A Better Way to Be With Those in Need

General November 16, 2006

A reflection on Mark 10:46-52 by the Rev. Mpho Tutu

The township of Rhini clings to the hills surrounding Grahamstown, South Africa. At the outermost edge of Rhini sits the subdivision called Ndancama: “I gave up.” The place is the very picture of poverty. Many of the houses are constructed of mud and branches with roofs of corrugated tin. There is no electricity, and the only running water is seen when it rains —then the water runs red-colored by the red earth of the Eastern Cape.

In the middle of this sad place sits a gleaming community hall. The building is constructed of expensive yellow brick with a sturdy tile roof. Inside, oceans of linoleum cover the floors and beautiful curlicues of wrought iron protect the doors and windows from thieves. A wonderful

party celebrated the opening of this facility. Local and provincial dignitaries came and made speeches; singers and dancers leant excitement to the day. It was a day to remember.

It was a day to remember not only because of the party but also because it was the last day that the facility was used. Ndancama was the creation of the apartheid government: people who lived there had been pushed to the furthest reaches of possibility and left there to eke out any existence they could manage. The community hall was the creation of the new government: “Now you need not ‘give up’ for your call has been heard. ”But the people responded, “You may have heard our call, but you gave us what we did not ask for and you remained deaf to our need.”

The community building in Ndancama is an edifice that attests to the arrogance of the rich and the powerful. The unused meeting hall is a visual parable. Tragically, the same story is repeated daily in so many places in the world in ways large and small. Without consulting the recipients about their need, donor nations draw up plans for how recipients are to use the gifts and grants they receive. Volunteers travel to sites of devastation, disaster, or poverty to provide services that they determine should be rendered without ever asking the people they plan to serve how they may best be of service. Government agencies prescribe plans for ending the problems that plague the poor without asking those trapped in poverty what ails them or inviting them to participate in the planning.

The story from Mark’s Gospel shows all of us a better way to be with those in need. Bartimaeus shouts out his anguish to Jesus. Though the crowd tries to hush him he is insistent and only shouts the louder to make himself heard over their repressive cries. The crowd is distressed, not by Bartimaeus’ poverty but by his shouting. But poverty is valid cause for crying out and our faith demands that we join the chorus against poverty. Jesus says, “Call him here.” Jesus’ attention turns the abject supplicant into a dignified applicant. Following Jesus’ lead, the crowd responds in kind. “Take heart,” they say. “Get up, he is calling you.” The ones who, so recently, would have quelled Bartimaeus’ voice and ignored his entreaty are now encouraging him to make his appeal.

The compassionate leadership Jesus demonstrates ignites the compassion of the crowd. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks. Jesus invites Bartimaeus to speak his own need. Jesus allows the possibility that what seems obvious to him may not be the concern that looms largest for Bartimaeus. “Go, your faith has made you well.” Bartimaeus goes away, his sight restored and his dignity intact. Jesus heard Bartimaeus call, asked his need, and announces that Bartimaeus has participated in his own healing; his faith has made him well. All these are lessons that we who advocate for the poor must learn. As the people of Ndancama said, “We are not stupid, only poor.”

The Rev. Mpho Tutu, an Episcopal priest, is currently a Clergy Resident at Christ Church, Alexandria,Virginia. She is the founder and executive director of the Tutu Institute for Prayer and Pilgrimage, which honors the life and ministry of her father Desmond Tutu, bishop emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa. She chairs the board of the Global AIDS Alliance.

Source: Bread for the World, 2006

http://www.bread.org/get-involved/at-church/bread-for-the-world-sunday/2006/bfw-sunday-reflection.pdf