One Sunday, as I sat through a service in a local community of faith, I had the following thoughts.
We are so impregnated with individualism and consumerism. But, unlike a pregnant woman, we don’t realize it. Individualism and consumerism affects the olders and the youngers. They are not a respecter of persons. But, it still surprises me.
In that service, the speaker told us that he was ill and that it was a struggle for him to communicate. I was struck by his own individualism and consumerism in what he began to communicate. He first read Psalm 130. With the lens of individualism and the need to consume, he presented this Psalm as a personal cry for personal help. Really? I thought! A more thorough reading of the sacred text might suggest that this was not about the Psalmist crying out for his own personal relief, but the Psalmist crying out for the relief of the nation of Israel, the community of God, (church) in the Old Testament because of their sins. Our speaker personalized the sacred text and in doing so made it appear for his listeners that it was about his own and their own personal needs. Is it wrong to cry out to God when in need? No! But, it might be wrongheaded to use this text to support such a cry.
Next, we then moved with no segue to the story of Bartimaeus. The essence of the presentation was centered around the request of Bartimaeus to be healed. Reading with individualistic, consumerism eyes, we often put ourselves in the place of Bartimaeus as he asked for healing. One wonders why we don’t think: what might Jesus be doing in this story and what might Mark mean as he tells this story? Jews, with impediments like blindness, being deaf and dumb, hemorrhaging, being crippled, were excluded from full membership of the community. When Jesus healed them, it was not about meeting a need that was consumed by the individual. It was about being fully restored to the people of God. Tom Wright suggests: “The effect of these cures, therefore, was not merely to bring physical healing; not merely to give humans, within a far less individualistic society than our modern western one, a renewed sense of community membership, but to reconstitute those healed as members of the people of Israel’s god. (Jesus and the Victory of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Volume 2) 192).
In a sharing time that followed, I was struck by one comment that suggested that Bartimaeus got his identity by being blind as he was called “blind Bartimaeus,” in the KJV of the text. But that translation has not been held over in more current versions where Bartimaeus is referred to as “a blind beggar.” Surely, one may choose to see what one wants to see in a text, rightly or wrongly, but are we then free to submit our findings to a community already infected with individualism and consumerism without first, at least, identifying what Jesus may have been doing or Mark may have been teaching?
So, I wrote my friend a short message inquiring about the following:
What part of what you did yesterday fed consumerism among those gathered?
What did God get out of our time together? It’s really about him and not about us.
What if the way we go about receiving from God is backwards?
What if the purpose of our gatherings is not about what we desire to receive but about God desiring us?
It is well for us to remember, God was already there in the gathering when we arrived and remained there after we left. He didn’t just “show up.” What if we thought about What God was looking forward to as we gathered? Was it another time of sitting around asking that he meet our needs, or should it be a time in which we simply worshiped him without any expectation of receiving anything, but the pure pleasure of worshiping him.