Week of 8 Epiphany: Thursday, Year 1   10 comments

Above:  Jesus Healing the Blind Man (circa 1625-1650), by Eustache Le Sueur

The Creative Power of Words

MARCH 3, 2011


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 42:15-25 (Revised English Bible):

How shall I call to mind the works of the Lord

and describe what I have seen,

his works which by his word were made.

As everything is illumined by the rays of the sun,

so the works of the Lord are full of his glory.

Even to the angels the Lord has not given the power

to tell the full tale of the marvels

accomplished by the Lord Almighty,

so that the universe may stand firm in his glory.

He fathoms both the abyss and the human heart,

he is versed in their intricacies;

for the Most High possesses all knowledge,

and the signs of the times are under his eye.

He discloses both past and future,

and lays bare the traces of secret things.

No thought escapes his notice,

and not a single word is hidden from him.

He has set in order the masterpieces of his wisdom,

he who is One from eternity to eternity;

nothing is added, nothing taken away,

and he needs none to give him counsel.

How pleasing is all that he has made,

even the smallest spark the eye can see!

His works endure, all of them active for ever

and all responsive to their several functions.

All things go in pairs, one counterpart of the other;

he has made nothing incomplete.

One thing supplements the virtues of another.

Of his glory who can ever see too much?

Psalm 33:1-9 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous;

it is good for the just to sing praises.

2 Praise the LORD with the harp;

play to him upon the psaltery and lyre.

3 sing for him a new song;

sound a fanfare with all your skill upon the trumpet.

4 For the word of the LORD is right,

and all of his works are sure.

5 He loves righteousness and justice;

the loving-kindness of the LORD fills the whole earth.

6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made,

by the breath of his mouth all the heavenly hosts.

7 He gathers up the waters of the ocean as in a water-skin

and stores up the depths of the sea.

8 Let all the earth fear the LORD;

let all who dwell in the world stand in awe of him.

9 For he spoke, and it came to pass;

he commanded, and it stood fast.

Mark 10:46-52 (Revised English Bible):

They came to Jericho; and as he was leaving the town, with his disciples and a large crowd, Bartimaeus (that is, son of Timaeus), a blind beggar, was seated at the roadside.  Hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout,

Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me!

Many of the people told him to hold his tongue; but he shouted all the more,

Son of David, have pity on me.

Jesus stopped and said,

Call him;

so they called the blind man:

Take heart;

they said.

Get up; he is calling you.

At that he threw off his cloak, jumped to his feet, and came to Jesus.  Jesus said to him,

What do you want me to do for you?

The blind man answered,

Rabbi, I want my sight back.

Jesus said to him,

Go; your faith as healed you.

At once he recovered his sight and followed him on the road.


The Collect:

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.

The old saying I have quoted above is a lie.  Many of us know this from experience, do we not?  My point is this:  words have the power to create a new reality.

According the Jewish mythology incorporated into the Christian Bible, God spoke the universe into existence.  And, as the psalmist and Ben Sira remind us, the created order spoken into existence is majestic, beautiful, and abounding in divine wisdom. I am sufficiently panentheistic (without falling into anti-scientific notions such as creationism) to perceive God in nature, from a sunset to cricket chirps.  Nature is especially beautiful when one regards it as an expression of the sacred.  One does not exploit what one regards as sacred, and environmental stewardship becomes a religious duty, not just a biological imperative.  No, one stands in awe in the presence of what one regards as sacred, and one seeks and finds the words of God there.   Maybe the crickets chirp them.  One does not know for sure until one listens closely enough for long enough.

Speaking of the presence of the sacred, we have the story of Jesus, en route to Jerusalem for Passover, healing blind Bartimaeus.  This is a good time to point out where we are in the Markan narrative.  The book has sixteen chapters; we are at the end of Chapter 10.  Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem for his last celebration of the Passover.  He will die very soon.  He is a man with quite a bit on his mind, but not too much to help this blind man others are trying to keep quiet.

Bartimaeus, the author of the Gospel of Mark tells us, was a blind beggar.  He had little, and his disability rendered him marginal in his society.  Ancient blindness had a variety of causes, ranging from being born that way to having a diet lacking sufficient vitamins to experiencing eye diseases to suffering the effects of bird droppings.  There was a common cultural belief in First Century C.E. Palestine that blindness and other physical ailments resulted from sin; this point arises more than once in the canonical gospels.  So here we have Bartimaeus, who cannot earn a living because he is blind, and whom others regard as unusually sinful.

He hears that Jesus is passing by.  So Bartimaeus seizes his opportunity and calls out to Jesus.  Our Lord and Savior hears these persistent pleas and answers them.  With words Bartimaeus helps create his new reality (one of sight), and with words Jesus completes the process.  And what does Bartimaeus do next?  He follows Jesus on the road to Jerusalem.

I think that the end of this story contains a deeper level of meaning.  Of course Bartimaeus follows Jesus for the remaining fifteen miles to Jerusalem for Passover.  But he follows Jesus in a non-literal way, too.  Bartimaeus follows Jesus for the rest of his life, however long or short that may be.  His ending might not be pleasant, assuming the full meaning of the metaphor.   Yet what time he has left is dedicated to following Jesus, and that is a high calling indeed.

And it began with a simple, persistent plea for mercy.  It started with words.

Ben Sira asks a profound question:

Of his glory who can ever see too much?

I suspect that, had someone asked Bartimaeus this question over a week after the healing, he would have said that nobody can ever see too much divine glory.  He saw more than he expected he would on that day when Jesus passed by, and everything he witnessed changed his life.

Words have the power to create.  What will the results of your words be?




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