The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Homily: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Jer 31:7-9; Ps 126:1-6; Heb 5:1-6; Mk 10:46-52

A few weeks ago, as we studied John’s Gospel in one of our parish Bible Study sessions, someone asked me why the gospels were so short, why they didn’t tell us more about Jesus and His life. Actually, St. John, at the very end of his Gospel, almost apologizes for this, telling us that the world couldn't hold all the books that would have to be written to tell the full story of Jesus.

I think perhaps too many of us view the gospels simply as a collection of stories about the life of Jesus -- sort of like Boswell's Life of Johnson, only a lot shorter. And so, as we read the gospels, we're often left wondering about what wasn't written. But to do this is to miss the entire point.

You see, the Holy Spirit, in inspiring the gospel writers, knew exactly what He was about. Yes, the gospels are about Jesus, about His life, His teachings, His redemptive passion, death and resurrection -- the centerpiece of human history. And reading them prayerfully certainly brings us closer to Him. But the gospels are also about us, about you and about me. Indeed, we can make a good case for claiming that true conversion to Jesus Christ really begins only when you recognize yourself in the gospel.

The gospels are really a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. That’s their power. That’s the power of the Holy Spirit. The gospels illuminate the blind spots in our lives -- the attachments that keep us from full conversion.

Remember the encounter we had two weeks ago? The rich young man who sought out Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. "You are lacking in one thing." Jesus told him. "Sell what you have, give to the poor…come follow me." We can almost feel the man recoil from Jesus, and he went away sad, burdened by his possessions. He came to Jesus sure of his innocence before he Law, but unaware of his weakness before God. He came with a sense that something was missing; but didn’t suspect what it was. For it was everything! His wealth – neither wrongly acquired nor wrongly used – still enslaved him. And for the first time, a great sacrifice was asked of him…but he lacked the heart for it.

Is this materialism our blind spot as well?

And then last Sunday, that other encounter with Jesus? James and John, apostles, brothers, "sons of thunder," the Zebedee boys, so full of zeal…They too asked Jesus a question: “When you come into your glory, may we sit beside you, one on your right and one on your left?”

Jesus' response? "You do not know what you are asking." They too were unprepared for the truth about themselves, about the true nature of their calling. Their status as apostles, their unique relationship with Jesus, filled them with self-importance, the kind that leads to petty rivalries. In essence they said, "Come on, Jesus, tell us that we're better than the others, that we're your favorites."

Oh, yes, they had a blind spot as well -- pride and a lack of Christian humility. We're so much better, they thought, so much holier than the rest. How sad that they can't be like us. And so Jesus illuminates their blind spot: you are called not to be princes, but servants, and you must follow My example in all things, even to the Cross. Of course they don’t understand. It's only later, when confronted by that Cross, that they scatter like scared rabbits, their pride shattered by the reality of Christ's passion and death.

How many of us, blinded by pride, forget that everything comes from God, that we were created in a wondrous act of love, but created to serve, to serve God and to serve each other?

60 years ago I, along with a large group of children, received my First Holy Communion in St. Peter’s Church in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Among those children was a developmentally disabled boy. He was maybe two or three years older than the rest of us and attended a special school so none of us knew him very well. I can’t even recall his name. But I remember he was seated on the aisle at the end of our pew and when it was time to rise and go forward for Communion, he literally leaped to his feet and said, “Jesus!” -- really scared the rest of us. But that’s how excited he was about receiving Jesus for the first time. And whenever I read today’s Gospel passage I think of him.

Because today we encounter Bartimaeus -- Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, leaping Bartimaeus, the blind beggar of Jericho. How different from the other encounters with Jesus.

Jesus was leaving Jericho, on His way to Jerusalem, on His way to the Cross, when He passed by the blind beggar named Bartimaeus. Jesus was accompanied by a “sizable crowd,” Mark tells us, no doubt a noisy, pushy crowd, curious about this Jesus.

When Bartimaeus heard Jesus’ name, he cried out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me." What an interesting thing for this man to say. Like all who encountered Jesus, Bartimaeus knew there was something special, something prophetic, something divine, about Him. And so Bartimaeus didn't hold back. In faith he uses the Messianic title, "Son of David" and by doing so proclaims Christ's mission to the world.

His request? So simple: "Have mercy on me." Yes, like all of us, he’s a sinner, filled with weakness, in need of mercy. His blind spot? Strictly a physical one.

The disciples try to shut him up, this beggar, this blind man who's what? An embarrassment? But Bartimaeus won’t comply. He won’t be silenced: "Son of David, have mercy on me."

And Jesus stops. "Call him," He says.

Notice how solicitous the others suddenly become, but how patronizingly solicitous. "Take Heart," they say, "Rise, He is calling you." As if to say, "Remember, Jesus is very important, and unlike us, you're just a worthless beggar. But for some reason Jesus wants to talk to you." But Bartimaeus, in his blindness, is focused not on these others, but on Jesus alone.

And so he leaps to his feet, throws off his cloak, that symbol of his status as a beggar, and makes his way, through his own personal darkness, directly to Jesus. Jesus asks him the same exact question He asked James and John in last Sunday's Gospel: "What do you want me to do for you?"
But the answer is something quite different. Having already admitted his sinfulness, and tasted Jesus' mercy in his heart, Bartimaeus asks for one thing: "Master, I want to see."

How does Jesus respond to this? Not, as we might expect, with, "Receive your sight." No, Jesus simply says, "Go your way; your faith has saved you."

Instantly Bartimaeus can see. And he went, but not his way. No, as Mark tells us, he follows Jesus on the way. For it is Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

You see, unlike the young rich man, unlike the apostles, in his faith, Bartimaeus really had no blind spots whatsoever. His physical blindness was a mere technicality. Bartimaeus knew exactly what he was -- not a blind beggar, but a sinner in need of God's mercy and forgiveness. “Master, I want to see” – not to see with his eyes. No, he wanted to be cured of spiritual blindness so he could see the way, the truth, and the life.

And so we’re each left with a question: Where do I see myself in the Gospel? Am I like the rich young man, blinded and enslaved by my possessions, so wrapped up in the world that to follow Jesus is unthinkable? Or am I like James and John, so caught up in myself that I lose sight of God's call to love and serve Him and His people?

Let us pray today that, like Bartimaeus, we can all turn to the Father in humility, begging for His mercy, and that we too may see the way He has planned for each of us.

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