instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A so-zo Savior
Jesus said to him in reply, "What do you want me to do for you?"
The blind man replied to him, "Master, I want to see."
Jesus told him, "Go your way; your faith has saved you."
Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.
Instead of being cured, Bartimaeus is saved.

The Greek word translated by the NAB as "saved" appears seven times in the New Testament, each time in the same phrase, "η πιστιζ σον σεσωκεν," "your faith has saved you": Mt 9:22/Mk 5:34/Lk 8:48 (the woman cured of a hemorrhage); Mk 10:52/Lk 18:42 (Bartimaeus); Lk 7:50 (the sinful woman who washed Jesus' feet); Lk 17:19 (the Samaritan leper). It's an inflected form of the verb σωζω, meaning (when applied to people) "to save from death, keep alive, preserve."

It's kind of a curious thing to say to someone who has just been healed of something he or she has suffered from for years. "Healed," "cured," "restored," that sort of thing might be a more natural way to speak of a recovery like that. But "saved" suggests, not just a good obtained, but an evil averted.

Moreover, being saved from suggests at least the possibility of being saved for. Bartimaeus's transition isn't merely from "blind" to "sighted." It's from "blind" to "saved from blindness," which is a lot more than mere sightedness.

And what is Bartimaeus saved for? That's the thing: he doesn't know. All he knows is that he wants to see. He wants to see physically, of course, but he also wants to see whatever it is that Jesus wants to show him. His faith in Jesus isn't just faith in a wonder-worker. It's faith that the way of Jesus is his way.

There's something wonderfully pure in that sort of faith. Like a baptized infant, at the moment of his healing Bartimaeus has faith in Jesus but has not yet applied his faith to any particular thing. He can now see, but he has not yet seen anything, if you will. He is waiting for Jesus to show him what he should see.

Something like this might explain why Jesus says so little in the Gospels about His Kingdom, as it is in itself. In today's Gospel, Jesus gives a couple of those frustratingly (to Western rationalists) inexact parables:
Jesus said, "What is the Kingdom of God like? To what can I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that a man took and planted in the garden. When it was fully grown, it became a large bush and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches... It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch of dough was leavened."
No doubt, Lord, but please, why not, instead of telling us what the Kingdom is like, simply tell us what it is?

Perhaps part of the answer is that this wouldn't be an invitation to faith in Jesus and His Kingdom, but an invitation to agree that the Kingdom is desirable.

NOTE: As a reminder, I don't know from Greek, but I can plink about on this Greek New Testament website and on Tuft's Perseus website.