Scorpio 1: Into the Depths
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached him saying, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’ Jesus said to them, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ They said to him, ‘Allow one of us to sit on your right hand and one on your left hand in your glory.’ Jesus said to them, ‘You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink the cup which I shall drink, or to be baptised with the baptism with which I shall be baptised?’ They said to him, ‘We are able!’ Jesus said to them, ‘The cup I shall drink you shall drink, and the baptism I shall undergo, you shall undergo but to sit on my right or on my left is not in my gift; it’s for those for whom it has been prepared.’ When they heard this, the other ten began to be annoyed at James and John and, calling them together, Jesus said to them, ‘You know that those who consider themselves leaders among the Gentiles lord it over them, and the greatest among them exercise dominance. Well, that’s not the way it is among you. No. Whoever wants to become great among you will be your servant and whoever wants to be first among you will be a slave of all. Because the son of man hasn’t come to be served but to serve, and to give his life in order to purchase the freedom of many.
‘Adversity makes men; prosperity makes monsters.’ Victor Hugo
ast week I saw a little boy, six or seven years old, walking to school with his mother. He was wearing a black cloak and a pointed hat; his face was white, except for a little trickle of red at the corner of his mouth. He was obviously involved in some Halloween festivities in school. How different from my days, I thought. Fifty years ago there was no celebration of Halloween in England, and even twenty years ago, as my teaching career was coming to an end, there was scant attention paid to the festival, and certainly none in school. It’s yet another example of the Americanisation of our culture, I thought. But then, I thought again. This particular way of celebrating it – with fancy dress and ‘trick or treat’ expeditions – may be novel and commercialised, but this time of year has ever been acknowledged as a strange time, a time for leaving the rational behind a little and entering into the mysterious ‘otherworld’, the world we tend to ignore when the sun is shining.
And it was there when I was growing up. It just took a different form. Within the Catholic tradition, this time of year is devoted to praying for the dead, the souls in purgatory, and All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day close out October and open November. In the earlier Celtic tradition we have the feast of Samhain, marking the end of summer, which, according to Wikipedia, was time to take stock of the herds and grain supplies, and decide which animals would need to be slaughtered in order for the people and livestock to survive the winter.
There is a definite feel of encroaching winter now. The trees are bare, and the leaves seem to be piled up everywhere. The nights are longer, the sun lower in the sky. This is the beginning of nature’s fallow time, when growth above ground has come to a halt, and all of nature’s activity seems to be concentrated below the surface. According to the Greek myth, this is the time of year when Persephone goes back to the Underworld, and her mother Demeter, the goddess of grain and fertility, is so distraught by her absence that she forbids any new growth upon the earth.
The sun has entered the zodiacal sign of Scorpio, the sign which symbolises the hidden depths of the human personality, all those ungovernable emotions, secret desires, buried motivations, which we try to suppress or to ignore, but which burst through our superficial rational consciousness from time to time, to disturb or even to wreck our tranquillity. People who are strongly Scorpionic are said to be ‘deep’, intense, uncompromising, with a powerful will, and a tendency to strong emotion which can often manifest as jealousy and possessiveness. It is a strongly sexual sign; not with a recreational, hedonistic approach to sexuality, but with a deep feeling of sexual connectedness, an appreciation of the mystery and power of human union. Scorpios are not to be trifled with emotionally, and there is often something about the eyes which indicate a passionate and forceful character. Scorpio is said to be ruled by Mars, the god of war and bloodshed, and so it is a sign of strength, aggression and ambition, and its symbol, the scorpion, a creature of the shadows with a deadly sting in its tail, should warn us that Scorpios make very bad enemies. It may be that people born at this time of year are more aware of these things than most, but all of us have these traits within us in some measure. Robert Louis Stevenson, born 13th November, 1850, wrote his classic work Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde about this potentially very troublesome aspect of the human psyche: buried under the thin layer of sophistication and politeness lies a much more sinister and demanding character.
Scorpio is also associated with suffering and death, hence the motifs which constantly surface at this time of the year – the ‘death’ of the vegetation, the ‘undead’ who walk among us, the dead who have gone on ahead of us; the ‘suffering’ of the earth as it withdraws its plants; the ‘suffering’ of the holy souls in purgatory. It is also associated with rebirth; the earth is lying fallow, gathering its strength for another burst of life next spring, when Persephone will return to her mother, and the vegetation will be resurrected.
