Saturday, October 24, 2009

Whence Cometh The Tithe?

25 October 2009/Proper 25B – Hebrews 7: 15-17, 23-28/Mark 10:46-52
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

Lessons From Bartimaeus and Melchizedek

Listen for the echoes. This is what these stories in scripture demand of us – a listening heart. We are meant to remember James and John the Zebedee brothers, the rich young man, Melchizedek, and all the way back to brother Abram before he even became Abraham, the father of all three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Oh yes, and Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, a blind beggar outside of Jericho where the walls come tumbling down. An apt metaphor for all of scripture – ancient words and stories attempting to break down the walls we place around our hearts, minds and souls. Tumbling walls, opening eyes, metaphors asking us if we can see.

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me,” cries Bartimaeus as he throws off his cloak – the cloak which was stretched on the ground about his feet to catch the coins people might toss his way. The cloak holds his entire fortune. He casts it aside to get to Jesus, to regain his sight, and to follow Jesus. Despite Jesus telling him to go on his way, Bartimaeus instead follows Jesus into Jerusalem. This is the last stop on the way to the Passion and Resurrection.

This blind beggar gets it like James and John could not get it, like the rich young man could not get it, like the disciples do not get it. The brothers wanted power, the rich young man could not bear to part with his wealth, only this blind beggar is willing to give it all for a chance to follow Jesus.

“Rich or poor are asked to give up only one thing, everything,” says Timothy Geddert in his commentary, Mark, Believers Church Bible Commentary (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 2001) 256.

Bartimaeus gets this. Begging the question (no pun intended), Do we?

Then there is Hebrews. What a marvelous, fascinating, dense and complicated epistle it is! I remember being on silent retreat on the shores of Lake Michigan in the middle of winter in Racine Wisconsin studying Hebrews. The wind was howling, the waves crashing, ice formations crusting the shoreline, and the words of Hebrews were “living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow!”

It says Jesus is a new kind of Priest, and at the same time he is a very old kind of priest, and that he holds this priesthood forever. We know we are made the Body of Christ by water and the Holy Spirit in Baptism. So that we hold this new and yet ancient priesthood forever as part of our very Being – it is who we are called to be in this world: “and share with us in his eternal priesthood,” we pray at every baptism. (BCP 308)

Last Sunday Hebrews told us that the type, the model, for this eternal priesthood which we share is Melchizedek. “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” Who on earth is Melchizedek?

He only shows up for three verses way back in Genesis chapter 14. We may recall, God sent Abram and Sarai and their nephew Lot on a journey of faith. Keep going until I tell you to stop. When they stop life is as God promises, fruitful, bountiful, even prosperous and affluent! Abram and Lot’s herds are so prolific they need to spread out, move away from each other to have room to continue to prosper.

Of course some of the local tribesmen want some of the blessing, attack Lot, capture Lot and all his herds. Abram springs into action, and with his “trained men” frees Lot and the herds. As Abram returns to the valley to give thanks, in rides Melchizedek, the “King of Salem.” Salem, of course means shalom, which means Peace, which makes him the King of Peace. And Salem was of course the ancient name for Jerusalem. Further, we are told, Melchizedek is a priest of God Most High.

Melchizedek gives Abram bread and wine, and then blesses him, announcing that it is indeed God Most High “who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” This is the message from the King of Peace, Prieset of God Most High.

Abram’s response is reported in one short declarative sentence: “And Abram gave him one-tenth of everything.” Everything, as in every thing.

This is long before God dictates any commandments to Moses about the Tithe. Abram’s immediate, spontaneous act of gratitude is to give one-tenth to thank God Most High.

This all has something essential to say about who we are and whose we are – we are Christ’s own body. We are children of Abram long before he became Abraham. We are priests after the order of Melchizedek. We are called to give thanks to God – one tenth of everything.

Bartimaeus, Melchizedek and Abram show us how.

“Rich or poor are asked to give up only one thing, everything.”

Bartimaeus gets it. Abram gets it. Do we?

The world looks at us to see if we can demonstrate in any concrete way that we are in fact who we say we are – followers of Jesus Christ. The most ancient Holy Habit of Tithing is one such concrete act.

Will we be like James and John and the rich young man?

Or, like Abram and Bartimaeus? Only time will tell. Amen.