THROWING OFF HIS CLOAK

FAITH IN FOCUS: THROWING OFF HIS CLOAK

The odds were stacked against Bartimaeus. He was blind. He was a beggar. He lived in Jericho, a town meaning “cursed”. (Joshua cursed it when he captured it.) His name means “son of Timaeus” and the word “Timaeus” means a “nasty or corrupt man”. The blind beggar, son of a good-for-nothing, living in the cursed city.

On the day when Jesus came to town Bartimaeus probably wasn’t expecting anything special to happen. But he capitalised on his assets. He might have been blind but he wasn’t deaf and he had a strong voice. When he heard it was Jesus of Nazareth he began shouting out to catch his attention.

Bartimaeus wasn’t bothered about public opinion. They all told him to shut up but he shouted out all the more. He knew that this man Jesus could make things better for him. So he shouted all the louder. Being helped was more important than being thought respectable.

Beggars wore a special coat or cloak of camel hair that got them noticed more easily. When Jesus told the people to bring him over Bartimaeus threw the cloak off. He was going to be seen for what he really was, not just a beggar. He jumped up and went over to Jesus to beg his mercy and favour. The story ends with his sight being restored and him following Jesus along the road…without his cloak.

What’s your handicap in life? Is it some physical illness? Are you held back by your environment? Is it perhaps some spiritual blindness or habit that you’re desperate to overcome? Do you let yourself be put down by what others think of you? Do you feel sometimes like you’ve got a cloak? Do you want to be helped and if so what do you do to make it a reality? How do you capitalise on what you do have; you might be blind but you’ve got ears and a tongue.

Sometimes we have to take the plunge and throw off the cloak that drags us down. Because until we shout out to Jesus, there’s little chance of our blindness being cured.

 

TRIVIAL PURSUIT?

FAITH IN FOCUS: TRIVIAL PUSUIT?

It’s easy to become so familiar with our religion that we forget what an enormous challenge is thrown down to anyone who really want to be a follower of Christ. We can wear the practice of our faith like an old pair of slippers and never notice bow battered they have become.

Being a Christin is not the obvious choice. Ask the audience. Only a small percentage would think it’s a sensible lifestyle. Phone a friend, but make sure he or she really has heard what Christ is asking. There’s more than a fifty-fifty chance that it will look stupid.

Choosing to be a disciple means sharing the daily shame of the cross. It’s not about living the cushy existence. It’s about rejoicing at being the bottom of the pile. In a world that prizes success the Christian glories in what looks like failure. A Christian is a permanent number two; a Christian is always last rather than first.

Trying to be a Christian is no trivial pursuit for it deals with life and death questions. Can you hack it? asks Jesus. Can you really cope with taking on the ills of the world and serving others to the point of exhaustion? Can you deal with being thoughta follower for his sake?

Is your religion more about bells and smells, stained glass and nice music? Or is it about being prepared to suffer shame, to be laughed at, to do without, to serve and not to count the cost or seek any reward apart from the satisfaction that you are trying to follow Jesus?

Christ tells us hat to follow him we must die first. To follow him we must put ourselves at others’ disposal till it hurts and expect nothing in return. Can you do this? That’s what he asked James and John. Clearly he had his doubts about them.

Christianity is not a hobby. It’s not a pastime on a par with volunteering for the local hospital’s League of Friends or joining a club. It’s a life and death series of decisions. Let’s not fall into the trap of think that  it’s normal!

 

HOW TO BE REALLY HAPPY

FAITH IN FOCUS:  HOW TO BE REALLY HAPPY

 If we take a close look at the man in today’s gospel, who asks Jesus how to get eternal life and happiness, then we can glean quite a lot.

He was humble; he actually ran up and knelt at Jesus’ feet before speaking to him. He clearly  had good motives because he wanted to know how to inherit eternal life. And he had good sense; enough to know that from what he heard of him Jesus was the right person to help him with this.

So he was nobody’s fool. What we usually remember about him is that he was rich. But it’s clear that his riches couldn’t satisfy his deep down needs. That’s why he came to Jesus looking for something that went beyond the grave. His wealth couldn’t give meaning to  his life. He was restless and seeking something more than the trappings that money can bring.