In the Gospel of Mark, the Scorpio section takes place as Jesus and his apostles approach Jericho. As I’ve said before in this series, there is nothing accidental or arbitrary about names or locations in this Gospel. Jericho is an appropriate place to teach about the things of Scorpio, because it is the lowest city on earth, 825 feet below sea level, so, descending to Jericho symbolises the descent into the depths of the human person where we have to confront our most mysterious and troublesome motivations. Near Jericho Jesus is approached by James and John, given the nickname ‘Sons of Thunder’ by Jesus, indicating something of their ‘martial’, aggressive character. These ‘sons of thunder’, ‘sons of Mars’ have a question for Jesus: ‘Let us sit, one at your right hand, and one at your left, when you come into your kingdom,’ they ask. What do they want? Power! It’s a typical scorpionic request, a typical human request. We all want glory and honour and power, not only in secular affairs, but in spiritual ones, too. But ambition of this kind should play no part in our spiritual life. Dane Rudhyar, one of the 20th century’s most respected astrological writers, says this about the Scorpio phase of the spiritual life:
(The mystical way) … asks moreover that all forms of ambition be relinquished – and ‘spiritual’ ambition may be the most dangerous, withal most subtle, kind of ambition…. There should be no feeling whatsoever of competition in one’s endeavours, especially if one is part of a group of seekers or disciples. It does not matter if one appears to be first or last, for the competitive spirit is a form of violence, and there can be no violence in the soul of the true disciple on the spiritual Path. The zodiacal sign Scorpio tends to be associated with violence and competition, because the Scorpio type of person is often too emotionally and personally involved in making of human relationships what to him or her is a ‘success’.
(Rudhyar, Astrological Insights into the Spiritual Life, pages 75-6)
Reading these words by Rudhyar for the first time, I had another of those ‘eureka’ moments, when I realised that my speculations about the Gospel of Mark were correct. He doesn’t mention the Gospel, but he deals with precisely the same issue as is dealt with in the Scorpio section – the quest for personal power, the desire to control others and to achieve some kind of public accolade for one’s spiritual attainments. Jesus is adamant that such things should have no part in our motivations. Each of us is on an individual path towards God; no one is above another; no one should seek to lord it over another. Once again, Jesus mentions that service to one’s brothers and sisters is the highest form of spiritual activity. Just as he has come to serve, so we who seek to follow him must see ourselves as servants.
But Jesus says something else which is also connected to the things of Scorpio. He asks James and John a question: ‘Are you prepared to suffer, as I am about to suffer?’ This gets to the heart of things. Spiritual reward does not come just because one has been a member of some religious group or other; it doesn’t come because one has believed the right things, known the right people, performed the right rituals. Spiritual advancement comes through suffering.
This is very hard to take; particularly so for 21st century people, committed to a life of ease, pleasure, and prosperity. Where does suffering fit in? Why do we have to suffer?
We suffer because we have no alternative. Suffering is part of what it means to be human. Simply knowing that we are mortal involves us in inevitable suffering. From those first painful moments of awareness when we are small children, through the deaths of family and friends, and on to the realisation that our own death is not too far away, we participate in what Wordsworth calls ‘the still sad music of humanity’. We can try to ignore it, to bury it, to pretend that it doesn’t affect us, but it silently operates on our psyche, often manifesting in distressing complexes and strange phobias.
We are the only species that can suffer in this way. We are the only creatures to have knowledge of our own certain demise, and this should be enough to engender within us overwhelming feelings of pity for our fellows, along with admiration for the heroism with which most people live their lives in the midst of such uncertainty, vulnerability and inevitable finality. This certainty of our own death and the deaths of those we love is one reason why all talk of some future Utopia, in which we can live together in peace and happiness because the politics and economics of life have been sorted out for us, is merely a naive and foolish pipedream. No matter how prosperous we become; no matter how peaceful we become; no matter how comfortable, educated, sophisticated, cultured, healthy, or long-lived we become, there will always be the spectre of death haunting our days, tempering all our joys with sadness.
