Faith is the deciding factor

  • October 17, 2012

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Oct. 28 (Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126; Hebrews 5:1-6; Mark 10:46-52)

Jeremiah was not the happiest of prophets. His anger, gloom and frustration pervade the book that bears his name — he was a bit over the top, even for a prophet.

In light of the stubborn and sometimes violent resistance that he faced, his reactions are understandable. He prophesied from 626 BC to the final destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC at the hands of the Babylonians. During this time Israel was being continually bullied by two superpowers, Egypt and Babylon, so a catastrophe of some sort seemed inevitable. Among all of the predictions of disaster, however, was a beautiful promise of hope. Despite the destruction and disruption that Israel was going to undergo, God had not abandoned them. The image of a parent was used: parents stand by their children even when they do stupid things or make a mess of their lives. Love is not conditional on good behaviour or success. God’s promise to Israel was restoration and redemption, not a free pass to escape the impending tribulations. After Israel had passed through its purifying experience, God would lead them back — showing the scars of their struggle to be sure.

The promise makes it very clear that no one will be left out: the blind and the lame, as well as those bearing children will be treated exactly the same. It is far too easy to be swallowed up in the negative energy and fear of current events and to give up hope. Regardless of what happens, God is there and God is working unceasingly on our behalf. Jeremiah’s prophecies have much to tell us today about remaining faithful to God in the way we conduct our lives, but even more so about keeping faith and hope in a very scary world.

One of the most potent and dangerous drugs of all is power. It has brought many to ruin, both those who abuse power and those who are their victims. In the religious realm the potential for abuse is even greater for words and actions are cloaked in God-language and existential fear. The author of Hebrews pointed out that any high priest worthy of the name is deeply aware of his own weaknesses and faults — he stands with and on behalf of the people, not over them and above them.

Although He was sinless, the life of Jesus was a sterling model of how not to abuse power as well as the secret of being an effective and compassionate shepherd of souls. Jesus faced temptations and the limits of life in the body. His life was marked by struggle and suffering. This enabled Him to relate to us with empathy and compassion. The greatest abuses of religious power have occurred when individuals forget their own humanity with all of its flaws and imperfections. It is difficult to be harsh with others when we are aware of how much we are in desperate need of God’s grace and mercy.

God’s mercy was most evident in the story of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar who spent most of his time by the roadside in hopes of offerings from passersby. In the snatches of conversations that he overheard, one name seemed to be on the lips of many: Jesus of Nazareth. When he realized that the great man was nearby he began to shout and beg for mercy. His lack of physical sight was offset by spiritual insight as he recognized the Messianic credentials of Jesus as Son of David. There were many who tried in vain to shut him up: what right did he have, especially as a blind beggar, to bother someone of the stature of Jesus? The man would not be put off by the naysayers and guardians of propriety and he shouted all the more. His persistence was rewarded, for Jesus called to him. Jesus respected the man’s freedom by asking him what he wanted rather than imposing a solution to his problem, to which he responded with a request for restored sight. This was immediately granted but it was clear that faith was the deciding factor.

Throughout the New Testament, this faith is understood as absolute confidence in God’s compassion and mercy even in the face of resistance, suffering, darkness or obstacles. Praying boldly and persistently is both an act of faith and courage.