Hebrews 7:23-28

Mark 10:46-52

The book of Hebrews has this great high Christology, this description of Jesus as our eternal high priest who transcends all other priests. This reading is just part of several chapters where the author goes through point by point, showing how Jesus is greater than any human priests (especially, in this context, compared to the Jewish priesthood). It seems fitting to read some of this on Reformation Sunday, when we celebrate our Protestant heritage, among which is the idea of the priesthood of all believers. We value this idea, that you must work out your sense of God for yourself, and I don’t define your belief. Because Christ fulfills that priestly role, we don’t need another priest. We can stand before God on our own, with Christ to stand for us.

Luther, Calvin, and Knox were all clear on this: no one can stand between you and God, and you can – you should – pray directly for yourself. There was much else to Reformation, but the general idea was to get the church out of the way between the people and God. Spiritually speaking, there should be no hierarchy, no spiritual experts. We should all struggle and search together, and Christ is with us all. So we celebrate that Reformation boldness today, that of Luther standing before the bishops for the sake of faith.

Bartimaeus does it right: he boldly stands before God, in the face of powers that could stop him. He makes a bold declaration. To name Jesus as the “Son of David” is dangerous, and the crowd tries to silence him. This is a messianic name: the “Son of David” was expected to be a military leader who would drive out the Romans and reestablish the nation of Israel. Like elsewhere in Mark, outsiders like this blind beggar know Jesus’ status and say it. Unlike elsewhere, Jesus doesn’t silence Bartimaeus. Instead, he acknowledges that there is something deeply true in that name.

At the same time, Bartimaeus doesn’t get to God on his own. He doesn’t even get to Jesus on his own. He called out on his own, spoke to Jesus on his own, and named his own need (there’s an important truth about Jesus there), but he didn’t hear Jesus speaking. He didn’t know Jesus was there to call on without help. The crowd must have said Jesus was there, and then Bartimaeus knew to call on him. The crowd told him to get up. Just imagine if he’d never heard that; he’d still be sitting there blind.

So on this day we celebrate the Reformation, standing before God without an intercessor other than the Christ, we see Bartimaeus in need of an intercessor. He needed people to go between him and Christ, or he wouldn’t have heard. That’s always been the upper bound on the Reformation – we cherish the priesthood of all, but we still need priests. Sometimes, we or others can’t see all the way to God. We can’t stand for ourselves. Big moments like birth, death, marriage, or transition, and less intense times of darkness and distance. Sometimes (often?), we need someone else to hold God’s presence for us.

The Reformation was not wrong. This is our need for priests, not God’s. We can assume that Jesus would have found Bartimaeus without the crowd’s help. It’s hard for us to imagine Christ not going out of his way, and we often feel found as if Christ had gone out of the way to get to us. More often, we can name the people who called to us: “Cheer up! Get up! Christ is calling you.” We even make the appropriate connection and see these human calls or invitations as divine. We know it’s God calling. Christ goes out of the way to reach Bartimaeus through the crowd, just as Christ has gone out of the way to find us through others.

Bartimaeus needed priests – go-betweens – just as we often need others to stand for us before God. That’s as scandalous to say now as Hebrews’ rejection of the priesthood was then. It’s Reformation Sunday, and we need a priest?! But notice who these priests are: people from crowd, or even the crowd all together. Jesus asks no questions of purity, nothing about proper ordination, not even anything about academic preparations! He just says, “call him.” We don’t know who called. No one in particular did, but it’s as if the whole crowd together did it.

The whole crowd called to Bartimaeus. An intermediary was needed, and the Spirit called it forth from that group. Christ called it forth from some particular person in the crowd – the Spirit of love heard and spoke a reply. That’s how it is for us. The world calls out, “have mercy,” and the Spirit calls us to respond. Not because God can’t serve the world without us, but because the world longs to see God in us. And when we turn, respond, and call on Christ’s behalf, we are members of Christ’s eternal priesthood.

When we serve the poor, visit the sick, or speak out for the powerless, we – the whole church – embody Christ. When this building welcomes those outside it, we embody Christ’s great love. When we pray, lifting the world and its needs before a merciful God, we embody Christ’s mercy. When we meet to worship, when we go out to serve, we embody Christ – each of us and all as this community. We’re priests with Christ in the grace of God, now and forever.

Amen.

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