I speak these words in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In this morning’s Gospel reading we hear about Bartimaeus, a blind man, who is begging at the side of the road. Here, then, is a person of real neediness and of true dependence on others: a blind man begging at the side of the road.
In my personal experience, I am so surrounded by comforts and conveniences that I often forget what it means to really be needy, to feel that I’m dependent on others. A good example of these comforts and conveniences are all the electronic gadgets with which I surround myself: a computer, a smartphone, a laptop –
These devices and the systems with which they’re linked allow me to do my banking, to do my shopping, to stay in touch with friends and family, even to do much of my work: without ever having to leave the comfort of my own home.
The security and the comfort of all this might lead to me to think that I’m independent, that I don’t need other people, that I certainly don’t need God, whoever that is; the security and the comfort of my electronic gadgets and the internet and all the infrastructure behind it might allow me to forget about my vulnerability as a human being.
Today’s first lesson are the final verses from the book of Job; the book of Job very much emphasizes the vulnerability and the fragility of humanity, the book of Job very much emphasizes that everything we are and everything we have – our possessions, our relationships, our health – all of these things are very much contingent upon the will of God, upon what it is that God wants for me.
There is a God, a supreme being, a Creator and a Sustainer of all, and I am not it – this is one of the fundamental lessons of the book of Job – there is a God, and I am not it.
Therefore I despise myself,
and I repent in dust and ashes, we hear in
this morning’s lesson, and these are the very last words that Job says: therefore I
and I repent in dust and ashes.
Going back for a moment to the internet and all the infrastructure behind it, I would be mistaken to think of it as an invulnerable system and an infallible mechanism. A book that was released earlier this year, This is how they tell me theworld ends, makes it very clear that such systems are, in fact, very vulnerable and very fallible.
Two of the more common hacking tools very much in use these days are called phishing and zero-days. In phishing, spelled with ph, hackers send emails to a bunch of people, hoping that at least one of these email recipients will be tricked to sharing login information or to open a document that is infected with malicious code.
A couple of years ago, one such phishing scheme brought much of the city of Baltimore, Maryland to a halt for several days: the hacker got into the city’s computer system and was able to freeze communication in hospitals, the airport, the courts, and other places.
Another hacking tool is called zero-days. This involves combing through computer code and looking for programming mistakes that will then allow access to computer networks. This is called zero-days because once I’ve found one of theseprogramming mistakes, it’s been zero days since the software developer has discovered and repaired the flaw.
This method of accessing computer networks with malicious intent has resulted in hackers from all around the world currently having access to such critical infrastructure as nuclear plants, air traffic control, water treatment plants, andthe power grid. Even right here in Canada, hackers are already inside many such systems of our critical infrastructure – not to mention such networks as those found in industrial systems, in health care, in criminal justice.
The moral of the story being that many of the things we take for granted – our electricity, our water, our food distribution chains, our health care system – all these things are very much vulnerable to injury and to disruption – which makes the book a pretty scary read: This is how they tell me the world ends.
Such reality checks are important, I think, in reminding me that I may feel comfortable and secure when I’m surrounded by all my electronic gadgets, but I’m actually dependent on all these things actually functioning; I may feel insulated from the real world when I’m living online, but my safety is actually far from perfect.
The systems underpinning our society – the financial systems, the energy systems, the online world – these systems are so complex and so obscure to my everyday reality that it’s very easy for me to be blind to how they function, it’s very easy for me to be blind to their fragility.
The man we encounter in the Gospel this morning, Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, is physically blind, and therefore very much aware of his neediness and of his vulnerability. In the Hebrew scriptures, blindness is understood to be a defect: whether caused by old age – the most common cause of blindness –, or whether one is born blind, or whether one becomes blind through infirmity: blindness is understood to be a deficiency.
And taking care of the blind is an intrinsic part of social justice; to care for such as the blind and to look after their needs is very much associated with holiness.
When Jesus heals Bartimaeus the blind man in this morning’s Gospel, Jesus provides a manifestation of the mercy of God and of the power of God in being able to heal a blind person. But Jesus is not just providing a manifestation of the mercy of God and of the power of God – he is also pointing to something else going on in the Hebrew scriptures.
The book of Exodus: it is the Lord who gives people sight or who makes them blind.
The 146th psalm: the Lord gives sight to the blind.
The prophet Isaiah: Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped: on the day of the Lord, the day our God comes to save us, the eyes of the blind will be opened.
So when Jesus gives sight to the blind man Bartimaeus, Jesus is making a statement that he is acting on behalf of the Lord, the one who gives sight to people or who makes them blind; Jesus is fulfilling the prophecy that the day where the eyes of the blind will be opened is the day of our Lord, the day where our God comes to save us.
Now let’s consider for a moment the experience of Bartimaeus, the blind man. Bartimaeus, once he finds out that Jesus is walking by, cries out: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy upon me. Jesus then asks the blind man: what is it that you want me to do for you? And the blind man says, Lord, that I may receive my sight. Lord, that I may receive my sight.
And it’s the same for each one of us: each one of us is to have a faith like Bartimaeus, the blind man, each one of us is to have a faith that we might approach God, confident that God will restore our sight.
And what this requires, for me to have faith like the faith expressed by Bartimaeus, is that I acknowledge, as Bartimaeus does, that I am a sinner. Jesus, Son of David, have mercy upon me: this is the prayer of Bartimaeus, and this is the prayer of each one of us. Jesus, Son of David, have mercy upon me.
For when I cry out with all my heart, Jesus, Son of David, have mercy upon me, I will experience God’s mercy. When I put myself, in all my weakness and in all my vulnerabilities, in the presence of God, I will experience God’s love. And I will then, like Bartimaeus, have my sight restored to me, and be able to follow Jesus along the way. Amen.