Sermon on Mark 10:46

When I was studying to become a Licenced Lay Minister, one of the more interesting topics that we covered was Christian Ethics. Ethical dilemmas are always thought provoking, and ethics as a subject is always walking a fine line. As an academic subject, it is trying to generalise, and find principles; but the nature of ethical issues is almost always that they are intensely personal. Many ethicists might say that that is the whole point of ethics – to remove the emotion from emotional decisions, and provide a rational basis for making these decisions. But we were not supposed to be studying ethics, we were supposed to be studying Christian ethics.
So where do we start with Christian ethics? Normally, for any Christian subject, I would hope most people would say that we should start with the words and actions of Jesus, as recounted to us in the Gospels, and possibly also in the various epistles of the new testament. And yet, it seems to me, that we have a problem here, because Jesus was not an ethicist, at least not in academic terms.
That could be quite a provocative statement, but I think passages like the one today from Mark, show that, to me, Jesus was not approaching people and problems with a set of rigid rules. In Torah, the Jews had a complex set of legal rules that rabbis interpreted and made judgements according to. Jesus’ relationship with Torah seems to be have been ambiguous, like that of so many of the prophets who acted as his precursors. For them, and for Jesus, it was important not to forget the guiding principles behind Torah. God is a righteous and loving God, who created us as part of a good creation with agency that we could use for good or for evil. When Jesus asks Bartimaeus ‘What do you want me to do for you?’, he is affirming that original God given agency. Bartimaeus has a choice in what he can ask Jesus for. Bartimaeus asks to see again. For him it is physical sight that he is asking for – and he regains his sight. Jesus doesn’t claim credit – it is Bartimaeus’ faith which has made him well. Obviously, even if he is physically blind, spiritually he can see better than many of those around him.
The interchange could be seen as unnecessary. It must have been obvious what Bartimaeus’ main problem was, so why bother with talking to him.
I think for Jesus it is part of healing Bartimaeus to talk to him. Being blind, especially in those days, but even now, is a very disempowering experience. Talking to Bartimaeus, and giving him responsibility, is re-empowering him, even before he regains his sight. Sometimes Jesus tells people that their sins are forgiven. In Jewish theodicy, sin was often a reason for physical punishment. Many people then would have thought that their sinfulness was the root of their physical or mental problems. For them, telling them that their sins were forgiven might have been a powerful part of making them feel healed again. For Bartimaeus he doesn’t say this. A feeling of sinfulness might not have been at the root of Bartimaeus’ problems.
It seems to me that Jesus doesn’t have a fixed response or set of rules for situations like these. Instead he only seems to have one over-riding principle – what is best for this person, at this time, to make well their relationship with God and creation? Within that principle, the exact response to each person is tailored to their situation.
This goes beyond informing how we should approach ethical issues in a Christian manner. It ought to lie at the heart of our approach to justice as well. Politicians talk about making the punishment fit the crime, but for Jesus, it would be about making it fit the criminal instead. What will bring this person back into a right relationship with God. And in our increasingly pluralistic society, we need it to inform all of our relationships. It is too easy to label people, or lump them into groups. We need, like God, to love all of them as unique individuals.

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