Faith will keep you whole

By  Fr. Scott Lewis, S.J.
  • October 25, 2006
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Oct. 29 (Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126; Hebrews 5:1-6; Mark 10:46-52)

The seventh and sixth centuries BC were at least as violent and uncertain as our own times. Death and devastation came swiftly and mercilessly for nations and cities who failed to submit to the Assyrians. In 722 BC, the Northern Kingdom of Israel ceased to exist, as it was laid waste and its inhabitants dispersed or taken captive.

Jeremiah and other prophets inspired people with the promises of God that all would be restored and the people of the Northern Kingdom freed and led home. It didn’t happen. After the destruction of the Temple in 586 BC and the Babylonian exile the prophecies were applied to Jerusalem and her inhabitants. It happened, but not in the complete and glorious way envisioned by the prophets.

Did prophecy deceive or fail? Not at all, for the role of prophecy is not to predict the future but to give people hope, inspiration and courage. The important part of the message is that God has not abandoned His people and that ruin and destruction are not God’s plan. The remnant consists of those who cling tenaciously to hope in God’s future and refuse to give in to despair and negativity. It is through the perseverance of these individuals that God is able to build a future — not a continuation of the old order but something new. We cannot and must not try to patch up the old order and all its works, for God’s spirit is about change and transformation. It is our refusal to move with the spirit that is the source of much misery. Only perseverance that is borne of hope and faith will build a just and peaceful world.

A deep self-knowledge is the key to being a humble and loving person. An awareness and acceptance of one’s own weakness, fear and sinfulness sows the seeds of compassion and gentleness. This runs counter to the macho perfectionism that pervades many forms of spirituality. The unknown author of Hebrews is fully aware of this, and points to Jesus as the supreme example of one free of self-seeking and lust for power. He was exalted because of his great love, integrity and fidelity. And that is the only legitimate form of “advancement” open for those who truly seek to be His disciples.

Bartimaeus was probably used to being ignored or marginalized. Even his blindness was probably viewed by many as a punishment from God. As long as he was content to sit by the side of the road and beg, he was tolerated. As long as he knew his place, all was well. Much of his inner world was probably formed by the snatches of conversation that he heard as people passed by. He may have heard of this man Jesus and the many acts of mercy that he did for people. Bartimaeus was a man of faith, so by definition also a man of hope. And this faith enabled him to see something that many sighted people did not: he addressed Jesus as “Son of David,” which was a Messianic title. He has a fairly clear idea who Jesus is.

As he begins to cry out for mercy, the controllers and handlers try to take over. Be quiet; shut up; remember who you are; keep your place. When Jesus finally calls him over, He doesn’t presume to know what is best for the man. He allows him to speak: What do you want me to do for you? He requests restoration of his sight, and Jesus assures him that it is his faith — which includes perseverance — that has made him whole.

Many have felt the sting of this sort of controlling and demeaning treatment throughout history: the handicapped, the oppressed, poor, slaves, immigrants, minorities, those who are different, women and dissidents of all varieties. But some, like the blind man in the story, will not be silenced. They are filled with too much hope, too much joy and too much faith to be silent or submissive. Sometimes we call them heroes or saints — when they are safely dead. Often they have no names, but they are nonetheless important.

They are the remnant, those who do not give up or take “no” for an answer. And it is with their faith that real history is written.