In the culture in which I was raised, making a fuss was considered as something that could only invite personal embarrassment. If you made a fuss, in effect you were drawing attention to yourself, and drawing attention was tantamount to inviting social judgment. Consequently, I am someone who hardly ever makes a fuss, at least, not in public. The one exception, are high-end restaurants. Here I have learned to overcome my conditioning when I am encountered by an attitude of condescension, the kind of attitude that with concealed subtlety communicates that it’s a privilege for me to be eating in this elegant and glamorous restaurant while paying through the nose for the privilege of being condescended to. This being the exception, I often find myself hotly ruminating in my mind – going over and over again what I should have said to this or that person, in this or that situation, had I been less inhibited by my fear of embarrassing myself by making a fuss.
As we travel through the enveloping cool of autumn, a season that always conjures up for me the opening lines of Keats’ Ode to Autumn:
SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
I am mindful of another season that I secretly dread; that of the parish’s Annual Renewal Campaign or ARC, when as rector I run the risk of making a fuss, or at least provoking the opprobrium of my more conservative parishioners who consider it bad taste for the rector to talk about money, in church. This year at St Martin’s I have enjoyed the relief of being able to soft peddle the usual message about financial stewardship because this year, the ARC occurs within a larger process of our adoption of the RenewalWorks spiritual inventory.
Like many parishes, at least in the Episcopal Church, we struggle with financial stewardship. Often this is presented as a budgetary issue, and meeting proverbial budgetary deficits is an element for careful, and dare I say – prayerful consideration. Yet, for us at St Martin’s, a community where the financial generosity of its members is regularly expressed when it comes to paying for large ticket items such as our recent restoration of the St Martin window, we discern that the challenge of financial stewardship facing us is to deepen our response to the call of discipleship. By this, I don’t mean to suggest the proverbial report card comment – must try harder. I am talking about our need to find a satisfaction for the unnamed yearning of our hearts.
Several years ago, when I served at Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix, I coined the sound bite – opening our wallets as widely as we long to open our hearts. Glibness aside, in my own life of discipleship, financial stewardship takes me to the heart of an internal struggle to overcome an ingrained attitude of scarcity and to experience life- abundance. To live with gratitude and generosity from a belief that there is always enough, because in my life the experience of enough is more than anything else, an attitude of mind and an orientation of heart. An attitude of scarcity often goes hand in hand with an anxiety about making a fuss. Both are the products of certain kinds of cultural experience.
Invitation to conversation through the gospel reading
The story of Bartimaeus son of Timaeus takes place on the outskirts of the Biblically rich city of Jericho. This is a multilayered story in a sequence of multilayered stories that Mark offers us concerning Jesus’ road trip to Jerusalem. This road trip recalling Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is for those who travel with him the road trip to discipleship. Mark recounts a number of incidents along the way that are all linked by a call to discipleship. Mark chronicles events of blindness and clear-sightedness. The healing of the physically blind becomes the metaphor for another kind of blindness, that of the mind and heart; a blindness repeatedly displayed by the Disciples.
Bartimaeus is a poor man, not simply poor materially, but according to the prevailing religious attitudes of his time, poor spiritually as well. For the religious of his day, his blindness was an indication of his being out of favour with God. Bartimaeus has placed himself by the roadside so as not to be missed by Jesus as he passes. When he hears Jesus approaching he begins to make a fuss, and as others try with some severity to silence him, the crescendo of his fuss-making only increases.
Bartimaeus sits by the roadside on the outskirts of Jericho, which in the 6th chapter of the Book of Joshua we are told was the first town to fall to the Israelites who leveled its walls by making a huge commotion of feet tramping, trumpets blaring, and voices shouting. On the roadside, on the outskirts of Jericho, Bartimaeus sits making a commotion as he calls repeatedly: Son of David, have mercy on me!
Bartimaeus’ use of this historic phrase Son of David is a code phrase for his recognition of Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus, moving amidst the throng of people is halted in his tracks and turning around he tells the crowd to bring him to me. Mark then shows us a man, not a blind man who haltingly rises and moves with caution towards Jesus, but a man who throws off his cloak and springs up and rushes toward Jesus. Jesus asks him the proverbial discipleship question: What do you want me to do for you? Compare Bartimaeus’ response to that of James and John to the same question, reported by Mark in last week’s incident along the road. Bartimaeus with simplicity says: My rabbi, let me see again!
Whenever we respond to the call of discipleship, Jesus simply asks us: what do you want me to do for you? Unlike Bartimaeus, we will often not know how to answer. For me, the point of this story lies in my recognition that Bartimaeus receives his sight through an experience of cathexis.
Cathexis is a term that refers to the investment of emotional significance in an activity, object, or idea. Bartimaeus becomes deeply invested in the one his heart has been yearning for because the intensity of his yearning heart creates a moment in which he experiences a profound realignment with Jesus.
Sometimes to obtain that which our hearts yearn for requires such a realignment. Realignment, results when we risk to step outside of our sense of social conformity and make a fuss, weathering the storm of public rebuke for doing so. Bartimaeus’ heart moves from yearning via commotion-making to investment in the one for whom he has been longing. Through becoming invested in Jesus, he now moves into the relationship of discipleship.
Today over lunch at St Martin of Tours in Providence, our RenwalWorks leadership team meets to begin to review the data from our recent RenewalWorks online survey. At this point in time, it’s not for me to speak too much about my impression of the data from our responses. What I can say, because it relates directly to my exploration of Mark’s story of Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, is that our survey results provide breathtaking evidence of the strength of the yearning of our hearts for God. The possibility of cathexis is in the air!