OCTOBER 28TH, 2018: THIRTIETH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
Thus says the LORD:
Shout with joy for Jacob,
exult at the head of the nations;
proclaim your praise and say:
The LORD has delivered his people,
the remnant of Israel.
Behold, I will bring them back
from the land of the north;
I will gather them from the ends of the world,
with the blind and the lame in their midst,
the mothers and those with child;
they shall return as an immense throng.
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.
For I am a father to Israel,
Ephraim is my first-born.
Brothers and sisters:
Every high priest is taken from among men
and made their representative before God,
to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.
He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring,
for he himself is beset by weakness
and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself
as well as for the people.
No one takes this honor upon himself
but only when called by God,
just as Aaron was.
In the same way,
it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest,
but rather the one who said to him:
You are my son:
this day I have begotten you;
just as he says in another place:
You are a priest forever
according to the order of Melchizedek.
As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd,
Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus,
sat by the roadside begging.
On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth,
he began to cry out and say,
"Jesus, son of David, have pity on me."
And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.
But he kept calling out all the more,
"Son of David, have pity on me."
Jesus stopped and said, "Call him."
So they called the blind man, saying to him,
"Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you."
He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
Jesus said to him in reply, "What do you want me to do for you?"
The blind man replied to him, "Master, I want to see."
Jesus told him, "Go your way; your faith has saved you."
Immediately he received his sight
and followed him on the way.
Today’s gospel passage should be read immediately following last week’s gospel. Mark certainly intended them to be read together. Both are essential for correctly appreciating his last prediction/misunderstand-ing/clarification pericope. Jesus has just informed James and John that they have to give themselves so generously to others that they actually become their ransom. At that point he encounters Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, and, for the time being, wraps up this “dying thing.”
Mark wants us to zero in on being called. (The word is used three times in two verses.) Bartimaeus is the evangelist’s perfect example of a called Christian: he instantly leaves everything (his cloak), springs up and hastens to Jesus, who asks him the same question he just asked James and John. “What do you want me to do for you?”
We heard the consequences when the brothers selfishly asked for the glory seats. But now how does a “perfect” disciple respond to the same question? Bartimaeus’ request is a simple, “Master, I want to see.” Mark seems to believe that brief prayer should constantly be on the lips of every Christian. What does the risen Christ want us to see, who does he/she want us to help, how are we to specifically help others? Just as Deutero-Isaiah prays every morning to hear, Bartimaeus prays to see.
Jesus’ response to the beggar’s request is quite significant. He doesn’t directly cure Bartimaeus’ blindness. Bartimaeus already has the wherewithal to see. “Go your way;” Jesus commands, “your faith has saved you.” Our faith provides us with the sight the risen Jesus wants us to have. Our faith helps us see what Jesus sees.
The last verse of the passage is also quite significant. “Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the way.” The way to where? Mark’s next pericope is “Palm Sunday!” Bartimaeus is following behind Jesus to Jerusalem; to his suffering, death and resurrection. Remember in the first narrative of this series, Jesus tells Simon, “Get behind me, Satan?” In other words, “Be a ‘go-behinder,’ instead of an obstacle to my ministry!” Finally, after three chapters, in this blind beggar we have the perfect other Christ, a person who actually follows in the footsteps of his mentor.
Mark’s Jesus tells us how to actually achieve the salvation Jeremiah hopes for in our first reading. Not only will the Chosen People eventually return from exile, but everyone will rejoice in Yahweh’s parental care. Sharing the faith of Jesus of Nazareth, these outcasts will be saved only when we personally become one with them.
Yet, as the author of Hebrews reminds us, this Galilean carpenter didn’t push his own agenda, he gave himself over to God’s agenda. Adopting the Hebrew Scriptures’ imagery of the Jerusalem high priest, the writer emphasizes Jesus’ humanity. Though Jesus did superhuman things, he was just as fragile as the human priest who alone entered the Holy of Holies. In some sense, he had to get “his own act together” before he could help others. God achieved the actual salvation. In the Hebrews author’s theology, Jesus, like the Jewish high priest, was just God’s instrument to bring it about.
No matter what Christian theology we personally find most helpful, nothing can supplant the giving of ourselves for one another. Such self-giving can’t be replaced by making a novena, having a Mass said for someone, or even paying for the education of a priest. It’s our responsibility to respond to the needs of those around us. If we’re going to spend our lives following behind Jesus, we’d best made certain we can see the road. Only our faith can help us do that. But when the path gets a little hazy, we can always let Bartimaeus be our guide.