Pentecost +22

If you were here last week, thank you for welcoming Fr. Salmon or Fr. Collis so warmly, both spoke, as always, very highly of you. Doan and I were away in California visiting family and friends, and we are thankful for all of your help and prayers while we were traveling. Doan and I were occupied almost 100 percent of the time while we were away, which can wear you out, but it also provided us with one of the hidden blessings of the trip: almost no TV, which meant that we managed to watch almost zero political commercials for an entire week. Our blood pressure went down, the Sun came out, I could hear birds chirping again. What all political commercials attempt to do, no matter their content or level of annoyance, is to control the narrative, to gain control over how the public perceives the candidates. The thought process is that whoever controls the narrative, controls the election.

Getting the story right is important, of course; the ability to discern the true narrative in a world of competing narratives is a God-given gift. I’ve always admired people who could see the story within the story, those Paul Harvey types, you know, “And that’s the rest of the story.” G.K. Chesterton was the best at taking competing narratives and throwing them both away in favor of a third narrative, which became obvious when stated. Chesterton intervened once in a argument between a Christian intellectual and a humanist intellectual, both of whom insisted that truly logical people would choose their way of thinking; Chesterton restated their arguments and then said that people who were truly logical were also totally insane. It was a face-palm moment; truly logical people would act like Spock on Star Trek, except worse. And so all that noise on both sides of an issue, the competing narratives that do little but obscure the true narrative, not many can cut through all of that.

The narratives on Jesus had gotten a bit out of hand by the time we heard about in the Gospel today. There was little dispute about His abilities, as everyone agreed that He was a gifted healer, He could cast out demons like no one else before Him; he was a great teacher who was almost inexplicably wise; not only did He have an answer for everything, but most of the time His answers made at least somebody hate His guts. Jesus was hard to pin down, and so those pins were often misdirected. He’s Elijah or John the Baptist come back from the dead, He’s controlled by Satan himself. Or maybe He is exactly who He says He is; maybe Jesus is who Peter says He is, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

Many were confused about all this, but we just heard about a blind beggar who was able to cut through all these competing narratives, who could see, through the eyes of faith, the true story. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Bartimaeus was blind but he was not shy. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Bartimaeus was correct on all counts. It was Jesus that was passing by, and he was right to call out His Name, to beg Him to stop. Jesus is the Son of David, in lineage and in title. To be the Son of David meant that Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy, as He was physically descended from King David through both His blessed mother and by way of His foster father Joseph. The term Son of David is also a title, an honorific; it’s another way of saying Messiah, Christ, Savior. Thirdly, Bartimaeus was correct in calling out for mercy. Here Bartimaeus echoes the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, in which the Pharisee, who is supposed to be the good one, prays “God, I thank thee that I am not like other men,” essentially the most presumptuous prayer ever. But the parable also describes a tax collector, presumably the evil one, who prays “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” In fact, the simple prayer “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner” is the earliest and perhaps most used prayer in all Christianity.

Bartimaeus had his story straight; though blind, he could see the true narrative, he could see Jesus for who He really is. Bartimaeus received his physical sight that day, and we are now charged with making sure our eyes are open to who Jesus is, that we find the right narrative. We’ll do that again in just a minute (at the 10 o’clock), back at the font, when we answer once again that baptismal question, “Do you believe in God the Son? We will answer yes, of course, for ourselves and for little Noah, and he will enter with us into that great narrative of salvation, the archangels will write his name in the Book of Life. If we are strong and true, we will help to raise Noah to echo the words of Bartimaeus: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” And Jesus, who is strength and truth, will.

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