Preached at Christ the King Chapel, CFB Suffield, Crown Village of Ralston, AB, 28 October, 2012. Readings for the Twenty Second Sunday After Pentecost, Year B: Jeremiah 31:7-9, Psalm 126, Hebrews 7:23-28, Mark 10:46-52
When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" (Mark 10:47)
Several conversations lately have got me thinking about the word “dependency” and how people seem to feel about it. For many people, “dependency” seems to be an ugly word.
A young man told me that while he loves a girl, he doesn’t want to get into a committed relationship with her because she will be “dependant” on him. He might rethink things if she went back to school, started a career, and became more, well, independent.
A mother told me that she despairs of getting her dropout son to leave home. If he must be dependant, she said, I’d rather he was dependant on welfare than on her.
An elderly lady told me she hated the onset of winter because she fears driving in the snow and hates being dependant (her word was burden) on friends and family for rides.
Admittedly these three vignettes are just that, and it’s always dangerous to say much on the strength of anecdotes. However, I think it’s fair to say about our society is that our ideal condition for humanity is that we be independent, self sufficient free agents. Some of this is biological; we want to wean our children and bring them to successful adulthood, rather than see them living in basements. As we age, we resent the limits to our autonomy imposed on us by our deteriorating bodies and faculties.
The apex of human life, since the days of our first hominid ancestors, is surely the period of maturity where we are physically strong and able to provide for ourselves. The desirability of this condition is also at the heart of consumerist culture, which celebrates human life as a series of choices made by autonomous and financially independent individuals.
Religion, I think, has always been threatening to this ideal human state of autonomy because it threatens to pull us into webs of dependency and obligation. Religion is perceived to make claims on our choices, on our money, and on our individuality. At least, I think that’s what a colleague was thinking at the mess last week, when he said that he didn’t like hanging around with church people, because if he did he would feel that he owed them something. And I think that’s what another colleague of mine was thinking when he told me that he didn’t want to be a Christian if it meant following rules and obeying the church’s teaching.
Today’s gospel reading celebrates dependency. In blind Bartimaeus, we see who knows all about dependency. As a beggar he is used to being a burden up in others. He also knows something about Jesus. He’s heard enough ahead of time to call Jesus “Son of David”, addressing Jesus as the Messiah, the Saviour. His loud voice and his words “Son of David, have mercy on me” are totally shameless, because desperate people don’t have the luxury of a sense of shame. Bartimaeus knows that he needs help, and he believes that Jesus can help him.
It’s interesting that Jesus’ first words to Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mk 10:51) are the same words that he says in last Sunday’s gospel to James and John, the sons of Zebedee (Mk 10:36). But whereas the two brothers asked Jesus for a share of his heavenly glory, Bartimaeus asks only for his sight. Bartimaeus has no illusions about glory. He has lived in darkness all his life, and all he wants is to see. Bartimaeus, who knows all about dependency, knows that he must be fully dependent on Jesus for help. He must throw himself on the mercy of Jesus.
For the last few Sundays we have heard stories from Mark about people who couldn’t be helped by Jesus because they couldn’t admit their dependency. The rich young man couldn’t envision life without the riches that gave him his independence and autonomy. James and John asked for a share of Jesus’ glory, but only so they could be powerful rulers. Their vision of God was an earthly vision that celebrated power over dependence and so they couldn’t understand that God would come to them as a servant. But Bartimaeus gets it. He knows that only God can help him, and he isn’t ashamed to say it.
The lesson for us in today’s gospel, I think, is that the old slogan “God helps those who helps themselves” isn’t in fact all that helpful. That slogan comes from a human desire for independence and autonomy. It’s dishonest, because it doesn’t admit our absolute and utter need for God’s grace and love and power in our lives. God wants to help us. It’s why he came to earth.
Soin the week to come, imagine yourself in the place of Bartimaeus. Think of whatever it is in your life or your heart that you would bring before God. What needs fixing? Don’t flinch from your dependence on God. Be honest about your need. Jesus is coming, he’s passing before you. Don’t hold back. Don’t be too proud to ask for help,. Don’t think that God has better things to do than to help you. Call him him. Ask him for help. He knows what you want.
What will happen to you afterwards? I think that in our encounters with Jesus, if we are honest, we become less interested in what we can do for ourselves, and more grateful for what God can do for us, and for what we can do for God’s help. After his encounter with Jesus, we are told that Bartimaeus followed Jesus. We too are called to follow Jesus. To many, being a follower doesn’t sound attractive, if it means a surrender of autonomy and individuality. But in the encounter with Jesus, we find that by following him, we are led out of the loneliness and sadness that comes from our vain attempts to be self sufficient, and into the warmth of dependence on God and on one another.