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This lectionary covers the next thirty days. For full lists, see the seasons and years below.
Sunday, October 24, 2021
Bartimaeus’ faith is proved by the title he gives to Jesus: Son of David. This is an explicit confession of Jesus as messiah. Despite the fact that he could not see Jesus with his eyes, in faith he saw Jesus’ true identity more clearly even than many of Jesus’ own disciples. Like the feeding miracles which satisfied the natural hunger of the people in order to point to the supernatural sustenance of the Eucharist, Bartimaus was given natural sight as a sign of the spiritual sight he showed in his confession of faith.
There is much to be said about the eyes of faith and the all-important confession of Jesus as Christ and Lord in right belief, but the preacher might also hang an exhortation on verse 52. After Bartimaeus received his sight, he followed Jesus on his way. This also shows the genuineness of his faith, that he follows Jesus even after his eyes are opened.
For us today, the Christian life comes with great natural benefits. Habits of virtue and self-control, on balance, make life go better for us. But Jesus calls us further down the road than just living a better natural life. He calls us on to eternal life by way of the Cross. This life choice is probably why Bartimaeus is named in the Gospel. As a disciple and eyewitness to Christ he may have been known among the community of Jesus’ apostles, and could even have been a source for the very Gospel he appears in. In the same way, we will be named in the Book of Life if we not only receive benefits from Jesus, or confess him publicly once, but by following him in faith all the days of our lives.
Sunday, October 31, 2021
The Greatest Commandment(s) is not a discrete prescription in the law but the very principle of the whole law. What Jesus gives to the scribe is the summary statement, the anchor point around which turns the whole rest of the six-hundred odd laws and the system of temple sacrifice. The scribe, for his part, answers well and Jesus compliments him for it. It seems that the scribe’s comment that the commandments supersede the assiduous observance of sacrifices gives him a clue that he is very close to the heart of the kingdom. It is not ritual observance but the disposition of the heart that God wants.
The Christian’s heart is disposed to love both God and neighbor, indeed to do one is to do the other. If we love others, we will want God’s will for them, and if we love God then we will love his creatures who bear his image: people. The purpose of religious apparatus is to get us to this place.
This episode also reveals a bit of Jesus’ method. Like the game where children stumble around blindfolded trying to find a destination and parents say “You’re getting warmer!” Jesus guides his hearers along the path by steps. Indeed, “the way” is a common motif in Mark. Lots of things happen along “the way” or “the road.” More than establishing the setting, it gives a clue as to the nature of the gospel, more than a message, it is a walk in faith, always ongoing.
The preacher ought to take a moment to be encouraged by this. Now as then, preaching the Word of God clearly and truly is to step into the same hornet’s nest of confusion from the ambient culture. But God leads people along by steps, from the person whose faith is so weak that they cry out for help, to this lone scribe who is ready and capable of recognizing the truth that is so near to the heart of the kingdom.
Sunday, November 7, 2021
The wealth of faith in the poor of means is displayed in this famous story of the widow’s mite. The preacher can focus on the social dimension of unequal dignity between poor and rich if desired, but the better option would be to take the lesson of the widow about investment in heaven.
She committed her entire life to God in that act, displaying a powerful faith in his providence over and against material means. She preached her own sermon, and it does her highest honor to take its lesson: that God alone gives life, and giving toward advancing his interests, even at the expense of our own, is the surest investment we can make.
The widow is often depicted as a sweet and sad old thing at the end of her rope and nowhere to go but God. In fact, she is smart, a sharper tack than the rich around her, for she puts all of her eggs into God’s basket. By withholding nothing, she ensures that nothing of her is withheld from trusting in God’s providence. Like Zacchaeus, she pushes all of her chips in on God’s provision.
The preacher should be quick to remind the congregation that this sort of total faith is the gift of God, and he builds it into us as we go along the way of our life with him.
Sunday, November 14, 2021
Nearing the end of the Christian year, we return to the last things, looking forward again to Advent and its portent of the return of Christ. The preacher should prepare the congregation again for that watchful posture that is proper to the coming season.
Jesus gives two warnings, one against fear of disaster and the other against false messiahs. In the near term, the destruction of the Temple came to pass in AD 70, but Jesus’ words here have always been understood to refer also to the end of the world. The upshot is that we are to remain steady in faith, awaiting the end but neither cowed nor enticed by anything. Our own fear can cause us to retreat from the work God has for us. Also, false teachings can seduce us away from the narrow way of the true gospel.
Jesus’ purpose in letting the disciples in on his divine knowledge of the end of time is to increase their fortitude and trust in God, not to turn them into a community of doomsayers. Patience in hope characterizes the Christian attitude toward life in the world, because the end has been vouchsafed by our Lord.