Flaws and calls and healing

October 19, 2009

A friend heard I was writing about blind Bartimaeus and asked me a
question: “Where do call and healing meet? How do they intersect?” Since
I didn’t really know the answer, I preferred to think of her question
as rhetorical.

It’s a good question, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately. The recent death of Senator Ted Kennedy and the celebration
of his life by those who knew him well—family, colleagues, clergy,
political observers—broadened the question for me to include flaws along with calls and healing.

Kennedy
lived a tragic and flawed existence. The public and private
expectations and burdens placed on him by the deaths of his three older
brothers were immense. If that wasn’t enough, he was seriously injured
in a plane crash where two others died, with chronic back pain as the
residue of his survival. The lives of two of his three children were
scarred by cancer. And then there were his indisputable failings of
character: his expulsion from Harvard for cheating, Mary Jo Kopechne’s
death in Chappaquiddick, a failed marriage and tales of alcoholic
escapades with his young nephews.

Friends and colleagues spoke of
Kennedy’s second wife Vickie as “saving” his life. But I believe there
was more to his salvation and transformation than Vickie, as important
as her love for him must have been. There is a mysterious element to any
healing. But I think Kennedy’s faith and relationship to mother church
also healed him: the love of God and the forgiveness of his sins enabled
him to fulfill his calling and vocation in a marvelous way.

In
the legislation he proposed and guided through Congress, in the help he
offered Massachusetts citizens who lost loved ones on 9/11 and in the
shepherding of his own family, Kennedy provided for widows and orphans
in their distress. In his unwillingness to demonize opponents and in the
knack he had for friendships, he provided a model for working together
for the common good in government—an example needed more than ever
today.

Throughout Mark’s Gospel, and especially in the several chapters
immediately preceding the story of Bartimaeus, Jesus’ 12 disciples are
pictured as flawed individuals—failing time after time to see, to hear,
to understand Christ’s mission and their role in it, their calling to
accompany him on his journey to the cross and to pick up their own cross
and follow him. Where do flaw and healing and call meet? It is only in
the aftermath of Jesus’ death and resurrection, when Jesus breathes his
own breath on the 11, pronounces peace on them and forgiveness for all
their flaws, that his first disciples can truly begin to fulfill their
calling.

This Sunday’s second reading is from Hebrews. Christ is
portrayed there as our great high priest, “able for all time to save
those who approach God through him” since he “lives to make intercession
for them.” This too is part of the mystery of where flaw and call and
healing meet. This is how it can come to be that Jesus’ first disciples
and we, flawed as we are, can join Bartimaeus and Ted Kennedy in that
community to which they belong: what Mark I. Wegener describes
as “people who are not too proud to ask for mercy, people who are
‘saved by faith,’ people who follow Jesus on the way to the cross.”

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I
have another question for you. In the story of Bartimaeus, the very
people who first try to silence him later pass along—mediate—Jesus’ call
to him. How do we either silence or mediate Christ’s healing and
calling of people today?