The campaign is over. The election won. So why do we still find Jesus out glad-handing at every chance he can get?
The time is fulfilled. The Kingdom of God has drawn near.
Come, let us repent and believe in the gospel.
Yet again this week we find Jesus on the campaign trail with his disciples, shaking hands, kissing babies, and inviting person upon person to join his movement, this community of reconciliation that finds itself on its way towards the capital.
This past week while I was back home in Ontario, I stayed up late on election night. As the polls rolled in, and interviews were conducted across the country, the constant theme was repeated, “we’re voting for change.”
Which is fine, I guess, but as I watched, it seemed to me that there was no consensus on what exactly that change was. Except for one thing. And then, by the end of the night, that change was embodied in the ripped abs and tattooed arms of Mr. Anything-But-Harper, heir apparent to the heart-throb throne, and the 23rd Prime Minister of Canada.
And yet, when it comes to the mission of the church, the ministry of Jesus, and our gospel’s implications for today, I’m not yet sure what this election will mean for us. I can say, however, that this will be neither the end of the world, nor heaven on earth.
But I do have a strong sense of the good news of Jesus Christ, and its implications for us today. And this good news, let’s be clear, does not make the profound mistake of conflating the fates of our country’s governing parties and their leaders with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Because the Jesus Gospel and the Kingdom Jesus preached simultaneously affirm and critique society, and the world in which we live. It’s a double-edged sword.
No matter who any of us voted for, no matter who won or lost, not one is Messiah. And not a single one of them put forward a platform as radical as the Jesus manifesto we see at play once again in today’s reading from Mark’s gospel. But as my friend Brian blogged in the days leading up to the election:
Jesus wasn’t running for Prime Minister.
He was inaugurating his Kingdom.
These are two very different things. Which is to say that our vocation as the body of Christ, as those who have inherited Jesus’ kingdom, neither starts nor stops at the polls – even if it may include them from time to time.
Which is why, in this week’s gospel, we join Jesus on the road as his disciples, students and apprentices. We are people who have been welcomed into Jesus’ radical community of reconciliation, a community whose message and purpose is to extend a wide welcome to one and all, and to invite the whole world to join us on the path towards reconciliation.
Jesus inaugurates his kingdom moment by moment, person, by person, building a movement out of the powerless and their allies. A movement of those cast aside by society and the religious establishment alike. That’s where Jesus’ gospel movement starts to take hold, building an interdependent community of folks who are coming to see that there is no benefit to hiding behind the façade of self-sufficiency. This is a movement of people who need each other more than they need to agree. This is a movement of folks whose daily struggle is to accept the truth and reality that they are beloved of God (no matter what anyone wielding power or authority or celebrity might say).
Jesus is running his campaign, as they say, the old fashioned way. For three long years he’s been knocking on doors and visiting synagogues, remote villages and metropolitan centers alike. All along the way he’s been spending time with refugees and immigrants. Along the way, you can bet that Jesus and his very ministry have been transformed by encounters with the first peoples of the land, those who somehow managed to survive the genocidal colonizing forces that marched centuries before on the walls of Jericho, the city Jesus is now preparing to leave.
As Jesus and his campaign team set off from Jericho, a blind beggar cries out, invoking his royal heritage. “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” Even as the advance team and attendant crowds attempt to silence questions, Jesus breaks out from his tight-lipped entourage to meet the man on the side of the road, asking him to step forward.
This isn’t about photo-ops or optics. It’s about human encounter, invitation, and so much more. This is Jesus acknowledging the image of God in the one who is blind and begging for money, the one so easy to ignore and dehumanize because he doesn’t fit into the politician’s mold of the upwardly mobile middle class. The one who has every good reason to play and replay the tapes in his mind of why he’s not worthy. But Jesus is having none of it. You’re invited, he says. You are worthy. I want you on my team.
Will you join me?
I don’t know where you find yourself in this discipleship narrative. There are times I find myself in the place of the blind beggar, needing healing, reconciliation, human connection, blind to my belovedness, blind to Jesus’ invitation. There are other times I find myself as part of Jesus’ entourage, pushing those inconvenient folks away. There are other times I find myself further removed, a bystander watching the whole thing go down. And then there are the times I find myself turning my back to get the hell out.
But as I hung out in the gospel this week, I did notice a few things. I noticed the intentionality with which Jesus acknowledges the person who had been pushed to the margins. I also noticed the way in which from the start of the story, he is named. He is not JUST the blind beggar. He is Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus. He has a name a family, and a story.
In Jesus’ eyes, Baritmaeus is not a category or another vote to be won. He’s a person. And Jesus addresses him as such. Jesus doesn’t throw a head fake and dodge around him on the street, he doesn’t cross to the other side before the binder-carrying young adult can accost him about the charitable cause du jour.
He stops. He makes space. He listens. And I bet it takes everything within Baritmaeus’ power to admit what he wants. To ask for the healing, the restoration and the reconciliation he has always needed, and been told he never deserved.
And that’s no easy feat. For him. For any of us.
So when Bartimaeus crosses that monumental psychological barrier and asks for healing, Jesus can do nothing but respond in kind. “Go, your faith has made you well,” Jesus speaks.
In contrast to my well-practiced urban evasiveness, Jesus understands far more deeply than I, the importance of this connection. The necessity of this healing. For Bartimaeus, yes, but a healing that ripples outwards for so many others. A healing of the nations.
Thomas Merton helpfully puts it this way:
The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.
Wendell Berry would say that “health is membership” in a community.
We are all sisters and brothers. We are all members of God’s family. We are all interdependent members of the community of creation. We all matter. We are all beloved. And we are all invited to join Jesus on the road, just as we are, coming to grips with our own belovedness, and the belovedness of one another.
Jesus is insistent that his movement, discipleship community and Kingdom will not be built with the money, power and influence of the elite, but as the brokenhearted find wholeness in community of reconciliation and restoration.
The time is fulfilled. The Kingdom of God has drawn near.
Come. Let us repent and believe in the gospel.
As Jesus continues to build momentum, he proclaims a gospel that is not just good news for the healthy, but for the sick. He proclaims a gospel not simply for those who conform to societal norms of what is good and proper and right, but for those who do not conform. And he does so in the name of God. In the name of unapologetic, boundary-crossing, self-sacrificial love.
But the gospel is not just good news for a select elite. It is good news for all of God’s good creation. And if that is so, it must be news that can endure and withstand the stormy seas of life. It must be news that is good not just for the few, but for one and all. All are invited to join the Jesus movement. All are invited to be healed.
We’re all invited to repent, relinquishing the tapes that repeatedly play out our internalized superiority. Relinquishing whatever it is that prevents us for asking for what we need. Whatever is preventing us from seeing how health and healing are made possible not just by a one-off miracle, but also in the Jesus community Bartimaeus then joins.
We’re all invited to believe the gospel, this good news that we are beloved of God, that we are all a part of one another, and that this offer is extended to one and all, as a part of Jesus’ reconciling family.
And that’s not always easy. I guess that’s why this passage ends as it began, with the community continuing on its way.