THIRTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
October 25, 2015
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev. Dcn. David Justin Lynch
Jeremiah 31:7-9 Psalm 126:1-6 Hebrews 5:1-6 Mark 10:46-52
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
When my wife, Beeper, and I sit in front of the television watching a baseball game or the news, which is most of what we watch together, one of us may want to change the channel and asks, “Where is the remote?” We look around for it on the sofa, the table in front of the sofa, and on the floor, and usually find it right away. But for those few minutes we are looking for it, we are blind to its existence, even though it might be in plain sight. That’s a kind of blindness.
I will admit to being blindly in love with Beeper when I met her. I was definitely not objective. The first day I saw Beeper, her beauty truly overwhelmed me. I purposefully ignored whatever faults she may have had. That’s another kind of blindness. And perhaps at least partially because of that blindness, I ended up marrying her.
And, there have been times in life when all of us, including me, have lost our way, as if darkness were all around us as we stumble along, trying to find the right path to reach our destination. We don’t know where we are going, and/or we are in strange surroundings. Losing a sense of place or path, even temporarily, is also a kind of blindness.
Today’s Gospel is about much more than physical blindness healed by a Jesus miracle. Taken literally and by itself, this pericope in Mark’s Gospel is nothing spectacular. We already know Jesus can restore sight to the blind. In fact, Jesus, in response to messengers from John the Baptist, said specifically that He came to do exactly that. If one thinks Jeremiah was prophesizing about Jesus in today’s first reading, the blind would be among those whom Jesus would liberate. And Jesus actually did heal blindness in other passages from all four canonical Gospels. So what makes this story different?
First, the blind man is identified by name, Bartimaeus, which means, “son of Timaeus.” There’s a lot in names. Not only do they allow others to distinguish one person from another, they also define us with an identity as a unique person. Our names make us important. Names call the attention of others to our existence. Why was Bartimaeus so important to the author of Mark? Bartimaeus is all of us in the way we perceive the world. Although most of us have eyesight, as such, we remain blind to many of the realities around us, sometimes by deliberate choice, sometimes because we don’t care, and sometimes because we lack the knowledge and skills to perceive everything that surrounds us.
The second way this story is unlike ones in the other gospels, Jesus doesn’t touch the blind man to give him sight. Here, Jesus proclaims that the man’s faith that has brought him sight. That is significant. The word “faith” in common language means to assert that something is true, even though that there might not be any immediate physical evidence for it, like saying God exists, even though we can’t prove it scientifically in a laboratory or like a lawyer would in court. But that’s not how the word faith was used by Jesus when He spoke to Bartimaeus. What Jesus meant was that Bartimaeus accepted and trusted Jesus, and that’s what enabled Bartimaeus to see Jesus. At that moment, Jesus was everything to Bartimaeus. We can see that from the fact that Bartimaeus threw down his cloak as He approached Jesus. That is significant. In those days, leaving one’s cloak behind because not only was it an article of clothing; it was often one’s bed as well. So, Jesus meant something to Bartimaeus far more than someone who would take away his blindness. Bartimaeus threw down everything He had to encounter Jesus.
Thirdly, this story is the first in Mark’s Gospel where someone publicly identifies Jesus as the Messiah. The Disciple Peter had done that earlier, but it was in a private conversation. Bartimaeus referred to Jesus as “Son of David”, an appellation given to Jesus elsewhere in scripture to identify Jesus as the Messiah. You’ll recall that on Palm Sunday, we proclaimed, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” In proclaiming “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me,” Bartimaeus, though blind, actually expresses himself as more aware of who Jesus is than the rest of the crowd. Bartimaeus perceived Jesus as someone who would show mercy and compassion by enabling Bartimaeus to use his eyes to see. And why did Bartimaeus want to be healed from his blindness? His immediate goal was to see Jesus, something we as Christians should all long to do. You might recall the hymn,
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light and glory of his grace.
And you might recall the last verse of “Praise my soul the King of Heaven,
Angels help us to adore Him,
Ye behold Him face to face
Can you imagine the feelings that Bartimaeus experienced, when among the first faces he saw, was that of Jesus? Even though all of us are alive about two thousand years after Jesus was, perhaps we can feel somewhat like that when we see Jesus in the form of Bread and Wine at the Eucharist. When the Presider elevates the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Prayer of Consecration, we can imagine how truly awesome and wonderful the face of Jesus is. We don’t know what Jesus looked like, but from the Gospels, we know something of His personality. He was the patiently suffering, compassionate and forgiving servant. Think to yourself what the face of a person with those traits would look like. That is what Bartimaeus saw.
