The readings are from the catholic lectionary for daily mass, while the headline is meant to keep my thinking real:
MEDICAL AID WORKER MURDERED BY “ISLAMIC ESTATE”
Apocalypse / Revelation 1:1-4,2:1-5 ©
This is the revelation given by God to Jesus Christ so that he could tell his servants about the things which are now to take place very soon; he sent his angel to make it known to his servant John, and John has written down everything he saw and swears it is the word of God guaranteed by Jesus Christ. Happy the man who reads this prophecy, and happy those who listen to him, if they treasure all that it says, because the Time is close.
From John, to the seven churches of Asia: grace and peace to you from him who is, who was, and who is to come, from the seven spirits in his presence before his throne.
Write to the angel of the church in Ephesus and say, “Here is the message of the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand and who lives surrounded by the seven golden lamp-stands: I know all about you: how hard you work and how much you put up with. I know you cannot stand wicked men, and how you tested the impostors who called themselves apostles and proved they were liars. Know, too, that you have patience, and have suffered for my name without growing tired. Nevertheless, I have this complaint to make; you have less love now than you used to. Think where you were before you fell; repent, and do as you used to at first, or else, if you will not repent, I shall come to you and take your lamp-stand from its place.”
This Lectionary’s habit of missing out what it doesn’t want of scripture, as here, is not good, as it distorts the purpose of the author. In this case, the missing section contains a vision of the risen Jesus whose face shines like the sun in full strength and whose voice is like the sound of many waters. Jesus says,”I was dead and now I am alive for ever more and I hold the keys of death and the realm of the dead.”
Out of this vision John the author writes to the seven chuches in Asia for which he has responsibility, although he writes from exile on the island of Patmos. Doubtless this gentle punishment – would you mind being exiled to a Greek island?- was a Roman way of removing a socially disruptive religious leader from mainstream life, probably from the city of Ephesus, whose Christain Assembly is the recipient of his first letter.
The seven stars are explained as the seven spirits of God sent out to the Assemblies, that is, they are an image of the holy spirit of God; while the seven lampstands are the assemblies themselves. The description of God, as “who was, and is, and is to come,” is a formula which emphasises that God comprehends all time as well all space.
The message itself is mainly complementary: the assembly has endured suffering and exposed false teachers; but Jesus still threatens to remove their lampstand, that is, to deny their existence, merely because they have fallen away from their first love of Him! Good grief, we might say, is this any way for the Lord to manage his church, acting like a romantic lassie who’s disappointed her man’s not so lovey-dovey as he used to be?
But that response would show our disregard for what seems so important to John the prophet, namely, love of Jesus. I presided over many Presbyterian reports on the state of congregations, and I certainly never heard of one being accused of lack of love of Jesus. Falling membership, yes, lack of evangelicial outreach, yes, inadequate finances, often, but lack of love of Jesus? Do me a favour. We’re living in the real world here, pal, wake up and smell the coffee.
Given that John the Prophet will depict Jesus as the “Lamb in the centre of the throne, bearing the marks of slaughter,” as the crucified Lord of a persecuted church, we can see why love of this Jesus would be of vital importance, as only love would keep believers faithful under pressure. If believers don’t love Jesus, there’s little chance of them revealing his goodness to others. The lamps on the lampstands burn with love of Jesus. If the lamp isn’t burning there’s no need for the stand. If the assembly ceases to love Jesus there’s no reason for its existence.
Luke 18:35-43 ©
As Jesus drew near to Jericho there was a blind man sitting at the side of the road begging. When he heard the crowd going past he asked what it was all about, and they told him that Jesus the Nazarene was passing by. So he called out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.’ The people in front scolded him and told him to keep quiet, but he shouted all the louder, ‘Son of David, have pity on me.’ Jesus stopped and ordered them to bring the man to him, and when he came up, asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ ‘Sir,’ he replied ‘let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight. Your faith has saved you.’ And instantly his sight returned and he followed him praising God, and all the people who saw it gave praise to God for what had happened.
I have heard blind people today criticise the gospels’ portrayal of blind people, and indeed of other people with disabilities, because the narrative wheels them on a symbols of need and never as people in their own right. I think this is more to do with a “Sunday School” presentation of these stories than with the stories themselves. In this one for example, the blind man’s shout to Jesus reveals his faith and understanding. He calls him “Son of David” a title for the Messiah sent by God to rescue his people. Not many people in Jesus’ society would have given this title to the preacher and miracle worker from Galilee. This man cannot have seen much of Jesus, but doubtless he had heard of him and believed he was the promised Messiah. The blind man is depicted as seeng what “normal” people cannot see.
Jesus does not treat him as a poor soul; he asks him what he wants; and the man asks for sight, not because he can’t cope with disability but because the Messianic time means the restoration of God’s good creation when the blind shall see, the dumb speak and the lame leap like a deer. Confident in this faith, the now sighted man becomes a disciple. The gospels never show Jesus displaying any condescension to those he heals. Sometimes he is angered by their condition; often he is moved by their faith, but at no time does he treat them as less than complete human beings. His society neglected them and in some cases treated them as untouchable; Jesus accepted them and restored them to community life.
Whatever the historical facts of Jesus’ healings – and recent material on the healing practices of shamans reveal points of similarity- there’s no doubt that he was known as a healer who refiused to accept that illness was God’s will. He aroused faith in God’s goodness and the conviction that illness could be overcome. This has been well-described by Scottish theologian David Cairns” as the “faith that rebels”. Jesus did not require pious submission to the way things are but rather submits the way things are to the demands of God’s goodness.
The commitment of the Christian Church to medical provision in places where the state provides little has an honourable history and continues today. Some of the first Europeans to die of Ebola were connected to Christian medical centres in Africa. Their rebellious faith, like that of Jesus, is dangerous and can lead to suffering. St Elizabeth of Hungary, whom the church remembers today was a 13th century queen. who after her husband’s death, opened a hospice where she nursed the sick herself. On this same day we mourn the death of medical aid worker Peter Kassig, brutally murdered by thugs who disgrace the name of Islam.