The Healing of Blind Bartimaeus
They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
"What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus, asking of a blind man, what he really wants. Not starting with a list of options, not detailing what might be available or possible, but asking, "What do you want?"
In a church planting seminar this week, I was reminded of how often, what we offer, starts with church.
And, for many in our communities, that's a bridge too far to cross. When we in the church imagine how the future might look, it inevitably looks very much like church as we know it. We set the bar of membership and discipleship so high that few are able to attain it when what we see Jesus modelling is invitation, alongsideness, and acceptance of the curious.
But, more than that, it is hard for us to imagine what might be a culturally relevant alternative, often because we're so caught up and exhausted by trying to service and sustain what we know.
I'm grateful that many of the colleagues I've been working with over the last few years have often been able to reflect and articulate in a Star Trek parody: "This is church - but not as we know it!"
Those practising Asset Based Community Development, those hanging out with the marginalised, those who are freeing up time for discernment, those who are being released to listen carefully to the call of the Spirit as she whispers through the long grass in the open spaces, those uncultivated edges of community, are discovering hidden and fertile places where seedlings are struggling but are tenacious.
So how might we learn to really step outside of church, to stop attempting to cajole folk to be like us and, more than that, realising what an alien minority we are, be willing to rediscover what kingdom work looks like today? And to regain confidence in those abundant gifts with which God equips us to do just that?
And how might we support one another in our varied and different callings rather than set up the sexy new innovations and experiments against the inherited model of church that still bears fruit?
How can we get beyond those who would silence the curious before they even get the chance to approach Jesus? In the encounter with Bartimaeus, Jesus stood still, heard the cry of Bartimaeus through the noise of the crowd all around and then invited Bartimaeus to voice his longing. Restoring his sight, he welcomed him as a disciple, a willing learner along the way.
This is a time for us to hear, through the clamour of all the noise around, the voice of those relegated to the periphery AND to hear the voice of Jesus calling us, asking us, "What do you want?" And then, healed in faith, to rediscover how we are called to be disciples, learning new things as we follow, companions of Jesus and of one another. Engaged in Kingdom Work together, starting, not with church, but with Christ.