But, you might ask, what if God, or science, removed the consciousness of death? How would that affect things?
Twenty years or so ago, I used to have a Jehovah’s Witness friend, who came to visit me every second Saturday for an hour’s discussion of religious topics. As a Jehovah’s Witness, he believed that, one day soon, Jesus would come back to earth, the righteous dead would be resurrected, and everyone would live for ever in a world of peace. I asked him what would happen if I were to be rewarded in this way, but that someone I loved didn’t make it. No problem, he said. The memory of them would be blotted out from your consciousness, so you wouldn’t feel the pain of separation from them. What an appallingly dehumanising prospect! No pain, no love, no memory of certain people. Whatever beings would inhabit the Jehovah’s Witness paradise would not be human beings.
Maybe the secular world will one day overcome death, or at least postpone it indefinitely. Ask yourself: Will human love be possible for those who do not fear death? To triumph over death may yet become our greatest technical achievement, but what will we lose as a consequence of it? Aldous Huxley’s vision of a Brave New World from which pain and suffering have been removed and people are kept in a chemically induced state of pseudo-happiness is too terrifying even to contemplate.
But the spiritual traditions tell us that bearing the pain of our own mortality is actually a condition of our human development. Without suffering we would cease to be human. Perhaps we might welcome this. Maybe the burden of our humanity is too great to bear. I know that for some people this is so. The Russian novelist, Dostoyevsky, born under Scorpio (11th November, 1821), and so acutely aware of these things – as anyone who gets below the surface of life must be aware – deals with this whole issue in his novel The Brothers Karamazov, one of the greatest novels ever written, and I do recommend that you read it if you haven’t already done so. In fact, the whole of Dostoyevsky’s work deals with these deep issues of human existence. Dostoyevsky himself was no stranger to suffering. His father was murdered; he was arrested and came within seconds of being executed; he spent years in a Siberian prison; he had epilepsy and emphysema; his marriage was difficult; some of his children died young; he had heavy debts from gambling. And yet, his ability to plumb the depths of human experience and come to an understanding of love, grace, forgiveness, and redemption in such incomparable ways can only have come from his first hand experience of life at its rawest. Paradoxically, Dostoyevsky came to God through pain and suffering, not in spite of them.
Dostoyevsky knew what all great souls know, but which we, in our hedonism and cowardice refuse to accept. William Blake put it like this in his Auguries of Innocence:
Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.
Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know
Thro’ the world we safely go.
We find a similar idea in The Friendship Tree, a book written about Davoren Hanna, by his father Jack. Davoren was born with terrible handicaps. He couldn’t walk, he couldn’t speak, and yet he had a remarkable poetic gift which was nurtured by his parents at enormous cost to themselves and their own peace and tranquillity. Davoren’s mother died, partly, at least, from the strain of caring for her son, in 1990, and Davoren himself died, aged just nineteen, in 1994. At the end of his book, Jack, Davoren’s father, sums it all up: ‘Earth to earth, and dust to dust, we say, but in between, such roaring, such flights, such sorrows, such heart-bonding, such words of nurture and celebration, such song.’ Are we up for this, do we want to sing in ecstasy, or do we just want peace and quiet, a full stomach, and longer eyelashes?
James and John wanted the prize without the pain, spiritual enlightenment without effort. But this Gospel, along with all the great works of spiritual literature, tells us that this is impossible. And this is the important lesson of Scorpio: we can’t have the heights without the depths; we can’t have a crown without a cross; we can’t get to Jerusalem unless we are prepared to go through Jericho.
Scorpio 2: The Ransom
And they came to Jericho, and when he, his disciples and a large crowd left Jericho, Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside Hearing that it was Jesus the Nazarene he began to cry out and say, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many people told him to keep quiet, but he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’ They called the blind man, saying, ‘Cheer up and get up. He’s calling you.’ Throwing off his coat, he jumped up and went to Jesus. Jesus said in response, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘Rabbi, let me see again!’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Go. Your faith has saved you.’ And at once he could see and he followed Jesus on the road.
