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Reflections for the XXX Sunday

Fr. Antony Kadavil reflects and comments on the readings at Mass for the thirtieth Sunday in ordinary time. He says that the central theme of the readings is the overflowing mercy and kindness of a loving, healing and forgiving God for His children.

Jer 31:7-9; Heb 5: 1-6; Mk10:46-52

Homily starter anecdote: # 1: Blindfolded in the den of lion: In the seven years that he was held hostage in Lebanon, Terry A. Anderson, Chief Middle East Correspondent of the Associated Press was physically and psychologically abused, beaten and tortured by his captors. Chained to a bed or to the wall and stripped to his underwear, Anderson was kept blindfolded so as not to be able to recognize his whereabouts or subsequently reveal the identities of his guards. Deprived of physical sight and freedom, Anderson spent those seven years engaged in a spiritual odyssey marked by an ever-deepening insight. Blindfolded in darkness, he discovered the inner light of grace that enabled him to look once again in faith at God, to see himself in stark truthfulness and humility and even to look upon his captors with a sense of understanding. His probing spiritual perception led Anderson to seek reconciliation with and healing forgiveness from God. Through the ministry of Father Lawrence Jenco, a fellow hostage, Anderson rediscovered his faith. The following is Anderson’s prayer on that occasion: Where is faith found? Not in a book or in a church, not often or for everyone. In childish times, it’s easier; a child believes just what it’s told. But children grow and soon begin to see too much that doesn’t match the simple tales, and not enough of what’s behind their parents’ words. There is no God, the cynics say; we made Him up out of our need and fear of death. And happily, they offer up their test-tube proofs. A mystery, the priests all say, and point to saints that prove their faith in acts of love and sacrifice. But what of us who are not saints, only common human sinners? And what of those who in their need and pain cry out to God and go on suffering? I do not know -- I wish I did. Sometimes I feel all the world’s pain. I only say that once in my own need I felt a light and warm and loving touch that eased my soul and banished doubt and let me go on to the end. It is not proof -- there can be none. Faith’s what you find when you’re alone and find you’re not (Den of Lion, Memoirs of Seven Years, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York: 1993). In today’s gospel, another man, deprived of physical sight invites the gathered assembly in this church to share in his spiritual odyssey. We are often held hostage by our pride, fear, or self-seeking or by the “blindfold” of indifference to the needs of others. With Bartimaeus, let us pray for both freedom from spiritual blindness and growth in faith, saying, “Lord, I want to see.” (frtonyshomilies.com). 

Scripture lessons summarized: The first reading tells us how a forgiving and compassionate God has been healing the spiritual blindness of His Chosen People by subjecting them to captivity in Babylon and liberating them and bringing them back to their homeland. The Jerusalem journey of Jesus in the company of the lame and the blind connects the first reading to today’s gospel. The healing of the blind Bartimaeus in today’s Gospel is also seen as the fulfillment of the joyful prophecy of Jeremiah about the return of the exiled Jews from Babylon to their homeland.  Today’s second reading, taken from Hebrews 5, presents Jesus as the perfect sacrifice for sins and as the true High Priest of the New Testament. It also gives us the assurance that our High Priest, Jesus, is sympathetic to us because he has shared our human nature.  Today’s Gospel explains how Jesus shows the mercy and compassion of his Heavenly Father by healing the blind Bartimaeus. Just as the blind and the lame were God’s concern in the first reading, Jesus is concerned with the blind beggar, Bartimaeus of Jericho.  On hearing that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, Bartimaeus loudly expressed his trusting faith in the healing power of Jesus by shouting his request, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me." When Jesus invited him to come near,Bartimaeus threw aside his cloak (symbolizing perhaps the baptismal divesting). His   meeting with Jesus gave Bartimaeus the gift of spiritual as well as physical sight, and he became a disciple of Jesus.