And of course it’s not as if he were some sort of villain who would find it hard to accept religion. He already was a religious person and a morally upright character. He said that he had kept all  the commandments from his earliest days, so  he had probably also fasted from food and  tithed some of his wealth.

When the other gospel writers recall this episode they tell us that the man was young and that he came from one of the leading families. So  by anybody’s reckoning he’s got a lot going for him: young, rich, reputable, religious, moral, thoughtful, common-sensed and humble. 

Yet he went away sad because the demands  that Jesus made of him were more than he was prepared to accept. The incredible happened:  God in Jesus told him exactly what to do in order to have eternal life. He had to give up all his wealth and give it to the poor. But this would affect his status, his reputation and his lifestyle.

What gives meaning to your life? What do you consider the point of living is? Where do you look for what makes real sense of your days? Where have you put your treasure? Is it invested in the here and now or have you got your sights on  something that will outlast this mortal existence? 

Being young, rich and even religious cannot  get you into heaven. And when Jesus tells you how to inherit eternal life do you go away sad  or do you start rejoicing?

Go and sell everything you own 

 

JUST A BIT OF PAPER

FAITH IN FOCUS: JUST A BIT OF PAPER?

People who live together as partners, without getting married, often say that marriage is just a bit of paper. What difference does it make if you are married or not?

Well, Christian marriage is much more than a consenting adult relationship, more than a convenient arrangement. Christian Churches hold it in high regard as a “holy mystery”. And Catholics call it a sacrament.

Christians believe that the love of husband and wife is like a mirror: it reflects God’s love for the world and in particular Christ’s love for the Church. So their married life is a privileged way in which they can make Christ present to today’s world.

Christian marriage has no room for pre-nuptial agreements. That’s because it’s unconditional. For better for worse, in sickness and in health means that the couple agree to stay together come what may and to face whatever life’s challenges may prove to be.

To begin married life with certain pre-conditions, or with the idea that if things don’t work out then there’s always another option on the horizon, runs contrary to the idea of Christian marriage.

And linked with this is the concept of indissolubility. Sadly, there are cases when everyone agrees it is better for a man and woman to live apart. But if all the circumstances were right at the time of the marriage, then a second marriage is not an option. (Annulments are granted when things were clearly wrong from the start.).

It goes without saying that Christian marriage is between one man and one woman. That’s because the love shared, and particularly its sexual expression, demands a total giving, a complete sharing of lives together. Each partner gives themselves to the other in a gesture of absolute trust and unreserved love. That’s what the older language about worshipping with the body actually meant. They are no longer two but become one body.

It’s easy just to live together. But to be united in Christian marriage is a vocation to something much deeper.

ONE OF US?

FAITH IN FOCUS: ONE OF US?

Martha Lewis was distressed when her house was burgled. It wasn’t so much that she had lost her pension money and some jewellery that her late husband had given her. 

It was more a sense of outrage that someone had invaded her privacy, gone through her things and interfered where they had no right to be. She was only grateful that she had been out at bingo at the time. It could have been worse. So when the local police phoned to say that some of the items had been recovered, she walked to the police station with a spring in her step. She’d only been inside the place on a couple of occasions and laughed to herself what people would think if they saw her coming out!

It was a hive of activity inside. The desk sergeant was processing a group of people who had had too much to drink and started a fight. There was a woman sitting with car documents who had been called to produce them after some minor traffic infringement. And there was a shabbily dressed youth who was clearly on drugs.

As she looked at the young man Martha sniffed. Those dreadlocks couldn’t possibly be healthy and he probably hadn’t washed them in a month. Why he needed to have so many rings piercing every possible extremity was a mystery to her. She was annoyed by the swishing bass sound that came from the earphones of his personal stereo and wondered why he hadn’t even bothered to tie the laces of his trainers. Anyway, thank God her grandchildren had steered clear of drugs. She’d been very strict with Violet, her daughter, and it had paid dividends with the way she was now bringing up her own children.

The policewoman took her to a room where Martha confirmed that the recovered property was indeed hers. She thanked the officer but the officer told her not to thank her but Mr Williams who had found them. “There he is,” she said, “with the dreadlocks and the stereo.”

Jesus said, “Anyone who is not against us is for us.”