Monday, October 29, 2012

True Value

Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

According to the United Methodist Book of Disciple (which is our "official" position), every human person is of "sacred worth".  By "sacred", then, we do not imply nor do we suggest: we emphatically insist that in the eyes of our Holy Father, every human being is of infinite value to Him without even trying.  Each of us.  Sinners all.  Without exception.  No matter how young.  No matter how old.  No matter how white.  No matter how black.  No matter how "saved" or not, the Scripture is clear: "God is love"

In our eyes, however, and according to our own system by which we assign value, how we value others is more often than not relative to their usefulness to us.  Yet in the Lord's eyes and according to His own desires, the value of the human person is inherent to that person's very being even before the moment of conception and regardless of how we are conceived; "Before you were formed in the womb, I knew you ...", says the Lord.

Sometimes the language of religion, particularly among certain Protestant traditions, can be a little over the top.  We speak of the merits and righteousness of Christ by which we are justified before the Lord our God, and we should.  It is unfortunate that some assign value to the human person based on an impossible standard; "For such a worm as I" comes to mind.  This works well when we become consciously aware of the sin in our lives in that moment of confession and conviction, but it must not be taken as a literal theological or biblical expression of human value because the Bible simply does not back it up. 

There are those who assign value according to this misguided theology, and come to the conclusion that apart from Christ Jesus we have no value in the sight of our Holy Father.  One "arm chair theologian" (and I use even that term loosely) insists our Holy Father can see only Jesus; so one must proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior because apart from Him we are "worthless" and, thus, unseen.  This "arm chair theologian" insists we have no value apart from Christ and only demands that we "say the magic words" and all is well; he makes no mention of discipleship and even seems to go to great lengths to disavow the Holy Church altogether, referring to churches and church members as "apostates" and "anti-christs". 

I do not see this scripturally; and I think if we were to read and study the Scriptures more carefully and contextually rather than sentence-by-sentence and line-by-line, picking and choosing only those parts we like, it would be hard to come to such a conclusion - especially since the Lord proclaimed to Israel through the prophet Isaiah that "I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands" (49:16 NKJV).  Worthless?  I think not.  Israel did not "do" anything to earn this kind of divine love; in fact, quite the opposite can be said.  So we can see "value" inherent in the divinely created being - that's us - no matter how we were conceived!  We become a life worth loving.  Can we say Christians or Jews are of greater value than others?  I don't see how we can without defying the essence of Mark's witness in the story of Bartimaeus, the blind man.

This poor guy was sitting by the side of the road.  It has been said that taking a blind or lame person to a "begging point" was a common practice.  Place these poor souls near high-traffic areas, and thus give them a reasonable chance to encounter a generous soul.  Matthew (20:29) says there were two men, and Luke (18:35) only mentions a "certain" blind man but does not assign him a name.  Nevertheless we are looking at someone who is clearly "outside" the favored circle, the "multitude" Luke says was following Jesus, the "large crowd" described by Mark

In all three accounts, this entourage tried to silence the blind man when he became aware that Jesus was nearby and he began shouting for Jesus' attention.  Get it?  The "in" crowd tried to silence the man who only wanted to regain his sight.  It is clear by the crowd's reaction and attempt to silence this poor man that his "value" to them was virtually non-existent; he was just a poor, blind beggar with no real social value.  They seemed to assume Jesus would feel the same way.  Yet it was Jesus who heard the same cries the crowd heard, but He instructed His followers to call the man over.  THEN their attitude seemed to change!  "Take heart!  Get up, He's calling you!" 

Clearly before this man was even aware, he had "sacred" value; he was of "sacred worth" to our Lord.  Our Wesleyan Methodist theology calls this "prevenient grace", evidence of the Lord's love before we are even aware.  It was the crowd of followers who not only failed to see this but seemed determined to hide this man from our Lord.  Even after Jesus called to him his worth to the entourage may have been questionable except for the way Mark's account is written.  The blind man was granted the sight he asked for, and he "immediately ... followed [Jesus] on the way."  Bartimaeus became a disciple.

There are a couple of things we should note in this passage.  The first is that which glared up at me from the pages in the way Jesus addressed the blind man.  "What do you want Me to do for you?"  This may not sound like such a big deal except in the way we may address those who call to us: what do you want?  Notice the difference in implication, perhaps tone?  The way we answer - and especially the way in which Jesus answers - the "value" of the person asking is immediately assigned.  Jesus asked, "What may I do for you?"  Jesus affirms the inherent "sacred" value of this man's being by making it clear He is prepared to serve the blind man before the favor is even asked.  If we answer simply, what do you want?, we are assigning relative value - but denying "sacred worth" - by suggesting the person doing the asking is not genuinely needy, only bothersome; and our willingness to respond is conditional ... and so is our love. 

The second thing we must take note of is Jesus' "commandment": "Call him here".  It is not often that we refer to Jesus' words as "commandment", but maybe we should be more aware of Jesus' words in such a context - that is, IF He is truly our "Lord", our "Master", our "Teacher".  John Wesley referred to Jesus' "commandment" in the observation of the Lord's Supper: "Do this" as a spiritual necessity to those who should understand our genuine need to be fed, to be nourished, to be humbled in the face of such a colossal gift, and to be reminded - constantly reminded - of our "sacred worth" in the Lord's eyes and in His blessed heart. 

In the Letter to the Hebrews it is written, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."  It is in the light of faith by which we can see and appreciate Divine Love for what it truly is, but what happens when that faith is shaky?  What happens when we encounter the "real world" and our faith is shaken to the core?  Where is the "evidence" we need to persevere when things get rough?  It is in the liturgy of the Holy Eucharist, the Lord's Supper.  In this liturgy we "tell the story" just as Moses commanded the children of Israel to "tell the story" of the Passover, why it happened, and what came as a result.  We are reminded in the liturgy of the Holy Eucharist of the great pains the Lord took to affirm our "sacred worth" in His eyes; "affirm", not "assign".  When all apparent evidence seems contrary, when we have become "blinded" as Bartimaeus by the harsh reality that is sometimes life, when the heartless world - and yes, sometimes the heartless Church - tries to tell us to "sit down and shut up", we are reminded that we have not been forsaken; that we have not been forgotten.

This is why John Wesley insisted we partake of the Lord's Supper as often as we can, as often as is possible; because the world is a rough place and we often take such a beating in our day-to-day living, it is easy to forget we are loved - truly and deeply loved.  Wesley's words come near to suggesting we "do this" only because the Lord says so, but that context is not consistent with Wesleyan or biblical theology.  There is a reason why the Lord said, "Do this"; and that reason has everything to do with our "sacred worth" in the eyes of our Lord and our Lord's need for us to always know this.  And this, my dear friends, is the sole mission of the Holy Church; to proclaim this Eternal Truth.

There is no more fitting way to approach our Lord humbly by the evidence of the perfect sacrifice "He did once for all when He offered Himself".  He is our "high priest; holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens" (Hebrews 7:26-27).  Therefore "He is able for all time to save those who approach God through Him, since He lives always to make intercession for [us]. 

Not because we "earned" it.  Only because He loves us.  AMEN.

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