First reading: Jer 31: 7-9, explained: This passage is part of the second of a series of four poems celebrating the return from the Babylonian Exile. Like a similar hymn of the return in Isiah 35 this hymn stresses the presence of the weak, the blind and the lame, nursing and pregnant mothers among those returning from exile. (Fr. R. Fuller).  It tells us of the small number of people, "the remnant of Israel," who had survived the Assyrian captivity begun in 721 B.C.  Jeremiah encourages his exiled fellow Jews with a promise of a homecoming reminding of the joy and triumph of the first coming home of their ancestors from Egypt’s slavery to the promised land.  Jeremiah describes the coming return of the Babylonian captives as they will be led on their joyful journey home to Jerusalem. The passage foretells God’s promise to give His people life in all its fullness. Through their exile and suffering, the people had learned to humble themselves and turn to God with sincere repentance.  The returnees would include not only the healthy, but the blind, the lame, and the vulnerable.  Originally spiritually blind, the exiled Jews, through suffering, would receive spiritual sight, and they would express their gratitude to God by singing His glories on their way back to their city.  Jesus' journey to Jerusalem in the company of the lame and the blind connects this first reading with today’s gospel. “By extending a word of healing and salvation (“your faith has healed, i.e. saved you”, Mark 10:52) to the poor, sick and needy, Jesus realized Jeremiah’s vision. Moreover, what the prophet had promised, regarding the return of the exiles to Judah, would be eclipsed by the ultimate return of all peoples to God, a homecoming Jesus would accomplish through the saving, healing power of his cross.” (Sanchez archives). The Gospel highlights the actions of Bartimaeus which called healing from the heart of Jesus and prompted the now-seeing beggar to follow Jesus as a witnessing disciple.  The first reading, on the other hand, directs our attention to God's merciful actions: "delivering his people . . . bringing them back . . . gathering them . . . consoling them… guiding them . . . leading them." The Responsorial Psalm: 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6 chosen today is  the most  appropriate psalm to go with Jeremiah 31:7-9, because  like that hymn  it also celebrates the return from Babylon, and indeed the contrast between sorrow and joy is the theme of both passages.

The second reading (Hebrews 5: 1), explained: The reading describes Jesus as the High Priest of the new Covenant and explains Jesus’ qualifications for high priesthood.  It likens him to the class of ancient priests, (sympathetic and patient, not glorifying himself), then distinguishes Jesus from the others (because the Father called Jesus his Son).  The people addressed in this letter had been put out of the synagogues when they accepted Jesus. Some were even abandoning Christ to return to Judaism. Hence the writer of Hebrews tries to comfort them by depicting Jesus as a superior replacement for the priests upon whom they had formerly depended because Jesus was appointed by God to that ministry to serve the people as intermediary between God and man and as man-God he had empathy for and profound patience with “erring sinners.” The Jewish High Priest was a sinner like others, and his role was to offer sacrifices to God, for himself and for the people as their representative. But Jesus was sinless; he offered himself as a sacrifice for all sin, and he continues to act as our mediator at “the throne of grace.” Further, Jesus, the Son of God, was appointed directly by God to an even better priesthood (“the order of Melchizedek” Ps 110:4). In his role, person and appointment, Jesus surpassed every High Priest in ancient Israel. Hence through Jesus, the true High Priest, we can approach the throne of grace with confidence and boldness, and we can expect mercy and favor from God.  It also gives us the assurance that our High Priest, Jesus, is sympathetic to us because he has shared our human nature.

Gospel exegesis:   The context: Today’s Gospel describes Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem through Jericho, an ancient city fifteen miles away from Jerusalem.  Jericho was the first city conquered by the Israelites when they entered Palestine. It was a city of great wealth and remarkable beauty, supporting many date palm plantations and fig trees.  Great numbers of merchants and Jewish priests made their homes in this pleasant city. The Mosaic Law required every Jewish male over the age of twelve and living within fifteen miles of Jerusalem to attend the Passover.  Those who, for one reason or another, were exempt from this obligation would often line the roads to Jerusalem to greet the crowds of pilgrims as they passed toward the city.  The Jewish rabbis on pilgrimage often taught religious lessons to the pilgrims on their journey.  Beggars also capitalized on the increased traffic through the city to beg for money.  One such beggar was the blind man known as Bartimaeus.

James & John versus Bartimaeus:  It is not by coincidence that this Gospel of blind Bartimaeus follows immediately upon last Sunday’s text about James and John’s ambitious request for positions of primacy in Jesus’ coming Kingdom. It is probable that Mark intends to the two stories to be seen in contrast: James and John, although possessing physical sight, evidently do not “see” Jesus for who He is, do not understand Him and His message properly yet, and are still too filled with pride and a desire for power. Bartimaeus, on the other hand, although physically blind, evidently “sees” Jesus much better than some of His own disciples; he recognizes Jesus as the promised Davidic Messiah, but, instead of asking for power and glory, seeks only the healing and mercy that many Jews believed the Messiah to be bringing. (Rev. Dr. Watson, Jerusalem). Were there two blind men, or one? Did this healing occur once or twice? St. Augustine is convinced that Mark and Luke are recounting two similar but not identical stories, involving two different men (de Con. Evan., ii, 65). Luke says that the healing happened as Jesus was arriving in Jericho, whereas Mark says that it occurred as Jesus was leaving Jericho. The fact that in Jesus’ time there were actually two Jerichos may be reflected in the differences in the accounts of healing two blind men (Matt 20:29-34; Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43). Jesus healed the blind men after He left the old Jericho and as He was approaching Herodian Jericho.

