Speaker: Cynthia Lapp
Mennonite Heritage Sunday: Lamenting the Doctrine of Discovery
It is three and half weeks since my second cataract surgery. I see more clearly than I have for many years: colors and patterns that eluded me, now delight and surprise me. What is still hard to see or what I would rather not see is the injustice and inequity, the ways that too many people live trapped in poverty and generational trauma. Do I really want to see?
Today, as we hear the voices of Indigenous people, people from our own Mennonite faith tradition, we are invited once again to dig a little deeper and wonder what it means to see, what it means to be a follower of Jesus. How does being followers of Jesus, alongside Indigenous people, impact our faith? Can we see the people who have been relegated to the side of the road? Can we listen to those voices? Can we dignify their experiences?
(As we hear the story of the Jewish Jesus once again today, we remember the Jewish community in Pittsburgh – and across the globe, that is reeling from another horrendous hate crime. Do reach out to those who you know who are Jewish, let them know you care and will speak out with them.)
A man sits at the side of the road, just outside Jericho. He is blind but he keeps track of what is going on around him. His ears work overtime to tell him what and who is near. He has heard stories of a young Rabbi Jesus, so when he hears that it is Jesus who is coming near, the man creates a ruckus, shouting at the top of his voice. He wants to be seen, and heard. And he will not be shushed. He wants more. Caesar and his “family” have not paid attention, but this Son of David, heir to the throne of David, maybe he can make a difference.
The previous episode in Mark’s gospel has Jesus telling the disciples that if they want to be great, they have to serve others. This is their chance to show that they have learned a little something. As they walk down the road they hear a man shouting. Mark’s gospel gives him a name, Bartimeus, son of Timeus. While the crowd wants him to go away or at least be quiet, the disciples take their cues from Jesus who is willing to see and hear Bartimeus. They go to him, reassuring him that they are there to help, not hurt him as others have done before. Maybe the disciples are learning, are making progress.
When the disciples tell Bartimeus that Jesus is calling him, Bartimeus is so excited he throws off his cloak and makes his way to Jesus. He will no longer need this cloak that he lays on the ground to gather the coins that people throw to him in pity. When he can see, he will not be subject to the whims of strangers. Even before he speaks his deep desire to Jesus, Bartimeus is living into what it will mean to see.
Jesus doesn’t presume to know what Bartimeus wants. Jesus gives Bartimeus the dignity of asking for what he wants. And Bartimeus does not hesitate: “I want to see.”
There is no touching or spitting or mud making or even blessing. Jesus just says that Bartimeus’ great faith has saved him, has healed him. And since this is a story told by Mark, where everything happens “immediately,” Bartimeus “immediately” receives the gift of sight and follows Jesus. Bartimeus does not go show his family that he can see. He doesn’t go get a job or make proclamations. He gets in line with the other disciples, on the road, to be part of Jesus’ work of healing and spreading the love where it is needed.
On a Sunday when we pay attention to the voices of Indigenous people, who call us to listen to them, it is not “immediately” obvious how we might find our way into this story. Are we the blind ones in need of healing? Are we the disciples jockeying for position, beginning to listen as Jesus sends us to the side of the road? Are we the crowd that tries to shush the shouts of a person who needs to be seen and heard? Are we bold enough to understand ourselves as Jesus? What about the indigenous voices we hear today, asking for attention, hoping that their painful history, and remarkable gifts, will be seen by those who call themselves Jesus followers?
Part of the difficulty is that we white people, or maybe I should just say I as a white person, am reluctant to name my own blindness, and sometimes don’t know if I want to see, don’t know what I need to see. I am focused on following Jesus on the road. I don’t want to lose sight of Jesus but sometimes I miss where he is going, especially at a curve or when he veers to the side of the road. And sometimes I am scared to follow where he leads.
Today I am trying to see – and hear. Today I hear an offer of grace in the voices of Indigenous Mennonites. They are ready to help us stand and throw down our cloaks – if we are ready – and find our way to Jesus. Our Indigenous siblings can teach us to understand in new ways what we read in Deuteronomy 7:
It was not because you are more numerous than all the people
that God’s heart was set on you
and God chose you,
for you are really the smallest of all peoples.
It was because God loved you…
Know then that God your God, is God:
the faithful God who keeps covenant mercy
to the thousandth generation
toward those who love and walk in God’s ways.
This is the God that Jesus follows; the God that does not break covenants. This is the God that we say we want to follow, though we are still trying to learn about covenants and loving mercy across generations and how to walk in God’s ways… especially in relation to Indigenous peoples.
My neighbor, Tara, travels the country to train prison officials to implement the Prison Rape Elimination Act. She has started going to South Dakota, to the Rosebud Indian Reservation to provide training at a juvenile detention facility. After her first trip, she came back with depressing stories about how the new detention center is the nicest building on the reservation – save the casino. She says teens sometimes would rather stay in the detention center than go back to their homes where the complications of generational poverty, trauma, and substance abuse are all too apparent.
On her second trip to the Rosebud Reservation, Tara saw resilience in the face of terrible odds. She saw how the people who run the detention center reach out to kids and families across the reservation in creative and loving ways.
One worker at the detention center was alarmed that his daughter’s basketball team was folding because the coach quit. This dad doesn’t know much about basketball but he now uses the school van to pick up kids at four different locations so they can all go play basketball. There aren’t enough 7th-8th grade girls so they let the younger girls play too. They are still learning skills and the rules, so the reffing is not rigorous. But, says the new coach, it give the kids something to work on, it gives the parents something to do – to watch their kids, and they are learning to work together. This is making a covenant with the next generation when so many covenants have been broken. This is walking forward, hoping that faith will heal you.
When Tara asked if she and a colleague could watch a game, the coach was happy to include them. The kids were excited to have guests watch them play and she could see the parents’ pride in their children. It meant something to this community that two guests would take time to see the basketball game, to see who they are.
We are being invited by our Mennonite Indigenous siblings to come to the game – to see Jesus, in them, through them, with them. Bertha Little Coyote, Lawrence Hart, Erica Littlewolf, Sarah Augustine – call to us, inviting us to join them on a path of lament and healing, advocacy and transformation. Are we willing to be led? Can we walk forward in faith, believing that we will see?
It has been almost a month since my surgery, since I can see again. And yet, almost every morning I wake up surprised by clear sight. I rub my eyes in wonder. It takes a while to adjust to new sight, to understand what we are seeing.
The blind one says,“I want to see.”
Jesus replies, “Go, your faith has saved you.”
We are invited to follow Jesus on the road.