Evening Prayer online 5th July 2020
Who is Included?
Luke 18: 31 - 19: 10
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem in chapter 9. Many things happen on the way, including occasions for teaching, healing, meals in homes, private words for the disciples, open meetings with teaching for the crowd, and challenges to the authorities. This happens for ten chapters, with hardly anyone named, and no locations specified. Then come specific details. A place: Jericho. And named people: Bartimaeus and Zaccheus.
Jericho is one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the world. There were springs and palm trees, it was prosperous, on major routes, and it would have been a good place to beg by the roadside. That’s what Bartimaeus is doing. He’s blind. When he realises that it is Jesus passing by, and when Jesus asks what he wants he goes beyond money and food and gets right to the heart: I want to see. I like the details in the story: Bartimaeus shouting loudly and refusing to be shut up. Jesus, on the move, then standing still. The wonderful question: what do you want me to do for you? The healing, he can see; and its result: Bartimaeus is included, and follows Jesus. His healing is the beginning, not the end.
In the light of the events of recent weeks there are deep lessons to be learnt here about systemic exclusion. The crowd try to shut the beggar up, because everybody knows beggars are not be worth bothering with. Jesus has to stop the momentum of his journey to change the process. He stands still. I like the significant detail that he asks for Bartimaeus to be brought to him. It sounds grand, but it serves to make the crowd change their behaviour. They have to notice the beggar and prefer him to them. They are involved in the healing of Bartimaeus and of themselves. At the end, the crowd praise God too. The one they tried to shut up and oppress has become the agent of their transformation.
Look what Bartimaeus receives. Recognition, love, worth. In healing him Jesus gives him more than his sight. The Gospel names him. Jesus, in making him well, makes him whole by including him in his full humanity where before he had been excluded. He is a full member of the new community now. “All the people, when they saw it, praised God”. Bartimaeus reveals exclusion and inclusion. There are names for the excluded today, and we, the crowd, must find ways of stopping that momentum, and creating and inclusive momentum of our own.
The story follows on with another name. Bartimaeus is now tagging along faithfully, and Jesus enters Jericho. As with Bartimaeus there's a man in the crowd who wants something. It's not complicated, although who knows the motives behind it. He simply wants to “see who Jesus was”. Zaccheus wants to do this quite badly, and this perhaps hints at a deeper complexity to his motives. He is, after all, a tax collector, on the fringes of society, in no doubt as to who he is or what he does. He will have all the coping mechanisms of one universally despised. What damage had been done to him by the justified attitudes of others, and perhaps by the unjustified name calling of one who was small as well as corrupt. What damage has he done to others by seeing people simply as sources of income, dehumanising them as he lines his pockets?
His want is easily achieved. He climbs his tree and sees Jesus. And as so often in these encounters, there is more to it. Jesus stops, to give Zaccheus a better view. He looks at him, where others would look away. He calls him by name, where others would call him anything but. And Jesus affirms him by giving him something he can do: "I must stay in your house".
By not treating Zaccheus as a generalised type of evil person, but as a human being in need of redemption, Jesus enables change, healing, restitution. Zaccheus' starts talking even before Jesus gets his food: he “stood there” and speaks. Zaccheus's deeper needs emerge: the need to recognise the wrong, to put things right, to stop the slide, to turn over a new leaf, to make good what has been damaged, to give back what has been taken.
Shown love and given respect, he reveals that in the middle of corruption and hardness of heart, good was trying to burst out. Zaccheus had dehumanised people and turned them into a financial transaction. He recognises his wrong, sees is as a debt, and pays it back with interest. Again, that shines a light on recent events and protests. When slavery was abolished, a compensation act was passed. But not to compensate the slaves. £20 million was raised to compensate the slavers because they had lost the economic benefit of the slaves who were now free. That figure would be around £2.4 billion today.
Zaccheus made restitution in his change of life and with his possessions. Putting things right affected his pocket as well as his guest list. Not so the structures of Victorian Great Britain. It was the Zaccheus’s of the day who got the cash, not the dehumanised. And lest you think that doesn’t implicate us, reflect on this. The loan taken out by the Government to cover the compensation to the slavers in the 1830s was finally paid off in … 2015. Your taxes and mine were a part of that.
With Bartimaeus and Zaccheus Jesus includes, welcomes, and transforms. This goes beyond the personal. Bartimaeus takes his place among people who had excluded just moments before. Zaccheus is included too, and gives honour and a place to those he had excluded and violated. We have much to learn about power, humility, inclusion and restoration. Thanks be to God that, in Christ, salvation comes to our house, and we are made children of God. Who else needs to hear that word, and find healing, honour and justice?Print This Page