[Text: Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52]
Did you notice where our story in the Gospel of Mark takes place today? Look at the first verse:
“Then they came to Jericho,” it says.
This isn’t the first time the city of Jericho shows up in the Bible. When you were young, perhaps in Sunday School or Vacation Bible School, maybe you sang, “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho! Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, and the walls came tumbling down!” Does that sound familiar?
That song, which actually began as a slave spiritual in the nineteenth century, is taken from the story of the battle of Jericho in the Old Testament. (The book of Joshua comes right after Deuteronomy, and before Judges.)
The children of Israel had gotten out of Egypt after God parted the Sea of Reeds to allow them to pass through. Once they were safely across the sea, God spent the next forty years camping out with them in the wilderness, revealing himself to them in very intimate and tangible ways– a great cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night– and feeding them with manna and quail, and causing water to gush forth from a rock when they were thirsty. This time of journeying taught them that they could depend on the God who had gotten them out of Egypt. They learned they could trust his promises.
God had made a big promise to them: he promised them a land of their own, their “promised land”, which they could call home. This land was called Canaan, and in order to get it, they needed to defeat Jericho. Jericho was an extremely well-fortified city. Its walls were quite advanced for its day, and they would be extremely difficult to penetrate even for a well-organized army, let alone a motley crew of Israelites who had been wandering in the desert for forty years. Still, the Israelites trusted God’s promise, even though the odds seemed pretty grim.
Moses put Joshua in charge of the mission. After sending spies to do a little bit of recon, he decided they weren’t going to get through the walls by force. Instead, once a day, for six days, the Israelite army (if you can call it an army; it was pretty pitiful) marched around the walls of Jericho with the priests and the Ark of the Covenant in tow. Then, on the seventh day, they marched seven times around the walls. At the end, all the Israelites started shouting and yelling, and the priests blew into their ram’s horns, and they made all kinds of noise. And, as the song says, “the walls came tumbling down.”
Jesus was a rabbi; he knew the Torah well. He would have certainly known the significance of Jericho and what happened there. In fact; that story had personal significance for him. The one Canaanite whose life was spared when Jericho was destroyed– Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute who had sheltered Joshua’s spies– is a direct ancestor of Jesus. In the long genealogy that St. Matthew gives us at the beginning of his Gospel, he lists four women by name among Jesus’s ancestors, and Rahab is the second of those four. (The other three, if you’re interested, are Tamar, Bathsheba, and, of course, the Blessed Virgin Mary. We also know that Ruth– whom we’ll talk about week after next– is an ancestor of Jesus, because she’s King David’s grandmother.)
In our Gospel story from St. Mark, over a thousand years later, Jesus and company are in Jericho, that very same city, the city whose famous walls came tumbling down not because of weapons, but because the children of God refused to be silent.
As they’re leaving the city, they happen upon a blind beggar sitting on the side of the road. That’s probably not an unusual sight for them; begging was basically the only career choice for people born disabled in that time. The disabled were excluded from full participation in their communities, because no one would take the time to figure out how to accommodate and educate them.
The man’s name is Bartimaeus, which, as Mark points out, means “Son of Timaeus”. When he hears that Jesus is passing by, he starts to shout.
It’s not too long before people start telling him to be quiet. They’re probably like, “Shut your piehole, Bartimaeus; nobody wants to hear all that racket!” (As usual, nobody wants to listen to the voices of the marginalized. What else is new under the sun?)
But Bartimaeus refuses to be silenced. In fact, he starts yelling and calling out even louder.
Jesus hears all the holy commotion Bartimaeus is making, and asks that he be brought before him. Bartimaeus hops up immediately and runs to Jesus.
Jesus asks, “What can I do for you?”
Bartimaeus asks that his sight be restored.
Jesus tells him, “Go, for your faith has made you well.”
Immediately– this is St. Mark’s Gospel; you knew there was going to be an “immediately” in here somewhere, didn’t you?– Bartimaeus is able to see again, and he becomes a follower of Jesus.
We shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus heard Bartimaeus. Jesus is the one who always hears the voices everyone wants to silence– the voices of “the least of these”– the marginalized, the outcast, the excluded ones, the unwanted ones. In fact, in his first sermon, Jesus read that famous passage from the sixty-first chapter of Isaiah, which sums up what Jesus came to earth to do. Restoring sight to the blind was a part of that, along with proclaiming freedom to prisoners and captives, and bringing good news to the poor and the oppressed. He also talked about declaring “the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Let’s take another look at the story of the Battle of Jericho– the history of this place where Bartimaeus received his sight. Do you remember how they got the walls that kept God’s people from their Promised Land to fall down? Lots of shouting and noise, right? Not unlike all the shouting our friend Bartimaeus was doing when Jesus passed by.
But there was another piece of it– the priests. The priest were blowing into their ram’s horns. That’s significant. The instrument they’re talking about, which was indeed made from a ram’s horn, is called a shofar. It was a ceremonial instrument used by the priests back then to announce holidays, as well as the Year of Jubilee. A Jubilee year happened every fiftieth year, and during that year, all debts would be forgiven, slaves and captives would be set free, and sins would be pardoned.
Pretty cool, right? It sounds a lot like the “year of the Lord’s favor” Jesus was talking about when he read from Isaiah.
It also sounds a lot like the idea of shalom that we talked about a few weeks ago— abundance for all, no war, no greed, no poverty– true peace.
It was the blowing of those horns– along with the refusal of God’s people to be silent– that caused the impenetrable walls of Jericho to fall down, and allowed the Israelites to get one step closer to the land they’d been promised.
There’s a land we’ve been promised too, you know. It’s called Zion– the city of God. Zion is God’s vision for humanity– echoed by prophets in every age– from Isaiah in ancient times to Bishop Katharine, and the future prophets in my generation and generations yet to come who will proclaim this vision. We, God’s people, have been promised that we will one day be able to lay down our burdens, to lay down our sword and shield and study war no more– and not just in the next life, but here, now, in this world. We will be given new sight– we will see one another and the world through the eyes of Jesus, and hear the cries of the downtrodden the way he does, and we will truly, passionately seek out justice for all so that no one is excluded or treated as less-than. We will not allow walls to exist that separate God’s people from one another, or that keep even one person from entering into the full reality of God’s vision for humanity.
The reign of God is drawing near, and God’s promises are coming true. The Promised Land– jubilee, shalom, Zion– is already becoming a reality. St. Paul says that if anyone is in Christ, if even one person is doing the work of God’s Kingdom, then we know that everything is already being re-imagined and made new.
We cannot stop blowing our horns, children of Zion, people of God. We cannot cease, even for a moment, to proclaim with our words and our lives the coming of the Kingdom of God. We cannot stop making a holy commotion, no matter how much those in power would like us to shut up.
We cannot be silent until all the walls come tumbling down.