The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson, Precentor

Job 42:1-6,10, Mark 10:46-52

In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus says to a blind man who has cried out twice, fighting his way through the disciples’ disapproval, to get to him.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Says the one who is the image of God, giving to that blind man such integrity that he might name for himself his healing.

In this, possibly my favourite of the healing stories, some fascinating things happen. Firstly, Bartimaeus cries out, and, when he is told by the disciples not to bother Jesus, he continues to cry out. In the scriptures there are several key themes – God themes. And one of these is the theme of exodus. In a sense every healing is an exodus story. Bartimaeus comes to Jesus enslaved by his blindness. In the story of the Exodus, God freed the people of Israel who were in slavery in Egypt. And God acted to free God’s people in response to their cry. The Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann says that “It is of great importance that the initial impetus for the exodus confrontation was not from [God] but from the slaves who groan and cry out … It is Israel’s cry that evokes [God].”[1]In every story of Jesus’ healing we find a cry. It may be the cry of the one who is in need of healing, as in the case of Blind Bartimaeus; it may be the cry or the prayer of one who loves them. Every healing is in response to a cry. Somehow what God needs to heal is an expression of the truth. The truth of the pain of the illness whatever it may be, for Bartimaeus the truth of the pain of blindness and the diminished life that this blindness gives.

The next aspect of the story of the healing of Blind Bartimaeus is the strangeness of Jesus’ response. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus says to the man born blind. This seems an extraordinary question. Jesus, who has deep insight into the needs of those with whom he keeps company, surely knows what this man needs. What integrity Jesus gives this blind man when he asks him to name what it is he longs for. Not only is his pain voiced but his heart’s desire. Everything comes from within the blind man. Jesus’ presence just helps him to speak the truth. And so Jesus names the source of the healing as the man’s own faith. “Your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. The statement of the man being made well happens before he gains his sight. It is as if the wellness is in the cry of the pain of blindness and the voicing of the desire for sight. For Jesus that is what it is to be well. The regaining of sight comes after.

Blind Bartimaeus trusted Jesus. And Jesus had compassion on him. Rowan Williams in the book we have been studying in the Monday Study group, Meeting God in Mark, describes the healing found in Jesus’ presence in this way:

“Trust heals people …Jesus’ healings are always bound into a relation between him and the person to be healed. …Out of [the] meeting of trust and compassion comes the miracle.”[2]

Only a miracle doesn’t always come does it? People aren’t always healed are they? We pray and pray for the ones we love, for ourselves, and sometimes the healing we long for doesn’t seem to come. We find ourselves struggling with a debilitating disease, sometimes someone we love dearly dies. And sometimes injury, or even death, strike unexpectedly and we didn’t even know we needed to pray, to struggle to trust, to keep our loved ones safe. Was Jesus out of compassion that day? Wasn’t our faith enough?

Job is another character in the scriptures who cries out to God. Job, whose story we conclude this week in our Old Testament reading, finds himself in a place of awful suffering, covered in sores, sitting on an ash heap. His friends sit with him for a little while but then their compassion runs out. His friends point out that Job must have committed some sin for which his suffering is the punishment. The friends who kept company with Job for a time, desert him.

And so Job cries out to God. Job bewails the absence of God in his suffering. God has deserted Job – ‘if I go forward, he is not there,’ Job cries, ‘or backward, I cannot perceive him…’ (23:8) Job begs God for vindication, for the opportunity to ‘lay [his] case before him.’ (23:4) Finally, Job cries out, ‘let the Almighty answer me!’ (31:35)

Again we see a key character in the scriptures cry out to God.

In the final chapters of the Book of Job, God answers Job. God answers Job ‘out of a whirlwind.’ (38:1) God does not explain anything. God does not even engage with Job’s questions. Instead God bombards Job with question upon question, encounter upon encounter, leading Job to contemplate the mystery of creation. ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements – surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy.’ (38:4-7)

When God is finally silent, Job replies, in the reading we have heard this morning, “I know that you can do all things and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted …Hear and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me. I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself in dust and ashes.’ (42:2,4-6)

What God gives Job is not an explanation but an encounter. The suffering of the innocent Job is not made comprehensible in any of God and Job’s wrestling but God gives God’s presence. As Job gave Job’s own. Like Blind Bartimaeus in his encounter with Jesus, Job poured out his truth to God and God honoured that outpouring. In the midst of suffering we see the relationship between Creator and the created one thriving. In the midst of acute suffering, Job experienced an encounter with God which transformed his relationship with God and transformed his life. “There in the wilderness of shame, Job finds himself in worthy company after all.”[3] ‘I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.’ Says Job.

We so long to be made well, when we are ill. We so long for our loved ones to be made well. The scholar John Pilch has made a study of the cultural significance of Jesus’ healings in his book Healing in the New Testament.[4] He makes the key point that healing in our culture is about restoration to functioning whilst healing in Jesus’ time and place was about restoration to community. We long to be able to continue to do the things we do, to make the contribution we make. We long to be able to continue to function. And one of the key reasons for that is that we think our worth is found there. In Jesus’ time a person’s worth was found in their identity as members of a family, members of a religious community. Sickness often caused a person to be cast out from a community. Healing restored them to their place of belonging.

In both the story of Job and the story of Blind Bartimaeus, we see the one who is suffering cry out to God. Bring their struggle and their longing for healing in prayer to God. And God hears, and God has compassion, and the God who made us and longs us to live, gathers us in. And this may not be the healing we ask for. It may not look like what we imagined. But we will find ourselves encountered by and enfolded in the love of the one who will hold us even in death.

[1] Walter Brueggemann An Introduction to the Old Testament Westminster John Knox Press, 2003, p 57.

[2] Rowan Williams Meeting God in Mark pp35-6.

[3] See William P. Brown ‘Introducing Job. A Journey of Transformation’ Interpretation 53 (1999), p233.

[4] John J. Pilch Healing in the New Testament: Insights from Medical and Mediterranean Anthropology Fortress Press, 2000.