God stands for new life

  • October 16, 2009
{mosimage}30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Oct. 25 (Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126; Hebrews 5:1-6; Mark 10:46-52)

Sometimes one is given the gift of being able to see the far horizon beyond the chaos and negativity of the present. Jeremiah’s entire life had been dedicated to the thankless task of trying to rouse his own people to spiritual and moral renewal. His ministry involved preaching the unwelcome truth: all was not well with the nation and unless there was a radical change disaster was on its way.

The reward for his ministry of prophecy was persecution, ridicule, rejection and attempts on his life. And the disaster that he had prophesied — the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple at the hands of the Babylonians — was drawing ever closer. But rather than be swept away by despair and resignation, Jeremiah’s spirit is buoyed by his vision of hope for Israel.

Suffering and destruction are inevitable, but not definitive or final. After a period of pain and purification, there will be a regeneration and restoration of the Jewish nation. The exiles will be gathered in again and all will be included — even the blind and the lame. Their fortunes will be restored and God will show to the people the love of a parent for a favoured child. This “distance vision” is what gives us hope and enables us to bear present difficulties with courage and dignity. It is a way of not being devoured by the negativity of the present. There are so many situations in which this can be applied. It has given people the courage to persevere in times of war, natural disaster or economic distress as well as personal tragedies. It is not playing Pollyanna or living in denial but a recognition that “this too will pass away” and that God always stands for new life and a future. We can begin living as if that hopeful vision is already a reality.

The role of high priest is exacting enough in human terms. To dare to stand before God on behalf of others requires that one be humbly conscious of one’s own frailty and humanity. This awareness should result in compassion for the weaknesses and failures of others. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. This priesthood is not a position of status or something to be grasped for oneself. It must be earned — and that entails personal struggle, obedience to God and self-mastery. And most of all, it is a call from God rather than a career choice.

Bartimaeus is also able to see beyond the immediate moment even though he lacks physical sight. By greeting Jesus with the title “son of David” he recognizes his messianic status even though many of his sighted contemporaries lack that insight. It’s almost as if he recognizes Jesus and has been waiting for Him. But he doesn’t count much with others for he is a beggar and he is blind. And many are clearly irritated that he continually calls out to Jesus. Shut up, he is told sternly, don’t bother the great man. Who do you think you are? Fortunately the man listens to his own heart and soul rather than the negative and selfish voices around him. His insistent shouting finally wins him a summons from Jesus who asks him a disarming question: what do you want me to do for you?

How would we answer such a question? We often cry out to God but can’t really verbalize our needs. The answer of Bartimaeus is to the point: I want to see again. There is a hint of something more as he addresses Jesus as “my teacher.” His request is granted, but Jesus makes it very clear that this is not a personal favour nor is it magic. It is the faith of the man that has made him whole again — faith in God’s compassionate mercy despite the chorus of naysayers.

As with so many in the Gospels, the blind man who had his sight restored will never be the same again for he followed Jesus on His way. When we pray for healing we are not merely passive recipients — we have a part to play in our own healing.