Story: Diluting the Wine
Many years ago, the mayor of a village in China wanted to prepare a big feast for the whole village. He called together his chief advisors and told them of his plan. ‘I shall be happy to provide all the food,’ he said, ‘but I want you to supply the wine. Each of you must bring a wineskin filled with your finest wine. We will pour them all into a common pot so that the people can help themselves.’
The advisors told their leader that this was a very good idea: a party makes the people happy, and happy people work hard and commit fewer crimes. ‘It will bring our people closer together,’ said one.
However, not everyone was pleased. One of the advisors, a young man called Chang, thought to himself: ‘A wineskin full of wine will cost me a pretty penny. I’m not prepared to sacrifice my best wine so that the village rabble can get drunk. In fact, I’m not even prepared to give them my poorest wine. I’ll take water instead. No one will notice if the common pot of wine is slightly diluted.’ He felt very pleased with his money saving plan, and when he told his wife she congratulated him on his cleverness.
When the big day arrived, Chang went to the well, filled a wineskin with fresh water, and gave it to a servant to carry to the feast. As they approached, they could hear the merrymaking and the music, and smell the delicious aromas of the spices the cooks had used in preparing the huge vats of food. It looked like being a day to remember!
In the middle of the village square stood a gigantic pot, into which each of the mayor’s advisors was invited to pour the contents of his wineskin. As they did so, the crowd cheered wildly, impressed by the great generosity of their leading citizens. Chang poured his water into the pot.
Everyone sat down and listened impatiently as the mayor gave his speech; they were eager to get down to the serious business of eating and drinking! After the speech, the people began to fill their plates with food from the long tables, and their goblets with wine from the big pot. But as each of them took a drink, the look of expectation on each face changed into one of puzzlement. ‘This is not wine,’ they said, ‘this is water!’ Sure enough, every one of the advisers had brought water, thinking as Chang did that ‘no one will notice if the common pot of wine is slightly diluted.’
The mayor was disgusted with his miserly and hypocritical advisors. He stripped them of their position, and ordered them all to pay a big fine.
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. (John Donne)
n last Saturday’s Thinking Anew column in the Irish Times, G.L. (the authors of these columns are always identified by their initials only) wrote: ‘Jesus belongs to the world, not the church… he died for all and not a few’. It’s the sort of statement that theologians and preachers will use routinely, because it encapsulates a very prominent and important strand of the orthodox Christian message: that in some way the death of Jesus has had a profound effect upon the whole human race.
Different Christian groups interpret this idea differently, from the ultra liberal, who see Jesus as an enlightened and brave man, whose sacrifice on behalf of his principles set an example for the rest of us to follow; to the ultra conservative, who see the death of Jesus as a cosmic transaction in which the price of human sin was paid to satisfy the requirements of God’s justice, and so make ‘salvation’ available to those who believe.
This latter position has never had any prominence within Unitarianism for a number of very obvious reasons. First, it implies that God in some way demanded a blood sacrifice in reparation for the accumulated sins of the human race, a distasteful implication which seems to do little to exalt the image of the Creator. Second, it is difficult for us to understand how the death of one person, no matter how exalted, could have such a cosmic impact. We can understand how heroic military actions on the part of individuals can have quite far reaching effects on the outcome of a war, or how parents can sacrifice their lives for their children, but how one death two thousand years ago can affect me now is difficult for me to comprehend. Of course, millions of books and articles have been written, and millions of sermons have been preached on the topic, but the very notion remains bizarre, primitive, repugnant even, to liberal Unitarian ears.
Repugnant or not, there is no getting away from the fact that such ideas have a strong scriptural warrant. They are clearly expressed in Paul’s influential Letter to the Romans, and in the Letter to the Hebrews, which, although probably not written by Paul, is generally attributed to him because it is undoubtedly influenced by Pauline theology.
Traces of such thinking can be found in the Gospels, too. In what I have called the Scorpio section of Mark, Jesus says: ‘For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45). The word ‘ransom’ is from the Greek lutron, which, according to Strong’s Bible Dictionary, means ‘to loosen something with a redemption price’, or, to put it in more colloquial terms, ‘to pay the price of someone’s freedom’. We are all familiar with the idea of buying a slave out of slavery, buying oneself out of an apprenticeship, paying off a football manager before his contract is up, paying a sum to kidnappers to release someone from captivity; even redeeming an item from the pawnbroker’s. All of these help us to understand the concept of ‘lutron’, or ‘ransom’.
