“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”
Poet Muriel Rukeyser

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Go and Do Likewise

A reflection on the readings for Proper 25B: Job 42:1-6, 10-17 and Mark 10:46-52

My family and I live in Green Valley, having moved there from Chicago about 2 years ago. It’s a big change for us, living in a small town in the middle of the desert instead of the hustle and bustle of a major Midwest city. There are some things we really like about where we live. For example, we live on the foothills of the Santa Rita mountains, just a few miles from Madera Canyon. The view out our backyard is spectacular and the birds at our feeders are plentiful and beautiful.

But there are many things we miss about Chicago. The restaurants, or more specifically a good Italian beef, is one thing. We also miss the variety of options on cable television. Where we are we do have cable, but it’s limited. The same movie will play over and over, days on end. Old movies. For example, about every three months one of the movie channels will play Clear and Present Danger, the movie version of the Tom Clancey novel that stars Harrison Ford. I’ve seen it so many times now I’d know it by heart, that is if I were really paying attention instead of knitting.

Ford plays the acting director of the C.I.A. who is caught and nearly murdered in a secret war between the President of the United States and the Columbian drug cartel. Living this close to Mexico we know a thing or two about drug cartels and the violence they bring. The conflict in the movie lies between those who see morality in shades of gray and Ford who thinks a person can know the difference between right and wrong, and that you must respond accordingly.

As the movie runs its course there is a scene where Ford, in the jungles of Columbia, realizes that he has been set up. He and a friend go deep into the jungle trying to rescue survivors of an American commando team. That this team exists, that they betrayed him, and that they now face destruction, have all been hidden from him for much of the movie. But now, knowing of their existence and need to be saved, Ford feels moral bound to save whomever he can find. As it turns out there is only one survivor left. Upon learning this the commando screams, “Who did this? Who is responsible?” Ford’s character steps forward and says, “I am.” It’s a powerful scene. He clearly is not responsible, he is a victim like the rest. But he is now risking his own life to try and fix what others have done.

Responsible is a word that has two meanings. One meaning is blamed ridden – “Who is responsible for this mess?” the other meaning connotes maturity “She is a responsible woman.” Perhaps this joke will help illustrate what I mean:

A mother heard the family cat yowl in pain. She knew where to look: she looked for her son Tommy, and said, "Tommy, stop pulling his tail."

Replied Tommy, "I'm not pulling his tail. I'm just standing on it. He's doing the pulling."

Drawing its meaning from “able to respond” - a responsible person takes action to do the right thing. Ford’s character is able to respond to the situation, he is response-able.

Our readings this morning, particularly Job and the Gospel, focus on responding. Job responds to God and Bartimaeus responds to Jesus, each becomes respone-able for their lives in relationship with God.

By the end of the story of Job we come to understand, as he does, that what matters is not where his suffering “came from” but where it can “go”. Richard Rohr in his book, Job and the Mystery of Suffering suggests that one of the words in the final Job chapter is perhaps misinterpreted. God reminds Job that God is the creator of all and that Job is part of God’s creation. As a result God is always in and with Job, through thick or thin, sorrow or joy, God is present. We then hear that Job repented IN sack cloth and ashes, but Rohr suggests that maybe Job repented FROM sack cloth and ashes. In repenting Job takes responsibility for his own life and he moves from a place of woe and self pity to a place of action and ultimately transformation.
The story of Bartimauus is a similar story of responding, and what can come from it. In the Gospel we have several examples of responding: first we have Bartimaeus who hears that Jesus is coming, his salvation is at hand. “Have mercy on me” Bartimaeus shouts. But the crowd responds by trying to stifle Bartimaeus’ shout.

An entire sermon could be preached on the response of the crowd trying to keep Bartimaeus from Jesus and Jesus from Bartimaeus, how they try to contain God’s mercy…the question we could ask ourselves is how might we, consciously or not, try to keep God contained? But that’s for another day.

The crowd fails and Jesus not only hears Bartimaeus but Jesus responds with a question. Like Job responding to God, Jesus’ question to Bartimaeus pushes him into action. Responding to God, taking action, moving beyond the walls we construct for our own lives and into what God desires for us transforms us.

God meets us in the midst of the chaos of our lives and calls us to respond. The response God desires is always the same: what ever the situation, what ever has happened, we are called to respond in a way that loves God, loves self, and loves others.

Doing this - responding with love - brings forth a new sense of order, and transforms us into a deeper faithful people in the process. From the beginning of creation we hear about God taking the chaos of this world and pulling from it that which can contribute toward a greater good, a new life, a new order. God does it with love and then calls us to do likewise.