For many good and sundry reasons, Christianity as a group as been focused on sin and forgiveness as our primary metaphor God’s work in our lives. We have sinned and God bridges the gap in our relationship by forgiveness through Jesus. Details about how this is accomplished change depending on time, location, and denomination, but the outline holds. With this week’s readings, as with many of the books in the Bible, we have a chance to explore some of the other metaphors that speak to us in our human condition.
In this week’s reading from Jeremiah, we have so many metaphors set out before us: exile and return, healing our infirmities, consolation of broken hearts, and straightening of crooked paths. Where does one begin?
The book of Jeremiah takes place during the final days of the southern kingdom, Judah, before the Judah’s elites are taken into exile. Israel, the northern kingdom, had been taken into exile many years before, and Judah had not heeded the warnings given by the prophets. Everything felt like it was falling apart. The political situation was in turmoil. The rich were getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and there were threats, real and imagined, around every corner, and in the midst of it all, Jeremiah, a priest on a mission from God. Of course, part of the reason for Judah’s exile was their sin, but God assumes that as soon as the people turn from their ways, forgiveness will be given, so the message of Jeremiah is that all we have to do is turn to God and we will be gathered in from our exile. How often in life do we feel exiled or alienated from others and our world when we have not sinned? How often do we feel misunderstood and forgotten though we have harmed no one? And what does God promise in those times? Return. God seeks us and when we seek God, we find. Jesus says knock and the door will be opened. Amos says seek God and live. There are so many other metaphors in the Jeremiah reading take some time with it.
In the reading from Mark’s Gospel, we have the healing of Bartimaeus, a blind man to whom Jesus gives sight. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks. “I want to see again,” Bartimaeus replies. Note: There is no mention of sin in the passage. Bartimaeus is blind; no judgement, no questions. He knows that Jesus can help him see again. Jesus heals him; no judgement, no questions. How many of us feel like we cannot see? We cannot see God, or each other, or the creation, or ourselves clearly as God sees us, and what would we give to see that way? And if we do gain this insight, will we follow Bartimaeus’ example and “follow Jesus on the way?”
When sin and forgiveness is not the right metaphor, to what do we turn? Where do we look? The Church, Christianity, and our world are all changing, and to be “wise as serpents and gentle as doves” (Mt 10:16) we will need different metaphors to invite the world to experience God, and we who are already members of Christ’s Church may need different metaphors to support us on our journey. Thank God we have so many to choose from. Thank God we have scriptures full of our ancestors’ experience of the living God. Thank God we have our own experiences of God to teach us new ways of speaking about God.