Reading Ramblings – September 28, 2014

Date:  Narrative Preaching #13—Naaman the Syrian: September 28, 2014

Texts: 2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; Mark 10:46-52

Context: Last week’s consideration of Job forced us to look at the fuller implications of the sovereignty of God.  However the God who may decree suffering is also the God who has promised the fullness of healing in the day of our Lord’s return.  Additionally, He continues to grant healing here and now.  Are we afraid to ask for healing?  Often we fear to ask because we fear that God will not receive our request, or will answer in the negative.  Through Jesus Christ we are invited to come before God honestly, seeking healing and not being afraid to name this as our request, even as we fully confess the sovereignty of God.

2 Kings 5:1-14 — A challenging story on many levels, despite how often it probably appears in Sunday School lessons.  Here an enemy of God’s people has the gall to seek healing from the people he attacks!  While the lesson of the slave girl who faithfully testifies to the power of God in Elisha, it remains challenging that someone who is an enemy to God’s people is shown favor.  He receives healing, when there were no doubt many suffering people of God who did not receive such healing.

It is hard for us to imagine that God might take mercy on an enemy of God’s people.  It might seem foolish or even scandalous that the slave girl could hope for her owner’s cure.  We presume that the enemies of God’s people deserve only punishment.  There will be a day and a time when that is true.  But until that day and time, we seek God’s work in the lives of our enemies.  We should pray that they are led from the error of their ways to receive the Truth by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We should rejoice when God works in their lives because they are creatures of God as well.

Psalm 30  — The psalmist begins in praise of what God has done for him.  Remembering that the psalms are designed to be sung/recited communally, the exact circumstances of deliverance are somewhat vague and even varied, ranging from rescue from enemies to healing from sickness or disease.  The result is that God should be praised—while we can and will and do suffer, this is not our permanent lot or fate.  Verses 6-7 are a reminder that we do not stand or fall on our own, but in conjunction with God’s will.  Verses 8-10 are a frank pleading with God for restoration here and now.  How will the singer praise God in death?  How will he be a witness to God’s goodness if he is removed from life?  The psalm concludes with praise—praise in advance of God’s response to the plea of vs. 8-10.  In all things God is to be praised, and his goodness attested.

Mark 10:46-52— Uncharacteristically, Mark provides us with the name of this beggar as well as the name of his father.  Many scholars presume that this is because either Bartimaeus or his father Timaeus or both were well known in the Christian community as Mark is composing his Gospel.  Regardless, Bartimaeus clearly has heard of Jesus and what He has done for other people.  When he hears from the passing crowd that Jesus is here, he begins calling out to Jesus.

His address is curious—he is the only one in Mark’s Gospel to address Jesus with this title.  Scholars debate how likely it would be that Jesus’ Davidic lineage would be known, though it seems sure enough through other literary sources and archaeology that the house of David still existed, though in a much lowlier estate than in centuries past.  There is nothing to say that those who had investigated the background of Jesus even during his lifetime had noted his lineage and that this was accessible information.

It may be that this particular form of address is what gets Jesus’ attention.  Bartimaeus is ignored and then told to shut up by the disciples and/or the crowd (for other instances of Jesus’ disciples wrongly excluding people, see Mark 9:38-41 and 10:13-16), but Jesus eventually hears his constant crying out and instructs that he be brought to him.  Suddenly the crowd and disciples are more solicitous, encouraging and calming Bartimaeus as they guide him towards Jesus.

Jesus’ question is straightforward.  Up till now, Bartimaeus has pleaded for mercy, a rather general request although given his condition it is not hard to imagine what shape Bartimaeus might like that mercy to take.  Still, Jesus asks Bartimaeus to state what it is that he hopes Jesus will do for him.  Bartimaeus’ response is just as straightforward.  There is no beating about the bush.  There is no false piety.   There is no sudden shame at the desire of his heart, there is no embarrassment.  He wants his sight back.  He says so plainly.

Jesus sends Bartimaeus on his way with his sight.  His faith is credited with this, but we should be cautious about what we infer from this.  Did Bartimaeus believe that Jesus was the Son of God?  Did he believe him to be the promised Messiah, based on his Davidic lineage?  All we know for certain is that Bartimaeus refused to be quieted or pushed aside by those who deemed him too inconsequential for Jesus to respond to.  His insistence might denote a faith that Jesus could and would indeed care about him enough to hear him.  It might further indicate a faith that the same Jesus who had healed so many others—including restoring sight to the blind—might restore his own.  Were the rumors false?  Had people lied about what Jesus had done?  What profit or purpose might there be in that?  Bartimaeus seemed willing to trust what He had heard about Jesus enough to bring his petition before him.

Bartimaeus’ response is also noted.  First, he did indeed receive his sight.  Secondly, he joined in the crowd following Jesus to Jerusalem.  Those blind eyes would witness marvelous and terrible things very shortly!  Bartimaeus would be able to give eyewitness testimony to the welcome Jesus received as He rode into Jerusalem.  Bartimaeus would be able to see the fear and anger and confusion in the crowd as they called out for Jesus to be crucified.  It is likely that Bartimaeus even watched Jesus lifted on the cross, perhaps stood there for hours watching him die.  We can only wonder if those eyes also saw the resurrected Jesus, or his amazing ascension into heaven.

We are sometimes convinced that to ask God something specific is a sign of weak faith, that such a request is a demonstration of selfishness and lack of spiritual maturity.  This is nonsense.  We are to state our requests as plainly as Bartimaeus, and with full confidence that God is capable of doing anything, even what we ask.  But we also remain in humble obedience to God, trusting that whether the God who is able is also the God who chooses to act in the way we would like him to or not, God is still good, and worthy of praise.

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