THE THIRTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B

Jeremiah 31:7-9

Hebrews 5:1-6

Mark 10:46-52

The end of October brings with it the astounding realization that we are nearing the end of another Church Year.  The current Year began with the First Sunday of Advent on November 30, 2008.  On that Sunday the first words we heard from the Gospel of Mark were: Be watchful!  Be alert!  You do not know when the time will come. So began this journey we have been on Sunday after Sunday, intensified each time we gathered for the Liturgy of the Word and heard the Good News according to Mark proclaimed and had it broken open for us in the homily.  Each Sunday we had the opportunity to stand naked and vulnerable before the Word and let it penetrate our hearts to draw us deeper in relationship with Jesus with whom we journeyed as he transformed us and drew us to new life.  Our faith was challenged as, too was our hope, and we were challenged to live in love the way Jesus does.  There is something about faith that assures us that promises given will be fulfilled.  Along the way this year, were you watchful?  Were you alert?  What realizations crystallized?  How did you have to change?  How different are you today from the person you were last December?

Imagine yourself in that assembly before Jeremiah in today’s first reading.  There needs to be a context, of course, for his words to have their impact.  Judah, i.e., Israel, has been in exile and subjected to many trials during the captivity.  Many of their number wandered away from the Law and followed the ways of the pagan gods of Babylon.  Some were faithful, many, in fact.  Years later they were released and allowed to return to Jerusalem to reclaim and reconstruct their holy city.  Huge is the task before them.  And Jeremiah does his part to encourage them by that it is the Lord who has done this just as the Lord promised.  They departed in tears, but I will console them and guide them; I will lead them to brooks of water, on a level road, so that none shall stumble.  I am a father to Israel; Ephraim (a tribe of Israel) is my first-born. With God no situation is hopeless.  God, whose love is constant and unconditional, will not disappoint.  Do you believe that? It takes time to come to that conclusion.  Don’t despair if you are not there yet.  That is what this journey of formation with Jesus is about for us.

In the gospel we meet Bartimaeus, a blind man.  Mark tells us Bartimaeus is the son of Timaeus.  That kind of specificity usually means that the one cited is a believer.  Bartimaeus is the son of a disciple, not yet a believer himself.  He is in desperate straits, begging by the roadside when he hears the ruckus as Jesus and his disciples and a sizable crowd pass by on their way out of Jericho.  Notice that it is Jesus with disciples, i.e., those who have made a faith-decision about Jesus, and a sizable crowd, i.e., those who have not yet made up their minds about him.  Bartimaeus makes an embarrassing scene as he tries in desperation to get Jesus’ attention.  Jesus, son of David, have pity on me. Some try to quiet Bartimaeus, but Jesus, hearing the plaintive cries, says to hose near him: Call him.

This is a very important detail not to be missed.  Bartimaeus does not come to Jesus alone but is brought to Jesus by those who can see who urge him not to be afraid. After all, it is Jesus who calls.  (What does that say about our faith communities?  See the implications for the RCIA process?)  Another important detail might be missed if we do not listen attentively.  (Bartimaeus) threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. He is willing to give up everything to come to Jesus.  It is much more than a garment that Bartimaeus gave up.  The cloak provides shade from the intense sun and shelter from the rain.  It is his tent under which he sleeps through the night.  More than likely, the cloak is all he has.

Have you ever wondered how you would deal with it were you to find that magic jug, rub it, and have the emerging Genie tell you, you have three wishes that the Genie will grant you?  What would you ask for?  Last week Jesus asked James and John what they wanted.  They asked for the most prominent positions in Jesus’ kingdom and withered when Jesus revealed the implications of their request, that they would have to drink of the cup from which he will drink and be baptized in his baptism.  In other words, following Jesus will not be about power and position, comfort and wealth, it will be about the pouring out of self in service and imitating Jesus in his dying.  Following Jesus will entail a cross.

This week Jesus asks Bartimaeus: What do you want me to do for you? And Bartimaeus’ answer is simple and straightforward with a second title for Jesus.  Master, I want to see. It would be easy to conclude that Bartimaeus is simply asking for the restoration of his sight.  But that would not necessarily result in his being able to see. Something deeper is happening here.  And it is all summed up in the terse conclusion to this pericope.  Immediately (Bartimaeus) received his sight and followed him on the way. Bartimaeus is changed to the core.  Whatever had kept him from sharing the faith of his father, whatever hurdle he could not get over, whatever it was that blindness falls away and he sees Jesus as Lord. He follows Jesus on the way that means he is willing to go where the way leads.  He will drink from the cup from which Jesus will drink.  He will be baptized in Jesus’ baptism.  Jesus will be his all-in-all.  You notice that nothing is said about Bartimaeus’ going back to pick up his cloak again.

It is important to ask yourself where you are in this gospel.  With which character do you most closely identify?  Jesus?  A member of the crowd?  A disciple?  Bartimaeus?  If the truth be known and we are honest with ourselves, we will have to admit that we can identify with each character.  There is something of each one in each of us.  The hardest to admit is our identity with Jesus.  Our pride gets in the way.  Not humility, but pride.  We’ll talk about that later.

We have to remember that as long as we are on the way we are in the process of conversion.  That’s why I asked at the start, where were you in your faith life last November when we began this journey with Mark’s Gospel.  That is why some days we wonder if we believe yet, if by our lives we can say Jesus is Lord of my life.  On other days something wells within us, we call it grace and the life of the Spirit, and we know we believe, that we are disciples willing to follow and try to imitate Jesus.  But what about Bartimaeus?  For that we have to journey back to the day we first knew we believed.  For many of us, that involved a struggle.  There were things we had to work through, life-decisions we had to make, emptiness we had to admit, cloaks we had to toss aside.  The day we recognized that we could not do this alone, that we needed others to support us and encourage us along the way because there was something preventing us from being able to see and, therefore, to believe, that was the day we were Bartimaeus.  So were we the day we had to let go of everything and let Jesus be Lord of our lives.

A couple of final points in conclusion.  The Church very wisely sees our faith journey as communal.  That is what distinguishes the Catholic (communal) Way from the Protestant (individual) Way.  We believe that the Church is the people of God.  We are united in the process of ongoing conversion along the way.  We assemble around the tables of the Word and of the Eucharist to be nourished and transformed, just as the bread and wine are, into the Body of Christ.  The assembly is the Body of Christ just as is the Eucharist.  And we are sent, as the Body of Christ, to continue Christ’s work until he comes again.

The RCIA process is a glorious expression of these convictions.  The one seeking faith comes to the community and in the midst of the community experiences what it means to worship and know the love of God.  It is through the experience of the community that they come to know what it means to be a servant church.  Through the community they experience forgiveness and reconciliation, a new faith and the renewal of hope.  The community supports the seekers through prayer and example.  The seekers come to know that the Church is always there for them even as they come to know that all are welcome here.  It is important that the seeker make the full journey, i.e., journey along the way through an entire Church Year.

Then, in that most holy of nights, when all the old has been consumed in the fire and from that fire came the light of the Easter Candle that proclaims Christ risen and glorious, surrounded by the faithful, Bartimaeus enters the waters to die there and to rise from there identified with Christ to live as Christ until he enters Christ’s glory forever.

Sincerely,

Didymus

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