Jesus spots a particular blind man in the crowd: The story of Bartimaeus is the last healing miracle recorded in the Gospel of Mark.  (The name Bartimaeus in Aramaic meant ‘son of Timaeus,’ just as Peter was known as Simon bar-Yona, ‘son of Jonah’) The story is presented dramatically.  While the majority of those who received healing in the New Testament are not mentioned by name, in this case, the beggar’s name is given as Bartimaeus. When the people told Bartimaeus the news of Jesus’ passage through the city, he screamed out for Jesus’ attention as one abandoned by both God and man who could scarcely dare to dream of something better.   He began to shout his remarkable prayer of Faith: "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me."  (Perhaps there was a popular belief that any member of David’s family had inherited at least some of their illustrious ancestor’s powers? We should also recall that, especially under Roman occupation, the title “Son of David,” with both its royal and messianic associations, would have had strongly political overtones, and was potentially subversive. Dr. Watson). Jesus heard one voice crying out through the noise of the crowd.  Who would have expected a Messianic greeting from a blind beggar?  In spite of the crowd's objections, Jesus stopped and, recognizing Bartimaeus’ Faith, called the blind man over. In the Law of Moses, the blind are among those who are to be accorded protection in the name of God. Leviticus admonishes the Israelites not to “curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind.” In Deuteronomy those who lead the blind astray along the road are placed under the same curse as those who withhold justice from the alien, the orphan or the widowed. Psalm 146 proclaims that God gives sight to the blind, lifts up those who are bowed down and loves the righteous.   

Bartimaeus’ response of trusting Faith: The people conveyed Jesus' invitation to Bartimaeuswho responded by jumping up and running to Jesus.  By addressing Jesus as Son of David, the beggar publicly identified Jesus as the Messiah.  At Jesus’ summons, Bartimaeus threw aside his long cloak, his only possession, which protected him from heat and cold.  In throwing away his cloak, he gave up everything he had depended on, putting his complete trust in God. Discarding his cloak represented a radical break with his previous life (symbolized by his cloak), in the same way that Peter, James and John left their fishing boats and nets behind them when “called” by Jesus?  The energy and the passion with which Bartimaeus responded to Jesus’ summons should characterize all those who seek to respond to Jesus’ call.  Jesus then asked, “What do you want me to do for you?"  Bartimaeus replied promptly: “Master, I want to see.”  Jesus rewarded his faith by restoring both his physical and his spiritual sight. “All four of the evangelists use sight as a symbol for Christian faith. Believing is the deepest kind of “seeing.” The early Church called baptism enlightenment.” (Fr. Dennis Hamm S. J.).  Having received physical and spiritual sight, Bartimaeus followed Jesus joyfully along the road. This blind man follows Jesus in the “Way,” a technical term for Christian discipleship.   The gift of sight led Bartimaeus to faith, and faith came to full expression in committed discipleship. He wanted to stay close to his Savior, to thank, praise, and serve Him.  Thus, today’s Gospel presents Bartimaeus as the model for us, in his prayer and in his wholehearted commitment to a discipleship that included, and still includes, rejection by those who refuse to believe. Bartimaeus is presented to contemporary believers as a guide in the Christian way because he was a man of faith and vision, a man unafraid to recognize his need for healing and to cry out, “I want to see!”, the man from Jericho invites us also to follow him up the road. Let us remember the old Persian proverb, “A blind man who sees is better than a seeing man who is blind.”

