Sunday, 25 October 2015

Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Read Mark 10: 46-52 and Isaiah 43: 1-7.

Like you, I often encounter people who are suffering terribly, seeking a word of comfort or a shoulder to cry on.  There have been black days for me too, when - also like you - I have screamed silently through the miry murk of this tearful vale, when all the kind lights of friendship and faith have seemed too dim, and my own efforts inadequate and without motivation.  Such is life outside of Eden. 

There are few things worse than having no words to succour a heavily burdened soul.  Not being the least bit prescient, but bearing the noblest intentions, those of us without any faith lie, peddling the usual tired platitudes, while those of us with faith tell the truth, saying exactly the same things.  Often our words don't help, because no words can, but the very fact of our trying and, more likely, the simple fact of our presence can at least provide an anchor to one who might otherwise feel in peril of being washed away.  We do well, when we do this.

In facing life's inevitable desperations, some of us might be inclined to turn to the Bible, and this is undoubtedly a most excellent place to turn.  There is great comfort to be had in meditating on passages like the one from Isaiah which you have just read, and the many other places where we read the words, "Do not be afraid!" God is, in fact, uncommonly prescient, and if we can muster up a little faith even in the midst of our most bitter dejection, we find in His promises something solid to hold on to, though the waters may rage all about us.

This consolation is good and true and beautiful, neither to be belittled in times of ease, nor neglected in times of trial, but the Scriptures are not only for people who need consolation.  If we read the words of God only as we listen to the kind words of good Samaritans, there is a danger that we will reduce them to the same mere platitudes that we ourselves save for when we have nothing else to give.  This is a mistake.  The word of God is not so banal, and it is never a last resort!

"Do not be afraid!" does not mean "There is no cause for alarm," or "Things will come right in the end." It is neither a statement of fact nor a horoscope; it is a commandment! Do not be afraid! Your fear, your anxiety, your worries are all lies whispered in your ear by the devil, and you must stand firm, wearing the armour of God's inexorable promises.

Now, of course, there are times when this is impossible.  Like all good things, courage is a free gift from God - one we ought to pray for as often as we pray for anything.  A subtle kind of courage is at least trying to have patience with oneself when one cannot help but be afraid, depressed or anxious.  Heroism of this kind is rarely recognised because it is always quiet and humble, and because people forget that courage is only really courageous when fear really is fearful.  Nevertheless, when we are able, we must make an act of the will to face all that the world throws at us, and even the things that we bring upon ourselves, with a firm sense of our place in the world, our presence to the world and our God-given right to be here!

If you want an example of one who understood this, look no further than heroic Bartimaeus.  He was a man who knew what he wanted, and recognised his chance - probably his only chance - to get it.  One has to wonder why the crowd tried to silence him.  Was it because he was poor and dirty? Because he was interrupting Jesus in the middle of an important lesson? I don't know - and perhaps he didn't either - but in any case he sought something good and bravely ignored the shouts of the crowd and the whispers of the devil trying to prevent him from seeking it.  I am sure that part of him wanted to accept the people's rebuke and give up, eventually to die as poor and as blind as he had lived.  Part of him feared the crowd he couldn't see, worrying what they would think of him, concerned that he was being a nuisance and upsetting people, yet he cried out all the louder, abandoning even the meagre security of his blanket - his only possession - and ultimately caring only for what Jesus thought of him, what Jesus could give him.  In this way, he won no less a prize than the use of light itself.

Because we are all sinful and a bit silly, sometimes when we think we are being courageous we are just being selfish and arrogant, and sometimes when we think we are being diplomatic, open-minded or politically correct we are just being cowardly.  We will get it right only if, like Bartimaeus, we always care what Jesus thinks, and we never care what anybody else thinks.  This certainly does not mean that we must despise everybody else - rather, it means that we must love them only for the right reason: because Jesus loves them.

So do not be afraid! Be bold! Impose your goodness on the world, burn that image and likeness of God which you bear into the retina of history, and be prepared to suffer any consequence for the sake of truth.  It is true that the devil, the flesh and the world are not going to like it, but the devil, the flesh and the world are just going to have to get used to it.

No comments:

Post a Comment