At least wanting to see the face of Jesus may be a first step in opening our eyes to what we should be seeing to make God’s kingdom a reality in our world. What do we have to do to truly see who Jesus is? Most of all, we have to overcome our spiritual blindness.
Some of what we do at church may make us spiritually blind, because it has become so routine. We may be able to recite the creeds, the Our Father and the Hail Mary, perform our rituals forwards and backwards, and know the Bible cover to cover, but those things may blind us to the spiritual reality of a genuine connection of ourselves to God. They can, but only if we allow our spiritual routines to blind us to the essence of our mission to make the Kingdom of God a reality instead of just an aspiration.
Today’s Gospel has the crowd telling Bartimaeus to be quiet as he was calling out for Jesus to have mercy on him. But Jesus would have none of that. Jesus told the crowd to call Bartimaeus to Him, and asked Bartimaeus, “What is it you want me to do for you? Bartimaeus said he wanted to see Jesus, and Jesus granted his wish. In our own lives, the forces of the world continually tell us to be quiet as we call out for mercy from the unmerciful forces in our lives. But Jesus had the courage to ignore the desires of the crowd, and instead go about His business of mercy and healing. Jesus defied immediate popular opinion when He asked that Bartimaeus be brought to Him so Jesus could ask Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” Asking others, “What can I do for you” is a way to avoid spiritual blindness. It is opening ourselves to consider what’s going on in the lives of others, to give us an opportunity to be servants that shower mercy on those who seek us.
When I see the Blessed Sacrament on the altar, I see Jesus asking me, “What can I do for you.” My response is, “Everything, Jesus. You are the fountain of my life.” Jesus asks this of everyone. We can accept or reject this invitation. The choice of accepting His invitation to do something for us has the potential to relieve our own spiritual blindness, to see what we would otherwise be unable to see.
Seeing the Body and Blood of Jesus at Mass can open our eyes in so many ways to things to which we as a society are blind. We are blind to racism and sexism. We are blind to inequality of wealth and income. We are blind to human suffering. We are blind to the powerlessness so many experience in dealing with the basic aspects of their lives, like getting food, shelter, or a decent job. We are blind to the ongoing damage to our air, earth, and water. So much of what we accept as “normal” interactions between people, and the features of our economy show how blind we are to those problems. We often go about our daily lives as if they don’t exist. For example, we see an obviously homeless person on the street, and we go about our business as if that person did not exist. We are blind to why that person might be homeless, hungry, and without employment. We pass that person by without stopping to talk to him or her to learn about what went on in that persons’ life that brought him or her to where they are, or what we might be able to do to help. Or we continue to use fossil fuels, without considering alternatives and agitating for political change to kick the oil companies out of the political structure. So many of the things to which we are blind are either the result of a conscious decision on our part not to concern ourselves with the details, or perhaps we have been conditioned by the environment in which we grew up not to notice or to avoid.
When one is ordained a priest, one becomes, in the words of today’s Epistle to the Hebrews, become a priest forever. As Catholics, we believe that the Sacrament of Holy Orders effectuates a permanent change in what a person is. Once ordained, always ordained. Today’s Gospel invites us to ask, “What kind of priest does the church need?” But all ordained Priests are taken from among humanity, and because of that, priests should be able to empathize with those who are blind to Jesus, and should heal and mercifully care for those who yearn for the face of Jesus, as well as those who don’t. Yes, a priest should imitate the Jesus we encounter in this story. However, doing those things is not just something for the ordained priesthood. From the day of our baptism, we are all priests with a small “p”. We can all do what Jesus did here when we ignore a world trying to hush someone calling out for help, and instead call that person to us and ask that person what we can do to minister to that person, just as Jesus did to Bartimaeus.
I pray that Jesus will open our eyes finally to see the world that God wants us to see, instead of what we want to see. Jesus illustrated in last week’s Gospel that He saw life in much different ways than we do. In response to James and John arguing over who would sit on the right and left hands of Jesus, He reminded them that the essence of all ministry, both lay and ordained, is servanthood. One who aspires to servanthood must take the risk of asking those whom one would serve, “what do you want me to do for you?”
The response to that question may be something that seems trivial, or it may be a steep demand. Asking that question requires us to see other persons not as something at our disposal for our benefit, but as needs waiting to be met. We should be actively looking for and fulfilling the needs of others with the same attitude Jesus had when he encountered Bartimaeus. We can only do that if we allow Jesus to open oureyes to things we don’t see now, but should see. AMEN.