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God's Word on Sunday: God will give us strength to persevere

  • October 17, 2021

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct. 24 (Year B) Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126; Hebrews 5:1-6; Mark 10:46-52

Without hope people and nations wither and die. With a hope-filled vision, all things are possible.

A vision of hope often comes in the midst of ruin and destruction — the aftermath of natural disasters and wars, or the devastation of personal tragedies. In the mid-sixth century B.C. Jerusalem and the temple had been destroyed and the people of God taken into captivity in Babylon. There they remained for almost 50 years. There was not much cause for hope or rejoicing so this oracle must have come as a shock.

Jeremiah — not exactly a prophet of sunny disposition or hopeful outlook — painted a picture of a happy future. The people were exhorted to rejoice and praise God, for God was going to save the faithful remnant and lead the exiles home from distant lands. He would lead them on a smooth path by streams of water — they would be well cared for. The image is parental — God is portrayed as a father to Israel and to Ephraim (Israel) the firstborn son.

This certainly did not happen overnight or even in the immediate future. The prophecy was intended as a healing balm for the collective souls of the people. They were reassured of God’s faithful and unfailing love and the divine intention for their happy and prosperous future. God was no longer angry with them. They could leave the trauma of the exile behind and not dwell on what they had lost, but on what awaited them in the future.

People have always needed these reassuring visions. The ashes and misery of the Second World War, the Holocaust, acts of terrorism, floods, famines, earthquakes, injustices and numerous personal tragedies all cry out for comfort, hope and meaning. The response that continually comes from God is that God is with us and for us, and will give us the grace, strength and hope to persevere and overcome.

Hope is the lifeline that we are given and, as followers of Jesus, extending that hope to others is our prime mission. There is no room for theology that is negative or punitive in tone.

The key to being compassionate and tolerant towards others is humbly recognizing and experiencing one’s own weaknesses and faults. Unfortunately, it does not always work that way. Sometimes people bury their own darkness deep within them and treat others with callousness and severity.

Jesus experienced temptation, pain and suffering — in other words, the human condition. For this reason, He is always able to empathize with us — He understands. The high priesthood was not something He coveted or reached for. It was bestowed on Him by God for His obedience and self-giving. In a similar manner, our own compassionate and humble service calls down further graces and blessings upon us.

What if Bartimaeus had not cried out or had allowed himself to be silenced by the officious folks around Jesus? Simple — no miracle would have taken place; he would have remained blind.

Often people tune out the cries of those in need, whether they be poor, ill, persecuted or oppressed. We tend to have a filter when it comes to the suffering of others, especially if responding will cost us something.

The persistence of Bartimaeus was fuelled by desperation and hope as he cried out for mercy. Fortunately, Jesus was a good listener as well as a responder. He was attuned to the pain, hope and fear of others.

He immediately called Bartimaeus to approach Him. Jesus then asked Bartimaeus what he wanted Him to do for him. Strange question — be healed, of course! But Jesus did not presume, nor did He force a healing on him. He respected the blind man and waited patiently for the request to be made.

Bartimaeus addressed Him as “my teacher” — perhaps he had learned something of His teachings from bits of overheard conversations. If so, it had clearly made an impression. Jesus immediately restored his sight, assuring the man that it was his faith that had healed him.

There are many crying for mercy today for countless reasons. We need to do more than respond — we need to listen and learn from them. Perhaps we can ask them, as Jesus did, what do you want me (us) to do for you? That is a question that is seldom asked and the answer might surprise us.

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