Dear Ones, grace and peace to you from God, who mothers us, who redeems us, and who sustains us. Amen.
I am a foodie… Regina (my wife) and I enjoy cooking, eating, gardening, talking about food, trying new restaurants, new foods, and new recipes, and sharing food with other people. It’s part of how we interact with the world and how we make sense of certain aspects of it. Sometimes we cook our own food, investing our time and energy into preparing a meal. Sometimes we have food delivered or go out to inexpensive restaurants. And, sometimes, we spend more money on a single meal than I care to admit.
We’re also deeply relational people. She’s a teacher; I’m a pastor. We’re called to be with people. We care about politics and creating better social networks and systems for all of God’s beloved children. So, when food celebrity, Andrew Zimmern, created a television show called “What’s Eating America?,” bringing politics and food together into one conversation, we were hooked before we even watched it. In the first episode, Zimmern teams up with José Andrés, the celebrity chef who created World Central Kitchen, a charity which responds to disasters around the world by enlisting volunteers to provide meals where they are most needed. Together, they explore the connections between food production and immigrants in this country.
Tracing food ingredients served in the Congressional Dining Room back to their origins, the pair follow and interview farm and factory workers, meat processors, restaurant staff, and others. Many of the people they speak with are Mexican immigrants. While most are documented, a few are not, but they’re still willing to faithfully speak out to share their stories and their humanity. One of the women they interviewed has been traveling from Mexico to a small town on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland each year since 1991, for seasonal work picking crabs for a small, family-owned business. She has always been granted a special visa for seasonal work, and her job has provided her the income necessary to buy a home in Mexico and to build a better life there for herself and her children. New immigration policies may prevent her from continuing her work in future seasons. Her story is all too common.
By sharing immigrant and migrant workers’ stories, Zimmern and Andrés put faces to the issue of immigration policy reform. They call some of the most impacted children of God front and center to share their wisdom, their knowledge, their stories… As we watched this program, it seemed to me that they are continuing the work Jesus is up to with our friend Bartimaeus.
It’s so easy to get caught up, like the disciples, with the crowd mentality that tries to shut Bartimaeus up. We can come up with all kinds of reasons why we don’t need to hear the input of those whom society seeks to sideline. One of my favorite seminary professors, Matt Skinner, frames it this way: Some “in the crowd rebuke Bartimaeus, demanding he be silent. This detail reminds us that blind beggars dwell near the bottom rung of social privilege in ancient (and contemporary) society. Do people shout Bartimaeus down because they think he deserves to be who he is? Probably. Do they put their own needs before his? Perhaps. In their ignorance about Jesus, the focus of his message, and his concern for blind beggars, their reprimand of Bartimaeus threatens to limit the range within which Jesus might dispense his compassion and grace. Bartimaeus knows better, and so he yells ‘even more loudly’ until his words penetrate Jesus’ ears.”
I imagine the disciples thinking, “Jesus doesn’t have time for this nonsense! He’s busy. He’s got a schedule to keep. He’s got important people to see. He doesn’t need to be bothered by this lowly, blind beggar.” NO! cries Jesus. He knows Bartimaeus has something important to share, so he redirects his disciples to call him into the middle of the action, making him the center of attention. And in that moment, before Bartimaeus regains his physical sight, Jesus declares, “Go; your faith has made you well.” In other words, with or without his physical sight, he is a well man, because he has a healthy, vibrant faith. Despite being told in no uncertain terms to shut up, he persists with his cries until Jesus hears him. Then, when he’s called close to Jesus, he jumps up, leaving everything by the side of the road, confident in Jesus’ ability to give him all that he asks and so much more. He is seen. He is heard.
Bartimaeus shows a remarkable understanding of who Jesus is – the Son of David – a title that will continue to ring in everyone’s ears as they follow Jesus into Jerusalem, the city of David… As the crowds shout Hosanna, praising Jesus as the messiah springing forth from David’s line…
The crowd’s bias blinds them to the value of Bartimaeus; instead of a beloved child of God, they see a worthless lump of flesh. Instead of a loyal, valued employee, worthy of the dignity she has earned, many see our crab-picking Mexican sister, and others like her, as job-stealing, dangerous “less-thans.” When Jesus asks Bartimaeus, “what do you want me to do for you?,” his humble answer is, “let me see again.” That answer could also be translated, “let me look up again.” Let me lift my head again… Let me live with dignity again…
Friends, the same blinding powers that caused the crowd to demand that Bartimaeus shut up are rampant in our society today. Sexism, misogyny and patriarchy are blinding us and making us sick. Racism, injustice, inequity and white privilege are blinding us and making us sick. Hatred and fear are blinding us and making us sick. Greed and self-centeredness are blinding us and making us sick. Even as many continue to join the chorus calling for the oppressed to continually be shut up, Jesus stands still and says, “call them here.” Bring them close. I want to hear what they have to say, and you NEED to hear what they have to say. Put simply, we are called always to include and never to exclude; we are called to join Bartimaeus and follow Jesus on the way. We’re all in this wild journey of faith together.
A friend of mine and of this congregation, Palestinian theologian and pastor Mitri Raheb, shared this observation on Facebook this week: “One important insight from the coronavirus is that we are all in it together. No difference between a Chinese, an Italian, a Palestinian, a German, an Israeli or an American [person]. The whole world, one big village. Some countries might be better prepared than others, some people more aware than others, but at the end of the day we are all equal. Walls don’t work, borders don’t help, only close cooperation to build a common future can make a difference.”
While the coronavirus sparked this observation for Mitri, it applies to our whole shared journey of faith. No matter the issue – climate change, immigration and emigration, racism, bigotry, white privilege, injustice and inequity of any kind, we’re called to stand up to the status quo that continues to sideline far too many of our siblings. We’re called to leap up to join Jesus on the way, wherever it may lead. Like the disciples, we’re called to change our chorus from “shut up,” to “take heart; get up, Jesus is calling you.”
No matter how daunting, difficult, or confusing the way may seem, Jesus promises to be there, leading you, continually inviting you to include one more person, one more group. That’s our shared journey of becoming together. Together, we join Bartimaeus in looking up, lifting our heads and inviting others to do the same, seeing the dignity in one another – dignity that is found in inclusion, in the recognition that we are all in this journey together. “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” Amen.