So, Mark is telling us that the suffering and death of Jesus will be a means of bringing about freedom for many people. Nowhere does he say that God demands the sacrifice, but it is still difficult for us to grasp the idea, and even more difficult for us to warm towards it.
One reason for the difficulty is that we have gradually become estranged from the thinking which gave rise to the notion. We live in a fiercely individualistic culture, which sees human beings as discrete, separate entities, forever imprisoned in our singularity. ‘My life is my own,’ we say, ‘and I can do with it what I wish. As long as I do not act in a way which infringes the rights of another, I can do as I like’. This is one of the cornerstones of Western liberal thinking. When we hear the question, ‘Whose life is it anyway?’ – when the legitimacy of suicide is being discussed for example – we tend to answer, unequivocally, ‘It’s mine’.
Such thinking, which has developed in the West since the time of the Renaissance, – and which found its most celebrated contemporary expression just twenty years ago, when Margaret Thatcher famously declared, ‘There’s no such thing as society; there are individual men and women, and there are families’ – would have seemed very strange to the people who wrote the Bible. They were aware of connections among people which we have long since disregarded – to our cost, I fear. For example, the idea that we all share a common humanity is expressed very graphically in the mythological story of Adam and Eve. It may not be a very popular myth now, post Darwin, but by concentrating on its scientific implausibility, we are neglecting its spiritual insights: we are fostering division among cultures by overlooking – or even totally ignoring – the idea of human solidarity which the myth teaches, an idea which alone can save us from destructive racial conflict.
One very interesting story expressing the hidden connections among people can be found in the Book of Joshua. On the surface it is a horrible story, and our sense of justice recoils at it, but there is a principle of biblical interpretation enunciated by the great 12th century Jewish Rabbi and scholar, Moses Maimonides, which might help us to understand such passages better: ‘Every time that you find in our books a tale the reality of which seems impossible, a story which is repugnant to both reason and common sense, then be sure that the tale contains a profound allegory veiling a deeply mysterious truth; and the greater the absurdity of the letter, the deeper the wisdom of the spirit’.
The story of Achan in chapter 7 of the Book of Joshua is one such story. The Israelites are in the process of conquering the Promised Land, and have just taken Jericho, but they suffer grievous setbacks in their attempt to conquer the city of Ai, and Joshua asks God why he seems to have deserted them. God tells him that someone disobeyed his command not to plunder anything from Jericho, and consequently, Joshua’s people are being punished. By a strange process of elimination, the culprit is found. It is Achan, of the tribe of Judah. Buried beneath the ground in his tent they find a beautiful Babylonian robe, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels. The story continues:
They took the things from the tent, brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites and spread them out before the Lord. Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold wedge, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent, and all that he had to the Valley of Achor. Joshua said, ‘Why have you brought this disaster on us? The Lord will bring disaster on you today.’ Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his fierce anger. Therefore the place has been called the Valley of Achor (Disaster) ever since. (Joshua 7:23-26)
A horrible story indeed, and taken purely literally it does nothing to endear the God of the Bible to us. How unjust, we think, to kill and then burn everything that belongs to a criminal – his family, his livestock and his possessions! Surely it would be enough to punish the culprit alone. But using Maimonides’ principle we can look beneath the surface of the story and find the truth it is expressing. And it’s a simple but important one: that ‘guilt’ is not to be imputed to an individual alone, and the effects of an action are not restricted to those who seem to be immediately involved. It is a commonplace of contemporary sociology to say that it takes a village to raise a child; and when things go wrong, there are more people to bear the blame than we generally think. ‘No man is an island,’ wrote the English poet John Donne. We are part of a whole, and what we do, and even what we think, affects the whole.
St. Paul makes a similar point in the First Letter to the Corinthians (chapter 12), where he compares the group of believers to a body, composed of parts which are so interconnected that ‘if one part suffers, every part suffers with it, and if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it’ (vs.26). Anyone who has ever had toothache or stubbed a toe knows that the malfunction of an apparently small and insignificant member can have an overwhelming impact on the whole body!
