only seems to have healed me that day.  I don’t know why.  How do you know he’s going to heal you too?”

“He’s healed blind people too.  I’ve heard,” Bart said.  “If I just get close enough to him; if I can just look him in the eye.  Well, ok, if he just looks me in the eye, I know I’ll see again.  Then I’ll be free.  Then I can do what I want, go where I like.  I won’t ever have to follow anyone around again.  I’ll find my own way.”  There was no persuading him otherwise.

“Next month is Passover,” Bart said.  “Jesus is sure to go to Jerusalem and he’s bound to pass through Jericho; and I’m going to be there.”

JESUS
Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.  When Bart heard that Jesus was in the crowd passing his spot, he shouted as loud as he could.  “Jesus! Son of David, take pity on me.”

People on the fringes of the crowd were trying to hear what Jesus was saying as he walked along, so they tried to shut Bart up.  But he was having none of it.  He was determined to see again. 

“Jesus! Son of David, take pity on me,” he shouted even more loudly.

Jesus stopped and told his friends to call Bart.  Bart jumped up, dropped his coat with his day’s takings in it and ran, stumbling to Jesus.

And you know, Jesus asked Bart virtually the same question he’d asked Sam: “What do you want me to do for you?”

Well there was no hesitation from Bart.  He’d been waiting for this all his life.

“Teacher, I want to see again,” he told Jesus.

“Go,” Jesus told him.  “Your faith has made you well.”  Just like that.   No drums, no fanfare.  And Bart could see.

He was ecstatic.  He wanted to run the 30 miles back home to tell everyone.  He was free.  For the first time in his life, he was free.  He stood blinking in the light for a bit; then he looked long and hard at Jesus, who had already started on his journey to Jerusalem, and Bart made up his mind.  He followed Jesus on the way. 

A story told at Prestbury Methodist Church on 11 September 2011
For Sam’s story, see John 5:1-15

9 Comments

Filed under Bible, Sermons, Stories

A tax audit, Jericho style


Zachaeus΄s sycarome in Jericho

Zachaeus΄s sycarome in Jericho (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I told this story at Prestbury Methodist Church on Sunday 31 October 2010

ZACCHAEUS
Zacchaeus killed my father. Every time we saw him in the street or walked past his house Mom would stiffen; Sam & I would just grit our teeth and look the other way. Mind you, no one liked him. He was Jericho’s tax collector. Like so many, power and greed went to his head and he took what he wanted, whatever the cost to anyone else. His job was to collect taxes for Rome. Whatever extra he could squeeze out of the rest of us, he got to keep. He wouldn’t rob the rich, mind you; wouldn’t do to rock the boat too much; the world is a rich man’s club after all. But the poor? What do we know? What power do we have? None at all.

Well, if everyone hated Zacchaeus, we hated him more. Zacchaeus killed my father. Oh, not directly, of course. He wouldn’t get his hands dirty. But he killed him just the same. That was ten years ago, and we still hated him with a passion. But, of course, every year when we had to pay our taxes it was, “Yes, Sir. No Sir. How much should we pay, Sir?” with stupid grins on our faces. But what else could we do? Show any sign of dissent and he’d find a reason to take another 10%.

MY FATHER
My father had a small business in Jericho. It wasn’t much, but it kept us fed and clothed. One day some men came with some Roman soldiers and took my Dad away. My mother screamed at them. Just as well Uncle John was there. He held Mom back and stopped her doing anything violent to the men. I knew Mom could get angry; she’d been angry with Sam and me often enough, but this was wild. The men searched the house and took stuff away with them—even Mom’s special Passover pots.

“It won’t cover what he owes,” one of the men said.

My Brother Sam (he’s three years older than me) tried to stop them but the man pushed him out of the way.  “That’ll teach your father to steal,” he said.

“My father didn’t steal anything,” Sam spat back.

I didn’t know what was going on. I was only 13 and I was so scared; but I didn’t dare ask Mom, so I asked Sam.

“Dad didn’t steal anything,” he said. “Those dogs cheated him.”

“But what were they talking about? How come they took him away?” I wanted desperately to understand.

Sam told me that some men had persuaded Dad to do business with them. “Help them out,” they said. They gave him some money; he was to buy some donkeys or camels or something. Mom was furious when she heard, but Dad said it was ok, there was nothing wrong.

“Then that thief heard that Dad had money,” Sam said.

“What thief?” I asked.

“The tax collector, Zacchaeus, of course. Dad tried to tell him that it wasn’t his money but he wasn’t interested. I mean, have you ever tried to reason with a tax collector? He made Dad pay tax on it and forced him to pay more because he said Dad had obviously been hiding extra income.

