Track 1: True Repentance
In today’s Old Testament reading, Job answers the question that God asked him: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?”
“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you declare to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:2-6)
What does it mean to repent in dust and ashes? When Abraham prayed for the city of Sodom he was careful to tell God how he considered his position. From Genesis we read:
And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” (Genesis 18:26-28)
The expression dust and ashes which Abraham used was a way that Abraham humbled himself before God. Abraham understood the fallen nature of humankind. Dust signified this fallen condition. Again from Genesis:
By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)
The Prophet Jonah was called by God to proclaim the destruction of Nineveh because of the wickedness of the city:
Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. (Jonah 3:4-8)
The entire city sat in ashes as a sign of their repentance. They were saying that they took the word of the Lord seriously. They were also saying that they recognized their fault and their position before God.
Repentance is not some casual contract that we make with God. We cannot say we are sorry and that we will try to do better without a sincere acknowledgment that we have offended against God and his holy laws. We cannot negotiate with God from a position of pride. We must show the greatest humility before him and true sorrow for our sins.
The psalmist wrote:
I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall ever be in my mouth.
I will glory in the Lord;
let the humble hear and rejoice.
Proclaim with me the greatness of the Lord;
let us exalt his Name together.
I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me out of all my terror.
Look upon him and be radiant,
and let not your faces be ashamed.
I called in my affliction and the Lord heard me
and saved me from all my troubles.
The angel of the Lord encompasses those who fear him,
and he will deliver them.
Taste and see that the Lord is good;
happy are they who trust in him! (Psalm 34:1-8)
In order to be heard by God we must humble ourselves before him. He must honor him with great respect and reverence. As the psalmist wrote, we must “fear” him. Only from this position can we expect forgiveness and blessings from God.
There is another attitude and position we might take before. Such was that of Satan. From the Prophet Ezekiel we read:
Your heart was proud because of your beauty;
you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground;
I exposed you before kings,
to feast their eyes on you.
By the multitude of your iniquities,
in the unrighteousness of your trade,
you profaned your sanctuaries.
So I brought out fire from within you;
it consumed you,
and I turned you to ashes on the earth
in the sight of all who saw you.
All who know you among the peoples
are appalled at you;
you have come to a dreadful end
and shall be no more forever. (Ezekiel 28:17-19)
There is no shame in asking God for forgiveness. On the other hand, there can be no pride in repentance.
Track 2: Spiritual Sight
We know that Jesus in his earthly ministry healed the sick, cast out demons, and raised the dead. Nonetheless, he did not perform such ministries for everyone he met. How did he happen to choose a certain blind beggar for healing? From today’s Gospel we read:
Jesus and his disciples came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:46-52)
What was special about Bartimaeus? Bartimaeus knew who Jesus was. He cried out to Jesus, calling him “Son of David.” He knew the prophecy concerning the Messiah and he reasoned that Jesus was that Messiah. Not only that, but Bartimaeus cried out with faith and hope that Jesus would minister to him. And although he was blind, he “sprang up and came to Jesus.” He was prepared to move boldly when the opportunity presented itself. And lastly, Bartimaeus called Jesus “my teacher.”
Bartimaeus was not only interested in his physical healing, he also sought spiritual healing. Though he was blind he was able to see spiritually. He was able to see more in Jesus than many of the followers of Jesus.
Barimaeus, by his own words, indicated that he was a spiritual follower of Jesus. When he received his physical sight he was prepared to take the next step. He “followed him on the way.”
What could be worst than physical blindness for those who are attempting to navigate this world? This answer is “spiritual blindness.” If we are to live out a life acceptable to God that a high priest who has been made perfect forever. Only he can be our permanent offering before God for the sins we have committed. From Hebrews we read:
For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever. (Hebrews 7:26-28)
Bartimaeus was looking for more than a healer. He was looking for a Savior who would take away all of his sins. Are we looking for such a Savior? Only spiritual blindness can keep us from seeking and finding Jesus. He came to save us, but we must be looking for him so that we may follow him. He said:
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
For Jesus to accomplish his work as High Priest on our behalf we must be willing, each day, to “follow him on the way.”