As All Saints Day approached this week, I have been pondering what a saint looks like. I was talking to a group of people this week and they were telling me how much they were struggling with with the call to live out the Gospel.
It is not an easy call – loving our neighbor, forgiving our enemies, working for peace.
But these people have kept showing up to worship, to church, to life.
One of them said, “A thought that keeps me going is this: there is holiness in the becoming. There is God’s faithfulness in just showing up every week.”
And I wondered, is that what it means to be a saint?
To show up, to love, to be vulnerable, to open up our hearts even when it is hard?
There is holiness in becoming.
This is what we learn from Bartimaeus in the Scripture today.
Bartimaeus is a blind man who sits outside the town of Jericho and begs by the side of the road. His location outside the town reminds him of what others think of him: He is a “nobody”.
In today’s story, Bartimaeus hears Jesus on the road and starts shouting, “Heir of David, Heir of David,” a term which means that Jesus has descended from the line of King David and is the Messiah the Jews had been waiting for.
When Jesus comes, Bartimaeus sees immediately: This is the Redeemer.
This insight is amazing because in the Gospel of Mark, we read over and over again how the disciples don’t get it and how they don’t understand Jesus’ teaching.
Bartimaeus is the first one in the entire Gospel to see clearly who Jesus is.
“Heir of David,” Bartimaeus calls.
Immediately, the people around him try to shush him.
“Why is he being so loud?” They wonder. “Doesn’t he know that Jesus doesn’t want to talk to him?”
What Bartimaeus is doing in this moment is showing up, in the words of the person that I quoted earlier. Author Anne Lamott says one of the most subversive things we can do is to show up for our life and not be ashamed – no matter what, no matter our abilities or limitations, no matter the weird looks or the perception of others. This exactly what Bartimaeus does – he shows up outside the Jericho gate in a society where people have relegated him to the margins.
Bartimaeus shows up because he see what those around him cannot.
He sees that truth that, yes,
Our bodies fail us,
Our vision fail us,
Our words fail us.
And even in those moments, we have worth.
There is holiness in becoming.
In showing up.
In refusing to be silenced.
This is a truth experienced by Belden Lane, a backpacker and a theology professor. In the book Backpacking with the Saints, Belden confesses that school did not always come easy for him. Belden says that his first year of doctoral study at Princeton was the hardest year of his life. No one in his family had ever been to college, much less attempted graduate work in an Ivy League town with a reputation to live up to.
He was intimidated by classmates and professors alike.
One student told Belden that he had done earlier work at Harvard and Yale and knew famous theologians and had even dined with the well-known Paul Tillich.
Other students bragged about their connections and told obscure jokes with the punch line in Latin.
Day after day, Belden would stand in a circle of grad students chatting about things about which he knew nothing about, only to run to library to look them up later. Belden did what he could to not look like a fool but by the end of the year his anxiety had reached an unbearable level.
Belden began to think that he had made a terrible mistake imaging that he could ever teach theology. Then something happened, he says, that changed things.
Belden had a dream. Belden had not been one to have dramatic religious experiences in his life, but this dream was one that he could not shake.
In it, he was teaching a small group of graduate students around a table. They were caught up in discussing works by Martin Luther, who insisted that a person’s worth isn’t linked to her performance.
Worth is determined by God alone.
Amid the enthusiasm of the class, Belden became aware of a figure in the background – it was his late professor Jim Morgan who had died of cancer several months early. Belden had loved Jim and had taken as many of his classes as possible – Jim’s passion for theology, commitment to social justice and courageous sharing of himself had inspired him.
In that dream, Jim had come back to Belden and walked over to him, with the eyes of a proud brother or father and said to him, “Belden, I love you … and I want you to know that I couldn’t have taught that class better if I’d been here myself.”
Belden describes being overwhelmed by that moment by a euphoric sense of being affirmed – by a teacher who had come back for him, by a God who had indeed called him to teach.
Belden went back to school and it did not get an easier.
Yet something in him had shifted. He decided to stop pretending, now allowing his vulnerability to show. He decided to show up for his life and not be ashamed.
Just like Bartimaeus.
One day, after Belden walked out of a particularly hard class, Belden found himself next to the student who had had dinner with Paul Tillich, the student who had appeared to have all his stuff together. Belden decided to take a risk and confessed that he did not understand half of what was going on in the class.
To Belden’s amazement, the other student – Bob – hadn’t either. Belden learned that Bob had struggled with a bleed ulcer his first year of doctoral study and had been as anxious and intimidated as Belden had.
Bob and Belden starting each lunch together, dropping their need to hide their failures. They shared frustrations, complained about teachers and began to build a small community that celebrated imperfection.
They discovered the truth that there is holiness in becoming, in physically showing up and saying, “I will not be made to fill less than human because I do not meet your standards of success or intelligence.”
Our value is innate and God-given.
This is the truth that Bartimaeus embodies as he refuses to be silence.
In the story, Jesus hears him shouting and says to those around him, “Tell him to come here.”
They say to Bartimaeus, “Don’t be afraid, Jesus is calling you.”
Immediately, Bartimaeus rushes over to Jesus.
“What do you want?” Jesus asks.
“I want to see.” Bartimaeus says, the realization flooding over him suddenly that he sees already – he sees the truth of his belovedness, the truth of Jesus’ identity, the truth that just showing up and refusing to be silent is a holy act.
Is this what it means to be a saint?
“Go,” Jesus replies, “Your faith has saved you.”