Reacting to my post of yesterday about Bartimaeus throwing aside his cloak, my friend John wrote me a brief e-mail this morning commenting on how much he loves these “throw away lines,” which are often so rich. I replied that I was amazed I had missed the line about which I wrote so many times in my reading and prayer with that Gospel passage, to which he responded that he has had that experience so many time that now he almost looks for those throw away lines.
That seemed to me a practice worth sharing.
You know what I mean by throw-away lines: the lines that are part of the descriptive detail of the narrative story that we tend to gloss over in out haste to get to what seems to be the central encounter. So in yesterday’s Gospel: What will Jesus say to, or do for, Bartimaeus. And so it is easy to pass over Bartimaeus’ throwing aside his cloak.
I think there is a particular danger with passages we have heard so many times to glaze over until we get to “the good part” – the central part, the place where all the action is. If we do that, we can miss an awful lot.
I’m reminded as I write this of a morning where I was praying with the passage in John’s Gospel in which Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. I got to the first line of the passage: There was a man named Lazarus who will ill, and I never got any further. I had a very powerful experience that took off only from that one line – I never got to the “good part,” the big action. I didn’t even get to the powerful exchange between Jesus and Mary, let alone the raising of Lazarus. Yet the prayer I had taught me an enormous amount. Something I would have missed if I skipped over the “throw away” line.
So, consider adopting my friend John’s practice: Look for the throw away lines.
Everywhere you look in this book of books they scatter clues to the truth to which it all points.
First you follow the text,
then you follow the phrases,
then you follow the symbols,
then the metaphors,
to discover the equivalents,
and all the while it opens wider and wider,
until, quite literally,
you follow the word.
‘What is your name?’ the man asked.
He answered, ‘Jacob.’
Then the man said,
‘You shall no longer be named Jacob, but Israel,
because you have contended with divine and human beings
and have prevailed.’ Genesis 32:28-29
‘So you will say to Pharaoh, Thus says the Lord,
Israel is my son, my firstborn.’ Exodus 4:22
‘for I am a father to Israel, Ephraim is my firstborn’ Jeremiah 31:7-9
(He is and isn’t)
‘and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever.’ Luke 1:33
‘and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel’ Luke 1:80
‘Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him
and said of him,
Here is a true son of Israel.
There is no duplicity in him.’ John 1:47
‘from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah,
who died between the altar and the temple building.’ Luke 11:51
‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.’ John 2:19
‘with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone.
Through him the whole structure is held together
and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord;
in him you also are being built together
into a dwelling place of God in the spirit.’ Ephesians 2:19-22
These guys are geniuses – what they want for you, even though they make your head spin as you untangle it. It almost feels as if it’s the little ‘so what’ texts that teach you that this book of books is telling the same story in a million different ways.
God bless you as he works through you.