The Rev. Canon John L. Peterson
In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The One God. Amen.
“My teacher, let me see again.”
The setting of the Gospel for this morning is Jericho. In the first century the ancient city of Jericho laid in ruins. For that matter the Jericho of Jesus, which was built by Herod the Great, had literally moved three miles from its ancient site. It is questionable if the people in the first century would have even known where the ancient city of Jericho was, but everyone would have known the biblical stories surrounding Jericho.
There is no mistake why the Bartimaeus story has its setting in Jericho. Jericho is one of the lushest cities in the ancient world, a city located in the desert of the Rift Valley, but because of its magnificent water supply, Jericho is an oasis that throughout history has grown the most wonderful fruits and vegetables. It is no wonder why the Chamber of Commerce of Jericho advertises its city as the oldest city in the world. It is the oldest city because of its water supply.
When one goes to Jericho one always enjoys the fresh squeezed succulent orange juice or lemonade from the bountiful citrus orchards in Jericho. But we are told in II Kings at the time of the 9th century prophet Elisha that “the location of this city is good, but the water is bad.” People were dying and women were having miscarriages (II Kings 2:21). So Elisha went to the spring of water and threw salt into the water, and because of the salt the water was purified. People no longer died because of bad water. No longer were women having miscarriages because of the bad water. In the words of the Gospel today, “My teacher, let me see again.”
Jericho is remembered because of the new life coming from the water and it is in that historical context that we see Bartimaeus this morning. In this historical city of Jericho the blind man said to Jesus, “My teacher, let me see again.”
Bartimaeus challenges us this morning. Bartimaeus really wanted to be healed. Lamar Williamson reminds us that the healing of blind Bartimaeus is not simply a vivid story with a moral for Christians; it is a witness to Jesus Christ and a call to follow him.
This morning, preaching at the 8:00 and 10:00 services in this Cathedral, is an incredible priest from Swaziland who knows what it means to be a witness to Jesus. The Rev. Orma Mavimbela in her ministry is enabling many young people to see.
Last month there was a delegation from the Diocese of Washington making a follow-up visit to Swaziland. The initial visit had been made two years ago in Swaziland as part of the Archbishop of Cape Town’s delegation. The day before we arrived in that country, UNAIDS had announced that Swaziland had the highest percentage of HIV and AIDS infected people in Africa. What we saw was pretty horrific.
One of the afternoons we were in Swaziland we were invited to meet the King at his Palace. Now his palace is not Buckingham Palace, but a series of homes in an extensive compound. We wanted to share with the King what the Episcopal Church in Swaziland is doing to help eradicate HIV and AIDS in the Kingdom. We waited nearly three hours to meet His Majesty and finally we were ushered to a ceremonial gathering place where we expected to meet the King. For some unknown reason the King did not want to meet with us, so instead the Queen Mother came to accept the greetings of the Church for her son.
As we left the Palace compound, Bishop Meshack of the Diocese of Swaziland asked us if we wanted to visit St. Margaret’s Church which was literally a mile, possible less, as the crow flies from the Palace. In that short drive to St. Margaret’s we saw poverty that is quite indescribable. When we arrived at St. Margaret’s 25 toddlers were waiting for us. They were all orphans. Their parents had died from AIDS. Many of the children have had AIDS from birth. Most of the children were living with a Granny who physically was relieved that St. Margaret’s would feed and care for the children during the day. At night the children would go back home to Granny.
Orma is in charge of St. Margaret’s. Before she became a deacon she had worked at the Palace and she had taken all of her savings when she became a deacon to start the program at St. Margaret’s to feed the children twice a day, plus clothe them. When we saw the ministry which was happening at St. Margaret’s, we knew we were seeing Jesus at work in that place. We saw a new light—a light that Orma not only gave to the children, but to us as well.
Last month when we returned to St. Margaret’s we learned that Orma now has three centers and she is caring for 200 children each day.
Across the road from the Palace, incredible life is taking place. Incredible sight is being given to those children.
“My teacher, let me see again.”
Last Sunday morning from this pulpit the Dean spoke eloquently about the way in which the Pennsylvania Amish community responded to the murder of their five young girls earlier this month. The Dean related the story of one of the grandfathers of a slain girl when he said, “We must not think evil of this man,” and he went on to urge forgiveness. The Amish community also embraced the widow of the killer, which included inviting her to the funerals and letting her know that she would be welcome to stay with their Amish community.