“The men who’d given it to Dad weren’t anywhere around. But they came back last week and they demanded their money. Dad tried to explain, tried to take them to Zacchaeus, but they weren’t interested. And Zacchaeus wasn’t interested; he had his money. Now they’ve thrown Dad into prison until he pays up.”

It was a huge shock for us all. Mom struggled to keep everything together. Uncle John and Aunty Martha helped, but they couldn’t pay off the debt. Worst of all was the shame—especially for Dad. He couldn’t take being branded a thief. They wouldn’t let us visit him. Eventually he just stopped eating and he died of shame. That was about four months after they took him away. I cried and cried. Mom just seemed to turn in on herself.

As I said, that was ten years ago. The men who started it have long gone but Zacchaeus is still here. He must have known. And I hated him because he didn’t care. My family was destroyed in front of him but, instead of admitting his mistake, he turned his back. He killed my father.

JESUS

Sorry, I didn’t want to tell you about all that. I wanted to tell you about Jesus. Like most Jews, well among the poorer classes anyway, we longed for the Messiah. The rich said all the right things of course, but they wouldn’t want a Messiah to come and free us from the Romans. People like Zacchaeus, and even the Priests, depended on Rome for a living and for their power.

But we prayed often, and longed for the day that God would rescue his people. Then Jesus came. He wasn’t like any of the others who had raised our hopes, and nothing like we imagined. He never said anything about the Romans; just got angry with the Priests and Pharisees. But it wasn’t about who he was against. That’s what was so different. It was about what he was for. He really cared. He cared about the sick, about the poor, about sinners, about ordinary people. He seemed genuinely to love them all. He never recruited a following; people just followed him. He never tried to raise money.

We first met him when John was baptising in the Jordon about three years ago—“John the Baptist” they called him. We were there when Jesus came to be baptised. John was clearly in awe of Jesus, and for John to be in awe of someone; well, he didn’t care a fig for King Herod even, and he called the Pharisees, “Snakes”!

Later we were up in Galilee and saw Jesus a few times. Then he came to Jerusalem for one of the festivals and we heard him there. Sam went up to Galilee and spent the whole summer there last year. He went around with the crowd that followed Jesus. He came back full of amazing stories.

Jesus was so different from the religious leaders. And, although he was also different from what we expected the Messiah to be like, he made such sense. He spoke with such authority. He didn’t go for an outward show of religion but spoke of a real relationship with God.

FRIEND OF SINNERS

“He’s a true friend of sinners,” Sam said once.

“Friend of sinners?” my Mother queried.

“Yes,” Sam said. “Friend of sinners. He doesn’t mind who he mixes with: the poorest of the poor, lepers, even Samaritans.”

“Friend of sinners,” I thought.

“Is he going to get rid of the Romans?” Uncle John asked.

“I don’t think so,” Sam said. “He keeps talking about the Kingdom of God, but not like it’s a rival to Rome. It’s like a relationship. It’s like we’re all in God’s Kingdom together. Not fighting each other, not pointing fingers, just forgiving and accepting each other.

“They brought a woman to him once,” Sam continued. “She’d been caught in adultery.”

“What about the man?” I asked.

I don’t know,” Sam said. “It wasn’t really about them; it was about catching Jesus out. Anyway they said that, according to our law, she should be stoned to death.”

“What did Jesus say?” I asked.

“He said that the one who was without sin should cast the first stone.”

“What did they say to that?” Uncle John chuckled.

“Nothing!” said Sam. “They just crept away.” 

“And then?”

“Then Jesus asked the woman whether there was anyone to condemn her, and there was no one. So he said, ‘I don’t condemn you either. Go and sin no more.’ ”

I look at Sam, amazed. “Friend of sinners,” I said.

JESUS IN JERICHO

When we heard that Jesus was coming through Jericho on his way to the Passover, we went to meet him. The whole town seemed to be there. We even saw Zacchaeus. He was trying to get through the crowd.

“Always pushing in,” I thought. I must confess that I was glad to see no one let him through. Why he was there I couldn’t imagine. Then Jesus arrived and everyone was so excited to see him.

Suddenly Jesus stopped just under the sycamore fig tree near where we were standing; the one by the Synagogue. He was looking up into the tree. I looked and couldn’t believe my eyes.

“It’s Zacchaeus.” My mother hissed in my ear.

He was up the tree. Why was he so desperate to see Jesus? Was he going to tax him for passing through?

The crowd stopped. For a few seconds there was silence; you could feel the tension in the air. One word from Jesus and I think the crowd would have gone wild and torn Zacchaeus down and trampled him underfoot. I’m pretty sure the years of pent-up hatred would have overcome the fear, and Zacchaeus wouldn’t have survived.

After what seemed like ages, but was only a second or two, Jesus greeted Zacchaeus like an old friend.

