A Fragment of Stubborn Faith

A Fragment of Stubborn Faith
Job 42:1-6, Mark 10:46-52
Mary Hammond
October 25, 2009

Our daughter Grace had a particularly feisty friend in middle school who at times nearly lived at our house. Like many other friends of our kids growing up, she became an adjunct part of the family.

Occasionally I would see this preteen’s mom in town, and she would fill me in on her view of life with an adolescent daughter. One day, in great exasperation with her child, she shouted out, “What part of the word ‘no’ don’t you understand?”

Without blinking an eye, the daughter stood her ground and replied, “The ‘n.’”

Somehow, this encounter reminds me of the two biblical characters whose stories we remember today–Job of the Hebrew scriptures, and Bartimaeus of the Gospel of Mark. As we proceed, you will see why. Both men knew their way around suffering–Job through catastrophic circumstances in his later years after a seeming life of faithfulness, hard work, and prosperity; Bartimaeus through blindness (whether congenital or progressive) that left him a beggar on the street–marginalized, pitied, and ignored. Ironically, catastrophe reduced Job and Bartimaeus to virtually similar realities, even if they arrived there in different ways and came from very different backgrounds, which we do not really know. Suffering has a way of leveling the playing field within the human community.

There is more that joins Job and Bartimaeus besides their common loss and its attendant impact on their lives. This is their ability to say “no” and to become louder and louder, more and more insistent as they are denied either answers from God or access to Jesus. It is Job’s religious friends who reject his provocative challenge to the Holy One! Similarly, it is Jesus’ own followers in the crowd who try to hush up Bartimaeus! How tragic for God, Christ, the church, and religion itself, when those who cozy up closest to the Divine quench the movement of God’s Spirit! Conversely, how wonderful for God, Christ, the church, and religion itself, when plucky disciples resist such madness!

What part of the word ‘no’ don’t Job and Bartimaeus understand? Is it the ‘n?’ Is it their desperation combined with their reckless faith? Is it the fact that, in their deepest of hearts, both are seekers who refuse to let naysayers get them off track? Is it the conviction that, while others see them as pitiable human beings, they themselves know better? In the eyes of God, do Job and Bartimaeus believe that they are more than what others imagine, judge, or see?

An intangible quality joins these two biblical characters. It is their yearning, their need, their hunger to see. Job is lost in his sufferings, alienated from the friends who fail to help, the wife who doesn’t get it, the God who won’t engaged him, and the former life that lays shattered at his feet. Bartimaeus is lost in his sufferings as well, living hand to mouth, begging on the streetcorner, alienated from those who once cared for him. Job calls out to Yahweh. Bartimaeus cries out to the One he addresses as “Jesus, Son of David.” Both hearts long for sight and transformation.

Here’s where the commonality stops and the individuality begins because transformation comes in such different ways to different people. There is no story in scripture that can become the template for how God works in a human’s life because God doesn’t seem to do the exact same thing twice. When our oldest daughter was in and out of the hospital with anorexia during her early teens, I could not bring myself to read the healing stories in the Gospels for at least a year. They tore my heart to pieces. They teased me with something I did not know.

Why can’t Jesus do this for my child? I would wonder. Why does this healing miracle look so easy, so instantaneous, and so complete–so, in fact, miraculous? What am I missing, Jesus?

And what about the aftermath of the story?, I would ask again and again. We never get that far in the Gospels. Their writers record the ‘happy endings,’ but we don’t then benefit from a postscript–the difficult process of transforming long-term life patterns; social relationships with family, friends, and neighbors– all the changes that true restoration embodies.

I was no Bartimaeus, leaping up, being healed, and following Jesus straightaway. Instead I was the Syrophoenecian mother in Luke’s Gospel, desperate for Jesus’ attention to my child’s plight, willing to take any crumbs he would throw me from his table.

I was also Job. Like him, I hung on to faith against faith. Even as situations grew darker and more desperate, I clung to prayer, and my prayers often became cries of lament. Thankfully, Job became a traveling companion. His long, anguished complaint provided a mirror in which I could affirm my own heartcries day after day, month after month, year after heart-rending year.

There are two things I now see about seeing that I could not see nearly two decades ago. The first is that God is often in the business of ‘slow miracles,’ but we’ve spent too long feeding on the fast ones and often don’t even know how to look for the slow ones. The second is exemplified by the editor’s heading in The Message Bible for the prose epilogue to the Book of Job. This “happy-ever-after” conclusion following Job’s confession is labeled, in big letters, GOD RESTORES JOB.

When things go well for Job once again and he gets cattle, land, reputation, kids, the works back–that’s not when Job is restored! This epilogue reminds me of the tidy feel-good ending of a suspenseful, epic movie. The hero suffers faithfully and God blesses you better at the end than even at the beginning! If you think about it, such a conclusion reinforces all the prosperity theology Job fights against so vociferously throughout the book!

No, God restores Job as the Holy One speaks out of the whirlwind, when Job is no longer hanging on for dear life to a fragment of stubborn faith in a Silent God. God restores Job when the Holy One meets Job face to face in the midst of Job’s agony. God restores Job when the insight Job gains provides enough light–just enough!–to enable him to abandon his state of continual lament, let go of dust and ashes, and move toward restoration.

Similarly, Jesus restores Bartimaeus, not when he joyfully follows Jesus as a sighted man rather than as a blind beggar. Jesus restores Bartimaeus when the Son of David ignores the protestations of the crowd, stops in his tracks, and asks Bartimaeus, “What do you want from me?” Jesus restores Bartimaeus when a dense crowd does not prevent the beggar’s cries for mercy from reaching the ears of a loving God in the person of Jesus Christ.

What part of the word “no” don’t Job and Bartimaeus understand? How about you?