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OCTOBER 29, 2006: THIRTIETH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

Jeremiah 31:7-9
Hebrews 5:1-6
Mark 10:46-52

Mark never thought anyone would read today's gospel passage independent of last week's. To get the full impact of each, one must reflect on both.

If Jesus' question to Bartimaeus - "What do you want me to do for you?" - sounds familiar, it's because he asked James and John the same question a few verses before. The evangelist presumes we're going to compare the two responses.

Jesus cuts down Zebedee's sons when they demand the "glory seats." That wasn't the response he was anticipating.

Bartimaeus is different. Unlike the picture Mark paints of the ambitious brothers, this blind beggar is depicted as a perfect disciple. Notice what he does when Jesus "calls" him. "He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus."

Biblical "calls" are special entities. Every original reader of Scripture, presuming he or she had received one, paid close attention to how the person called responds. Bartimaeus not only comes instantly to Jesus, he also discarded his cloak, probably his only possession. He sets an example for the reader. Nothing stops him from immediately answering Jesus' call. That's why, when Jesus asks him what he wants, Jesus is actually asking the perfect disciple what he or she wants.

In the old E. F. Hutton commercials, people stop what they're dong and lean in to hear what the person says. That's what Mark's readers are doing as they read this passage.

Bartimaeus' request is classic: "Master, I want to see!" In contrast to the previous pericope, Jesus doesn't tell the beggar he's asking for something stupid. Christian prayer should always revolve around a sincere request to see. The ability to see what the risen Jesus sees makes us other Christs.

"Go your way," Jesus assures him, "your faith has saved you." In this situation, Mark's Jesus doesn't "save" Bartimaeus; his own faith accomplishes that. Faith removes our blindness; the faith we share with Jesus.

One last point, Mark ends the passage with the remark, "Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way." Jesus and his disciples are leaving Jericho. Their next stop is Jerusalem. Mark follows the Bartimaeus narrative with Jesus' "Palm Sunday" entrance into the Holy City. The beggar follows Jesus down the road that leads to his passion, death and resurrection.

If you were with us when we started Mark's three series of predictions/misunderstandings/clarifications back in chapter 8, you'll remember Jesus tells Peter, "Get behind me, Satan!" The Greek word for disciple simply means a "go behinder," someone who follows behind another. That's exactly what Bartimaeus, the perfect disciple, does. True disciples always walk in Jesus; dying/rising footsteps.

The author of Hebrews reminds us how Jesus related to God. He took no "honor on himself." He did only what God called him to do; and he responded generously, even though he, like us, was "beset by weakness."

Even when Jeremiah, in today's first reading, promises that Yahweh will one day bring the people of Israel home from their Assyrian Exile, he clearly states why the Chosen People follow such a God. "I," Yahweh proclaims, "am a father to Israel, Ephraim is my first-born."

Whether people follow Jesus in the Christian Scriptures, or Yahweh in the Hebrew Scriptures, they're following someone who loves them. No biblical author wants us to suffer for suffering's sake. Dying only makes sense if there's some kind of resurrection at the end of the process; a fulfillment and joy we wouldn't experience without suffering and dying.

We simply have to keep asking Jesus to have eyes enlightened with enough faith to enable us to see what's at the end of the road.