“What do you want me to do for you?”

Just as the story of the prodigal son has man names, this reading can go by many names as well. Is it the story of the blind man Bartimaeus who begs Jesus to restore his sight? Or the story of Jesus’ followers who ignore a blind man’s plea? Or the story of Jesus listening to everyone’s needs?

In Hebrews 5: 1-6, Jesus is leaving Jericho with his disciples and a crowd of followers. Bartimaeus, a blind man, is sitting by the roadside begging, when Jesus walks by. Hearing that it is Jesus of Nazareth, Bartimaeus cries out, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”

Those following Jesus rebuke Bartimaeus, telling him: Be silent! But he won’t stop calling out,
“Son of David, have pity on me.” Jesus stops and says, “Call him.”

Jesus’ followers say to Bartimaeus, “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.” He throws aside his cloak, springs up, and comes to Jesus who says in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replies, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus tells him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”
Immediately he receives his sight and follows Jesus.

So we can look at the reading as the story of the blind man whose sight is restored because of the persistence of his faith. And the story of the followers who say they follow Jesus but are blind themselves to Jesus’ call to action to serve the needy until Jesus confronts them over it. And the story of Jesus’ openness to everyone who is in need, despite the blindness of others to even the most obvious of needs.

This past week, Pope Francis concluded the Vatican Synod on the Family by noting this reading and the tendency of people — often those who claim the mantle of faith — to overlook the needs of others. They choose to look on their own superiority self righteously and ignore the desperate needs of others, claiming a closeness to God while forgetting that Jesus was really closest to those desperately in need, not those in the high positions of power or of piety.

Bartimeaeus was a blind man who could see more clearly than any of those who followed Jesus that day and, clearly, more vividly than many who claim to see Jesus today, who Jesus was and is and will continue to be as the Son of God. While many mistaken Christians will spend their days asking the needy how they dare to beg for help, Jesus will continue to ask, “What do you want me to do for you?”

 

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God made them male and female

This comes from Mark 10: 2-12. It is often used to support the position against same-sex marriage and same-sex rights. Here’s the problem: Jesus used these words not to define who should or should not get married — it was about whether a man may divorce his wife.

Here’s how  the Bible explains it:

The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” They were testing him.
He said to them in reply, “What did Moses command you?” They replied, “Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.” But Jesus told them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

In the house the disciples again questioned Jesus about this. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

It is echoed in Matthew 19: 3-9. There, the Pharisees ask, “May a man divorce his wife for any reason whatever?” The rest of the words are similar as it is in Mark, although there are a few differences. For instance, Jesus says, “Because of your stubbornness Moses let you divorce your wives, but in the beginning it was not this way.”

In both Mark and Matthew, Jesus explains marriage in the context of this question: May a man divorce his wife? Not in the context of the question, who may marry whom? Not in the context of the question, may a man marry another man or may a woman marry another woman?

Simply put, Jesus said: God created a man and woman and made them one flesh in marriage; what God has joined together, no one must separate. In divorce it could also be said about same-sex couples: When they are married, they are joined together and made one flesh, and no one must separate.

In Jesus’ day — in fact, in modern day right up until recently — it was culturally acceptable that only a man and woman could be married. And so the question was only raised and answered in that cultural construct. But that doesn’t mean that cultural constructs cannot change.

Some point out that in Leviticus 18:22 God tells Moses, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman, such a thing is an abomination.” They heed this command above all others as an abomination, but in chapter 18 God gave Moses commands against many kinds of sexual acts, and at verse 29 God calls them all abominations: “Anyone who does any of these abominations…” and at verse 30 God says, “Heed my charge, then, not to defile yourselves by observing the abominable customs that have been observed before you.” Which customs? “You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you once lived, nor shall you do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you.” (Levitcus 18: 3)

Throughout these latter chapters are commands from God of what the Israelites may do and not do, from what makes you clean, to what you may eat, to how to treat those who don’t follow these commands, and so on. But people rarely follow these rules anymore — except to exclude same-sex couples from the right of marriage, even in a civil ceremony.

In an earlier article, we read Jesus’ words admonishing the Pharisees for creating difficult rules for the common people to follow while not following those rules themselves. He called them hypocrites. And many of today’s “Christians” act similarly. They are uncomfortable about same-sex relationships so they focus on those words in the Bible above all others, including adultery, bearing false witness, stealing, and the other commandments.

So often “Christians” live by the scripture of the Old Testament, but forget the words of the loving, compassionate Jesus, whom they say they follow. Well, in today’s reading is one line they follow but abuse. Here, Jesus isn’t telling us who may marry. He’s telling us why we may not divorce.