This afternoon at the rehearsal for tomorrow’s baptism I was surprised when two families members are deaf. More than twenty years ago, before seminary, our neighbor’s two sons were deaf, so I had some experience. What little sign language I had picked up was gone. But I did remember to always look directly toward them.
I am used to making eye contact when preaching, teaching, leading a discussion, making a presentation. But this is both different and not. It is different in that I am making eye contact with someone for them; else where I make eye contact at least in part for me.
And here we come across a key element of Baptism. We gather for the person being baptized. Not for the Church. Not for ourselves. Actually it’s a key element of all Christ based relationships, for all Jesus actions are for God, or are for us, all humanity, all creation, never for himself. (Even his drawing aside to pray and recharge is eventually for God and us.) What would the world look like if everything we did was for the other person?
I love reading scripture. Yes, for the usual reasons of inspiration and insight, but also for surprises. You’d that after decades upon decades there would be few, but that is not my experience. This morning reading about Bartimaeus (Mark (10:46)) for the first time I noticed that when the tells him Jesus is calling him he gets up and goes to Jesus. How? Reading that the crowd tells Bartimaeus Jesus is calling him infers he can not hear Jesus. We know he is blind so he can not see Jesus. There is the possibility the crowd guides him, that is believable. However, is doing a little commentary reading I learned that the phrase Call him here. is previously used for calling disciples (1:20, 3:13). This story ends with Bartimaeus following Jesus, so it is plausible to infer Bartimaeus is a disciple. That makes this story more than a miracle healing story, it makes it a calling story as well. Then again, knowing ‘miracle’ etymology is in part ‘sign’ we should not be surprised a miracle story is also a calling story.
But I want to stay with the surprise just a bit. The surprise that a person with no point of reference and not sensual ques gets into Jesus’ presence. This points out that it is something of Jesus, not us, that draws us into Jesus presence. Yes, we can call out, as Bartimaeus did, but it is Jesus’ at work, not our effort, which closes the gap, and draws us into his presence. Upon writing (reading or hearing) this, it is not surprising. It is a reminder that in our efforts to invite people into Jesus’ presence we need not pay so much attention as to what works, we know that is Jesus, as to simply share the story, make an invitation (and then perhaps get out of the way). The story also reminds us everyone should be invited, we are not to judge who is invited and who is not, the crowd did its’ best to keep Bartimaeus away. Jesus had another idea. So it would seem that those who do not see, and those who do not hear, are drawn into the discipleship of Jesus.
New Interpreter’s Study Bible, Walter Harrison General Editor