“Zacchaeus,” Jesus said. “Come down. I’ve come to visit you. Let’s go to your house.”

We were stunned. Did we hear him right? Did Jesus really just invite himself to the home of the most hated man in all Jericho? What was he thinking? Of all the people…..?

We were too shocked to talk and we walked home in silence.

“How could Jesus do that?” I later demanded of Sam, as if it were Sam’s fault. “There are so many good people here; people who’d love to see Jesus. There was so much excitement. Why did he throw it all away?”

Sam thought for a while. “They call him ‘friend of sinners’, you remember?” he said.

“But…” I tried to protest but the words wouldn’t come.

“If he’s going to befriend the adulterer, the Samaritan, us, then I guess he’s could even befriend Zacchaeus,” Sam suggested.

“But do you think he knows who that…man is and what he’s done.”

“Oh, yes,” said Sam. “I reckon Jesus knows a whole lot more than you think.”

“Well then,” I said. “It’s all very well befriending ordinary sinners like us, or that woman caught in adultery, but…but…him! There’s got to be a limit somewhere.”

“Maybe Jesus thinks there’s hope even for Zacchaeus?”Sam tried.

“Oh, please! He’s so hard-hearted nothing will make a difference to him. Not even when he dangles over the fires of hell.”

I went to bed angry. I woke the next morning realising we had expected too much from Jesus. Not the Messiah after all; just an ordinary man overwhelmed by the temptations of power and wealth.

“Oh how sad,” I thought.

We had just finished breakfast when there was a knock at the door.

ZACCHAEUS

It was Zacchaeus!

“He saw us in the crowd.” I panicked. “He must have seen the hatred in our eyes or something. Now he’s come to punish us.”

In spite of my fear I heard myself saying, “What do you want?”

“I…I’m sorry to disturb you,” he said. “…I know I’m not welcome here, but…I’d like to talk to you all please.”

“Why?” I asked, still shocked.

Sam joined me at the door. Mercifully my mother had gone to Aunty Martha’s.

“I saw you yesterday with Jesus when I was up the tree,” Zacchaeus said. “I guess I must have looked a bit stupid.”

I didn’t trust myself to reply to that.

Something in Zacchaeus’ voice made Sam invite him inside; he was carrying a satchel. We sat down very uncomfortably.

“I don’t know why I so badly wanted to see Jesus yesterday,” Zacchaeus said. “But I just had to. Did you follow the crowd to my house?”

“No,” Sam said. “We came home.”

I thought, “Well, at least he can’t blame us for anything that happened there.”

“Jesus came to my house,” Zacchaeus said. “And he sat down with us to eat the mid-day meal. He picked up the bread my wife had baked for us and he broke it. Then he looked at me…and passed me the broken piece.”

I was expecting pride in his voice but was shocked to see tears in Zacchaeus’ eyes as he recalled the scene.

“As I took the bread I thought of all the people whose lives I had broken, and how their brokenness had fed me, clothed me, and made me rich. And right there in front of Jesus, I did what I haven’t done in 40 years; I broke down and cried.

“I looked at Jesus and told him I wanted to heal some of that brokenness. I don’t have any great talents but I could use the one thing I do have, my money. I told Jesus I’d give half of it away then use the rest to repay those I’d particularly harmed.”

He looked up at Sam and me and he said, “And when I thought about those I’d hurt, I thought about you. I can’t hope to fix the hurt I’ve caused, and I can’t bring your father back. But I have been to the Rabbi to clear his name at the Synagogue; they know your father wasn’t a thief. And I have begun investigations to find the men who loaned him the money that started all this. While it was almost certainly stolen money they wanted to avoid taxes on, I shall pay them back what they gave your father when I find them.”

Zacchaeus got up to go.

“And I want to leave you this,” he said, handing Sam the satchel; it was clearly very heavy. “There is a formal letter there confirming that the contents have been fully taxed. I am sorry I can’t do more. Perhaps, one day, we will meet…not as friends, perhaps, but as friends of Jesus, who certainly seems to have a way with sinners.”

With that he left.

We sat in silence for a while, then I heard Sam whisper, “Friend of sinners.”

Prayer

Lord, we have turned our backs on some of your friends. We have shunned some and ignored others because their sins are too great for us, their pain too much for us, their burdens too heavy for us.

 Oh Jesus, friend of sinners, thank you for carrying our burdens, sharing our pain, and dying for our sins. Show us how to love your friends, to open our hearts to them, to welcome them into our circles, so that your Kingdom may come in our time, in this place.

Amen.

Year C – 23th Sunday after Pentecost

SCRIPTURE:
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12; Luke 19:1-10

1 Comment

Filed under Sermons, Stories