All the blessings of this life and the wonders of this world pale into insignificance when compared with the all surpassing gift of our eternal salvation through Jesus Christ. The cry of humanity should therefore be: “What must we do to be saved?” In the Gospel passage appointed for this week we find the answer in the life of a blind beggar called Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus did three vital things to receive eternal life. Firstly, he confessed his utter need of God: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Next, when Jesus summoned him, he immediately jumped up and came to Jesus with an earnest request: “Teacher, I want to see.” Finally, after all this, he followed Jesus down the road as a completely changed man. The most beautiful gift in the universe is ours through these three simple steps. Praise God!
How important are hierarchies to us? Do we continually look up to people who hold positions of great status and / or power? Or, if we are one of these people, do we have a smug sense of superiority when we are asked what job we do? However, the most important question is what did Jesus think of hierarchies? The Gospel reading for this week is the account of James and John asking for a special privileged place with Jesus in heaven. Why did James and John think that they deserved this, above the other disciples? Perhaps it was their family connections. The fact that we know their father’s name suggests that he was a man of influence. Perhaps it was because they were part of what some scholars have called Jesus’ inner circle, along with Peter. For example, it was Peter, James and John who were present at the transfiguration and none of the others. We don’t know their motives but what we do know is Jesus’ response. In effect, Jesus says it is not about hierarchies at all. He cites those Gentile rulers who ‘lord it over’ their subjects as an example of the wrong way for his followers to behave. Instead says Jesus, ‘whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first must become the slave of all’. Of course, Jesus not only said these words but modelled them in his own life and death where he came ‘not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many’. Although these words are well known, I wonder how often we take them to heart? If we are serious about being a disciple of Jesus Christ we have to shed all forms of self-importance and start serving others.
Within the life of the church we often pray for the poorest members of our community but, reading the Gospel passage assigned to this week, I wonder whether we should pray for the richest members of our society instead. Seen within the context of eternity, it is the rich who are most vulnerable to not receiving eternal life. It is the rich who are most likely to lose out. Why is this? There are, no doubt, many inter-linked reasons but here I will advance just three. Firstly, if we are rich and powerful, it is tempting to think that we have achieved this by our own skills, abilities and effort. It is tempting to forget that every single one of our talents and opportunities are just gifts from God. Secondly, in making decisions and choices it is tempting to rely on our own resources and never turn to God. Thirdly, with great resources come great opportunities and temptations for carnal pleasure. Ultimately, when people look up to you and start praising you for your wealth, the temptation is to put yourself on the throne of your life and displace God. The sin of pride abounds and the rich inherit wealth but forfeit their souls. Is it wrong to be materially rich therefore? The answer from Jesus is no, but it is very hard. Is it impossible for a materially rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? Again, no, says Jesus because, with God all things are possible. But, says Jesus, if we are rich, we must be particularly careful. Here is the sting: in global terms the vast majority of people living in Guildford would be considered already as very rich!
The Gospel reading assigned to this week is Jesus’ teaching on divorce. As always, it is helpful to understand the context in which Jesus was speaking. In Jesus’ time, the Jewish law of divorce was based on Moses teaching in Deuteronomy. This could be interpreted as a man was able to divorce his wife (not the other way round) for trivial things. As a result, women were sometimes treated as ‘objects’ that could be disposed of if they did not please the man. A further consequence of this was that many Jewish girls were reluctant to get married as they had little security. Jesus, in effect, says this is all wrong. He replaces this loose interpretation, by some, of the law of Moses by highlighting the sanctity of marriage. Jesus goes back to the creation story to say that marriage was part of God’s original plan and designed to be permanent. It was a physical AND SPIRITUAL union which included family responsibilities. As such, no man-made laws should allow it to be easily dispensed with. Seen in this light, Jesus’ teaching is probably best interpreted as supporting both women and family life at a time when both were vulnerable to abuse.