Do You See This?
10/24/21 Proper 24 Year B
In the gospels, simple and straightforward questions often have the most profound meaning and answers.
Once at a party, Jesus was reclining with the other guests - Pharisees and rabbis and some of his disciples. A woman is in attendance but she is behaving strangely. At Jesus’ feet - she weeps while rubbing costly ointment on his feet with her hair.
No one, speaks to her.
In a way, they do not see her - they see what she is doing and it makes them all uncomfortable. Of course, Jesus being Jesus - see their judgment and silent condemnation. He calls his friend and disciple - Simon Peter over and asks - a simple question with loaded with significance.
“Do you see this woman?”
This woman - this person - in this moment in time. There is a phrase in theological circles known as - the scandal of particularity. The scandalous and radical reality that particularities of all our holy stories are of ultimate significance.
Because the more particular you get – the more you pay attention to the details of these stories – the closer you get to the universal truth of love and struggle and being set free.
Who do we see - who do we overlook - in our lives - in our history?
Sight is the particular problem blind Bartimaeus asks Jesus to address in the gospel this morning.
This story is told - slightly different in all three gospels - so, that tells me something. What also tells me something is that in Mark’s gospel, this is the last healing story of Jesus’ ministry. The next chapter is the triumphal entry into Jerusalem - in other words - Palm Sunday. But, we’re a ways off from that.
But, more recently, another man asked Jesus to see something too - the answer to the question, what must I do to inherit eternal life - or - what faith do I need to be saved?
Bartimaeus shouts - he begs - he pleads. And what he says is particularly important - Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me. He is not deferential like the rich man – with his Good teacher….
Bartimaeus cries out – Lord have mercy – Son of David – have mercy on me.
The crowd tries to quiet him. The crowd does not want to see or acknowledge – a blind beggar who is making a scene. But – Jesus, just as he wouldn’t let Simon Peter off the hook – Jesus asks the crowd to acknowledge Bartimaeus – call him here, he says.
The gospel writers, want us to see Bartimaeus too. We know this because he’s given a name. Not just a name but a lineage – he is the son of Timaeus. Whereas the rich man remains anonymous.
This is significant, don’t you think? This is an example of the last will be first – and the first will be last. One that I believe asks you and I to see – to name people who cry out for mercy – and make us uncomfortable.
So I want to name one such person this morning - Pauli Murray – do any of you know that name?
“What is often called exceptional ability is nothing more than persistent endeavor.” – that is a quote of Pauli Murray.
She is a sainted by the Episcopal/Anglican church – 2012. She was born in Baltimore in 1910. But was moved at a young age to Durham, North Carolina where she grew up. I’m not going to tell you her life story – it is an incredible one. The persistent endeavors of her life shaped foundational work of our democracy – and until the recent past – she has been unknown.
She was black. She was a faithful Episcopalian her whole life and was outraged by what she believed to be true about humanity – and how that humanity, in her community, was as we well know by now, were treated as less than, as anonymous and expendable persons.
Here are some of what came from her persistent and faithful endeavors.
With her fellow students at Howard University Law School (UNC Chapel Hill and Harvard denied her entry based on race) she organized lunch-counter sit-ins in DC - almost 20 years before the more well-known Woolworth lunch-counter sit ins we all know. And, they worked non-violently.
Her senior thesis from Howard was the basis for Thurgood Marshall’s supreme court victory in Brown vs. Board of Education – overturning separate but equal. Her law professor who sat with Marshall at the table for that case, lost the $10 bet he had made against her and her faithful belief in justice.
Likewise, her writings were used by Ruth Bader Ginsburg when she argued before the Supreme Court – as well as the ACLU in 2020 in their persistent fight against gender discrimination.
There were other laudable secular achievements – but after the death of a dear friend – and reckoning with the reality that she too would not live forever – she turned her eyes towards God. She felt a call to couple the work of justice – with love and mercy.
In 1976 she became the Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray – one of the first 6 women to be ordained in our church and the first black woman priest. She served in a church where her enslaved family members had been baptized.
I’ve overlooked her for a long time, sadly – but thanks to a new documentary – My Name is Pauli Murray – on Amazon Prime – I finally learned something about this woman. So I invite and share with you.
At the end of her life – when asked how it felt not being known as the original champion of so many civil rights – she said - “In not a single one of these little campaigns was I victorious. In other words….I personally failed, but I have lived to see the thesis upon which I was operating vindicated. And what I very often say is that I’ve lived to see my lost causes found.”
It is inspiring and amazing to me she had such deep and persistent faith.
That is the primary difference between Bartimaeus and the rich man that I believe you and I are called to see. The rich man asked Jesus – what do I do to get be saved? Bartimaeus just did it – he cried out for mercy – he flung his cloak – the only thing he had, probably covered with coins and scraps of food – to the ground. Surely that is why all Jesus does is say – Go – your faith has saved you – your faith has made you whole.
Who do you and I need to see? Who do we overlook? How might opening our eyes inspire us – in our own persistent and faithful endeavors?
The particularity of our lives – our work – our callings – is a gift – God given – to participate in our own particular way to help us see God’s dream.