The Amish community has let us see what it means to have sight and to live in the image of God. In a world today that only knows revenge and retaliation, the Amish have shown us a different way—sight that reflects forgiveness and reconciliation.
“My teacher, let me see again.”
One of the things about Jesus’ ministry is that Jesus turns the standards of this world upside down. Jesus is realistic about the situations he faces, whether it be a Samaritan woman at a well, a disciple betraying him after sharing the Last Supper with him, the divine reversal of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords stooping down to wash the disciples’ feet as a slave, as a servant. In Jesus’ culture to be a slave was the lowest of low in the realm of action and servanthood. Jesus was willing to take this upon Himself.
One of the most moving stories I heard at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 was told by the Bishop of Iran, a story that reflects how Bishop Iraj surrendered everything, how he truly became blind when he was arrested by the Iranian authorities.
Travel with me to Iran. At the Lambeth Conference in 1998 each day’s Bible Study began with a brief video of one of the bishops speaking of some experience in their own life. The first story we heard was that of Bishop Iraj from Iran. He told of his experience when the Iranian forces during the Revolution came to his home and arrested him. Bishop Iraj said: “Well, the first experience which I had [after being arrested by the Iranian authorities] was that I am really nobody…and…it was very helpful, because usually we are not conscious how much pride is in us. And so that experience put me down in the earth.”
Bishop Iraj continued: “I sometimes felt [in jail] a little lonely. And the thing I needed to do was cry. I could not. I walked round my cell and asked God, please God, give me some tears. And suddenly tears gushed out. And I was released. And I was joyful. I could sing. That released some of my tensions which have been accumulated within me.”
When Bishop Iraj surrendered his pride and his own personal needs, he regained his sight. He was joyful. He could sing. He could see again.
“My teacher, let me see again.”
Bartimeaus challenges us today. Bartimaeus challenges us to be a witness to Jesus. As we have traveled to Swaziland, Pennsylvania, and Iran this morning we have seen examples of what it means to live in the wholeness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Sure all of us can not be an Orma, nor can all of us be a Bishop Iraj; but each one of us can be an icon of Jesus in our own lives.
Each of us in our small way can live the Gospel like the Amish did at the time of the murder of their five young girls. If we did this, not only would we, ourselves, see Jesus, but our lives would demonstrate the love that Jesus has for this world.
Let us go to South Africa. Last month we met a women named Beauty. Beauty really embodies the Gospel for today. Beauty is a contemporary Bartimaeus. Beauty is the mother of six children who is literally the cornerstone of her community and a true advocate of the downtrodden. In her township of Rondebult she has planted a garden to feed her children and her community. She has built a day care center that cares for over 30 children, most of whom are infected with HIV and tuberculosis.
Beauty has been a tireless advocate for the sick and homeless. She has repeatedly gone to officials in the South African Government to obtain housing for those who lack the personal and financial resources to care for themselves. Such actions have not made her a very popular figure with some in the South African government. As a result she frequently has been denied government funding for her outreach programs.
Added to this Beauty is a person who is infected with HIV. Like so many caregivers, she is so often consumed with the needs of others that she loses sight of her own needs. Beauty does what she feels compelled in her heart to do, what she knows she must do. Beauty is a living example of Bartimaeus today. She is a living example that the most holy thing we can give to the world is reaching out and touching other people. She is a living example of a person who enables others to see. “My teacher, let me see again”
So often all the things we hold so dear, power, wealth, our own self importance, are turned upside down by a person like Beauty. For Beauty shows us the image of God. She shows us what it means to see with God’s eyes. In Beauty’s compassion, she sees through the horror and ugliness to the beauty of Jesus in the children she cares for.
Let us return to Jericho. For at least 500 years during the Old Testament period, this lush city stood empty because the water was bad. That is pretty hard for us to comprehend today because the spring releases at least 2000 gallons of water every hour. But in II Kings we are told that it took the prophet Elisha and a little salt to purify the water. Bartimaeus would have known this story. Blind Bartimaeus by his faith and action is a witness to Jesus Christ. Bartimaeus challenges us to follow Jesus by throwing off our cloaks to follow Jesus on the way.
How willing am I be a Bartimaeus?
How willing am I to be an Orma?
How willing am I to bea Beauty?
How willing am I to be a witness to Jesus?
In the name of God. Amen