It would appear that so called ‘primitive’ peoples are more aware of these inter-personal connections than we are. I recently came across an account of the greetings employed by members of the tribes of northern Natal in South Africa. The most common greeting, equivalent to ‘hello’, is ‘Sawu Bona’, which means ‘I see you’, and the reply is ‘Sikhona’ – ‘I am here’ -, implying that until you see me I do not exist. Mary Kay Boyd comments, ‘It’s as if, when you see me, you bring me into existence’. She goes on to explain that the Zulu expression ‘Umuntu ngumentu magabantu’ means ‘A person is a person because of other people’, implying that a person’s identity is based upon the fact that he or she is seen by others.
In our opening words this morning, we heard similar sentiments:
May we know once again that we are not isolated beings
But connected in mystery and miracle, to the universe
To this community and to each other.
Such ‘hidden’ but real connections are part of what the zodiacal sign Scorpio symbolises. Six months ago, in the spring, the flowers sprouted above the earth in individualised beauty; but, in the Scorpio season, the vegetation is ploughed back into the soil, where it rots to produce the nutrition in which the new seeds can take root. Now is the time for the ‘underground’ activity of tangled root fibres, and those mysterious processes which take place away from human scrutiny, but which are absolutely vital to the nourishment of biological life.
Scorpio symbolises the hidden links between past and present, life and death, individual and community, which is why the Catholic Church has designated November, the Scorpio month, as the time for us to remember the Holy Souls, those members of the human community who have passed into the unseen world, but who are still connected to us by invisible threads.
Such ideas will help us to explain what the Gospel of Mark means when it says that ‘the son of man must give his life as a ransom for many’. The ‘Son of Man’ is, as I have explained before, you and I. ‘Son of Man’ is a Hebrew expression which means nothing more than human being, and the suffering of a human being, the experiences of a human being, the noble achievements of a human being, affect the whole human race. We are in this together; ‘when one rejoices, all rejoice; when one suffers, all suffer,’ says St. Paul. We all bring our individual bottles to the party. ‘I am a human being, and nothing human is alien to me,’ wrote the Roman poet Terence. The selfless suffering of someone like Jesus ennobles me; the unspeakable cruelties of someone like Hitler, diminishes me. I cannot dissociate myself from the collective, either spatially or temporally. What my ancestors did is still affecting me – ‘to the seventh generation’ it says in the Bible; what I do affects the generations to come. Someone can suffer so that I don’t have to suffer, just as my suffering can benefit others. When my brother Barry was dying in 2001, I took a profound lesson from his brave, uncomplaining attitude, which gave me untold strength when, in the following year, I came face to face with my own possible death. Einstein expressed this idea very succinctly:
From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others… for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labours of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.
Which brings us to the very last story in the Scorpio section of the Gospel. As Jesus and his disciples are leaving Jericho – remember, as I said last time, Jericho is the lowest inhabited city on earth and therefore symbolically the ideal place to discuss the hidden depths of things – they encounter Bartimaeus, a blind man who is begging by the roadside. ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ he shouts. ‘What do you want?’ asks Jesus. ‘Lord, give me back my sight!’ he replies.
Bartimaeus is blind. Whenever we come across blindness in the Bible we should realise that we are dealing with spiritual blindness not physical blindness. Why is he spiritually blind? Because he understands salvation as something that will come to his people from outside. The expression ‘Son of David’, which he’s shouting at Jesus, was a conventional messianic term; he sees Jesus as a liberator, a military leader who will throw off the shackles of Roman oppression and lead the people to freedom. But the whole of this Gospel teaches us that this is erroneous. Salvation never comes from outside. Not from politics, not from economics, not from some external divine deliverer, not from some charismatic human leader. Salvation will only come when we understand who we are, how we are linked to each other, and how our actions and even our thoughts affect each other. Jesus cures Bartimaeus of his spiritual blindness, and the once-blind beggar accompanies Jesus ‘in the way’, towards Jerusalem, the City of Peace. If we want to follow him there we must overcome our own blindness, by acknowledging, cherishing, and strengthening those hidden ties which bind us one to another.
[i] Quoted in Colin Greer and Herbert Kohl, page 308.
[ii] See Einstein’s Credo at www.einstein-website.de/z_biography/credo.html