Lessons of Christian discipleship: The section of Mark's Gospel that deals with discipleship (8:22-10:52), begins with the healing of a blind man (8:22-26), and concludes with the story of another blind man, Bartimaeus.  In between these two stories are three episodes in which the disciples are presented as blind to the meaning of Jesus' mission and of their own discipleship.  Their spiritual "blindness" is evident in their persistent misunderstanding.  The gradual coming to sight of the first blind man (8:22-26), stands in contrast to the story of Bartimaeus, who regains his vision at once and becomes a follower of Jesus.  The healing of the blind Bartimaeus contains four main elements of Christian discipleship: a) the correct recognition of Jesus as Lord and Savior ("Jesus, Son of David"); b) the acknowledgement of the need for Jesus’ help ("Have pity on me"; "I want to see"); c) ready response to Jesus' call ("He . . . came to Jesus"); and d) becoming Jesus’ disciple (" … followed him on the way"). “The Church has always taught that the life-changing grace of Christ is made available through the sacraments irrespective of the holiness of the minister or the congregation. In the Eucharist, the sacrament of sacraments, it is not just God’s grace but Christ’s bodily presence which is made available. That means that every Sunday we have the same opportunity as Bartimaeus. Then, why do so many of us go to Mass again and again and walk out the door much the same as we went in? Why so little healing, so little growth in holiness? Maybe because we lack the outrageously bold faith of Bartimaeus. The gifts and charisms of the Holy Spirit, forgiveness, healing, purification, guidance, all are there for the taking. Hence, in   the spirit of Bartimaeus, let’s determine to stop going home empty-handed.”  (Dr. Watson).

 The Messianic implications: The healing of Bartimaeus has Messianic implications.  Jesus commended Bartimaeus because he had correctly understood that Jesus was the Son of David and the expected Messiah.  Referring to the coming of the Messiah, Isaiah wrote: "Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped" (Isaiah 35:5; 29:18, 42:7).  The Church has taken the persistent prayer of Bartimaeus to heart.  The prayer “Kyrie eleison” ("Lord, have mercy"), appears frequently in the liturgy.  Bartimaeus’ prayer has also become the source of “the Jesus Prayer:” “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.”  In its adapted form, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner," it has become a popular Christian prayer.  The Church advises us to repeat it frequently, in acknowledgement of our sinfulness and our need for God’s mercy.  Like Bartimaeus, we should recognize -- even in our blind moments -- the presence of Jesus.  We can trust in the power of Jesus to give us new visions and to strengthen us in our weakness.

Life messages: 1) Instead of remaining in spiritual blindness, let us pray for spiritual sight.  Each one of us suffers from spiritual blindness. Hence, we need the light of the Holy Spirit to enlighten us.  Anger, hatred, prejudice, jealousy, evil habits, etc., make us spiritually blind and prevent us from seeing the goodness in our neighbors and God’s presence in them. We are blind to a sense of justice when we refuse to pay our debts, or when we collect our wages though we have not done an honest day's work for that day's pay or have cheated our employer by taking time or items that belong to the company.  We are blinded by greed when we are never satisfied with what we have and incur debts to buy luxury items.  Hence, let us pray to have a clear vision of Christian values and 
priorities in our lives and to acknowledge the presence of God dwelling in ourselves and in our neighbors. A clear spiritual vision enables us to see the goodness in others, to express our appreciation for all that they have been doing for us, and to refrain from criticizing their performance. 

2) We need to "cry out" to Jesus, as Bartimaeus did.  Like Bartimaeus, we must seek Jesus with trust in his goodness and mercy.  Sometimes our fears, anger and habitual sins prevent us from approaching God in prayer.  At times, we even become angry with God when He seems slow in answering our prayers.  In these desperate moments, let us approach Jesus in prayer with trusting Faith as Bartimaeus did and listen carefully to the voice of Jesus asking us: "What do you want me to do for you?”  Let us tell Him all our heart’s intentions and needs.   Let us imitate Bartimaeus, the   man of faith and vision, a man unafraid to recognize his need for healing and to cry out, “I want to see!”  

3) We need to have the courage of our convictions.  We need people who, like Bartimaeus, will refuse to be silenced by the secular leaders of our society.  We must make our politicians realize that our country is rejecting Christian principles and facing a loss of values.  A good example of this is the heated controversy over the First Amendment to the Constitution in the U.S.   The First Amendment says: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."  This is a simple statement of the right of an individual to follow his own conscience in worship.  Unfortunately, it is often interpreted by activist judges to mean that the expression of all religious ideas is forbidden by the government.  This is a far cry from the intention of the founding fathers.  James Madison (the primary author of the Constitution) said, "Religion [is] the basis and Foundation of Government….  We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves… according to the Ten Commandments of God."  Even Thomas Jefferson, who coined the phrase "separation of Church and State", wrote: "God gave us life and liberty.  Thus, the liberties of a nation cannot be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God, and that they are not to be violated but with His wrath.  Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever." (Prepared by Fr. Anthony Kadavil).

25 October 2018, 13:24