Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Same God Then; The Same God Now

Today's Old Testament and Gospel readings come from very different times in biblical history and they deal with very different characters.  However, these two scriptures have much in common.

Both men are impoverished.  Job has lost all of his wealth, his property, his livestock; he has lost his family, and his friends have turned against him.  Bartimaeus is a beggar incapable of work in the ancient world.

Both men have some level of knowledge of God.  Job has "had heard of [God] by the hearing of the ear."  Bartimeaus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing through town and declared him "Son of david."

The texts tell us that both men are blind:  Job metaphorically; who only "now...sees [God]."  Bartimaeus is literally blind.

Both men are regarded by their contemporaries as problematic in someway.  For the first 37 chapters of the book of Job, Job's friends and family tell him that he must have done something to offend God that he has been judged and punished so harshly.  Bartimaeus is sternly ordered to be quiet when he cries out to Jesus for mercy.

Both men encounter God.  Job is responding in this morning's passage to questions God has posed to him.  Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus, the physical embodiment of God on earth, for mercy.

Both men's lives are changed after their encounter with God.  Job's fortunes are restored twice over.  Bartimaeus's sight is restored and he follows Jesus.  Both men see God.

After Job is restored, he celebrates with his friends and family.

Twice Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus.  After the second time Bartimaeus calls out to him, Jesus stands still.  Jesus does not approach Bartimaeus, but rather commands those around him to call Bartimaeus over.

In both of these stories, community is present: the first to celebrate Job's restored fortune, the second to bring Bartimeaus to Jesus himself.

Where these two men's stories appear to differ, however, is that whereas the text is clear that "the LORD restored the fortunes of Job....and the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before" in the case of Bartimaeus, it was Bartimaeus's own faith which made him well.

Looking more closely at Job, however, we see that God restored Job's fortunes after Job prayed for his friends who did not believe that Job was innocent; friends who assumed God was judging Job for sin, and this was cause of his downfall.

The depiction of God does not change between these two stories.  God is waits patiently for humankind to seek him, to approach him, to make their desires known.

In both of these stories, God is inviting.  God speaks to Job (sternly to be sure), but asks questions in a fashion that opened dialogue rather than merely telling Job what is true.  Jesus does not assume what Bartimaeus needs.  Rather, Jesus asks Bartimaeus what is he would like Jesus to do for him.

In both storeies, God is just and merciful, choosing to bless and honor those who are faithful, regardless of the worldview of their contemporaries.

In both stories, God is a God of healing and restoration.

In both stories, God has a focus on faith in community:  forgiving the transgressions of Job's friends because of Job's faithfulness; Jesus using the crowd to welcome Bartimaeus to the restoration of sight.

The truth of who God is is the same today.

God is still a God who waits patiently for us to seek him.  God is still a God who invites us into relationship.  God is still a God who asks justly.  God is still a God of mercy.  God still heals and restores.  And God continues to do all of this in the context of community.

We all have areas in our life where we need restoration or healing.  Everyone, at some point, needs a miracle.  Your faith, we are told, makes you well.  Your faith restores you.  Your faith brings you the miracle you seek.  Sometimes, choosing to hold to our faith in light of all evidence to the contrary is the miracle itself.

Where do you need a miracle today?  Will you choose, like Bartimaeus and Job, to believe that God is good, and capable, and waiting for you?  Will you choose, not only to know about God, but to see and to know God as well?  Will you do so in community, loving and serving God as one body with many members?

I hope you do.  Like Job who needed to see God for the first time, or Bartimaeus who needed to see again, we all need our sight restored.  It is within the context of community, with many voices and many images of God among us, that we see each other, ourselves, and God most clearly.

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