30th. Sunday (Year B)
(Jeremiah 31:7-9; Hebrews 5:1-6; Mark 10:46-52)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Jesus only used those words:
Your faith has saved you
on four occasions: with Bartimaeus in today’s Gospel; with the woman suffering from a 12 years-long haemorrhage (Mt.9:22; Mk. 5:34), with ‘Mary’ the sinful woman cured in the Pharisee’s house at a meal being held in Jesus’ honour, and with the grateful Samaritan healed of his leprosy (Lk. 7:50, 17:19).
However, in our Gospel reading it was not the miracle performed for Bartimaeus that is of central importance for us today but Jesus Himself Who – despite the noise of the surrounding crowd and those who were shouting down the beggar’s cries -- heard that cry for mercy and recognized the faith behind it.
God’s mercy and goodness is also the focal point of the prophet’s celebration of Israel’s deliverance from exile in Babylon of which we heard in the first reading; a temporal deliverance as it turned out due to Israel’s recurring and abiding sin, but, nevertheless, one both foreshadowing and preparing for Jesus’ definitive salvation:
Behold, I will bring them back as an immense throng from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst, the mothers and those with child. They departed in tears, but I will console them and guide them. I will lead them to brooks of water, on a level road, so that none shall stumble; for I am a father to Israel, Ephraim is my first-born.
Jesus’ compassionate understanding is likewise emphasized in the second reading where we were told that, as our High Priest:
Taken from among men (being born a human being of the Virgin) He is a priest forever, able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring.
Now that is the key for our understanding and appreciation of today’s readings, and we can learn much from a short study of Bartimaeus’ attitude and actions.
Jesus heard Bartimaeus’ cry because Bartimaeus was centred totally on the Person of Jesus: deaf to words of abuse from the crowd, he was ‘locked onto’ the Person of Jesus; and if we recall the other members of the quartet who were addressed by Jesus with the words ‘Your faith has saved you’, we will recognize that all of them were -- each in their own way – likewise, locked onto Jesus: the woman with the incurable haemorrhage working her way through the surrounding throng, the Samaritan grateful beyond measure, going back into possible danger in order to thank Jesus before going home; and Mary oblivious to the disdain, scorn, and indeed contempt being shown her, as she wept for her sins before her Lord.
The obvious ‘next step’ would be for me to say, ‘that is how we should pray … locked onto Jesus, wholeheartedly and personally’, which would be undeniably true; but I am not sure how helpful it would be to state the obvious so bluntly. For Bartimaeus – as indeed all the other three persons mentioned – had most compelling motives and/or pressing situations spurring them on to meet with Jesus; we, on the other hand, often start our prayer ‘from cold’ so to speak, having just set aside our previous business, trying to forget recent distractions, feeling tired and weary towards the end of the day. How can we motivate ourselves à la Bartimaeus?
The clearest guidance he offers us is a most important consideration for all seeking Jesus: the need to be independent of public -- ‘peoples’ -- opinion. It is, indeed, a ‘dogma’ of classical spiritual teaching that dependence on a crowd is inimical to the moral well-being of whoever would be a serious disciple of Jesus. This is contained in those remarkable words of Jesus to His Father:
I gave them Your word and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth. (John 17:14, 17)
Jesus’ disciples can have perhaps any number of relationships, connections, with the world but they cannot belong to the world any more than Jesus did, and even Bartimaeus, a beggar who depended largely on the ‘world’ for his daily food, stopped begging from passers-by in order to cry out loudly for Jesus’ attention, despite criticism from those he would normally have hoped to please, and even from certain of Jesus’ disciples whom he might have hoped would support him: Bartimaeus had no concern for any sort of ‘public opinion’, either for him or against him, in his relationship with Jesus, and in that he is a splendid example for all aspiringly-true disciples of Jesus.
There is something else that can be helpful for us as regards Bartimaeus’ healing. To human eyes, he just happened to be humbly positioned by the roadside with his begging bowl as Jesus was passing by:
As Jesus was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out.
Now, when we want to pray, it is most helpful and – out of reverence – essential, to put oneself, deliberately as best we can, in the way of Jesus, so to speak. Bartimaeus was indeed just sitting there; but he had, perhaps unwittingly, put himself in the right place, where he was able to hear Jesus Who, passing through the town, was not directly looking for Bartimaeus, but just happened to be in his vicinity. Such patient, humble, hanging around, in a ‘place’ where Jesus might come near – perhaps even stumble over us, so to speak -- is essential for prayer. Our Lord does not follow a book of appointments, nor is His attention restricted to approved times and favourable opportunities; He hears, infallibly and whenever, anyone and everyone who -- like Bartimaeus -- wholeheartedly cries out to Him in acknowledged need, with confident faith, humble persistence, and sincere reverence.
There is yet another aspect of Bartimaeus’ nascent relationship with Jesus that we should note: he recognized and committed himself to Jesus as someone quite wonderful, most exceptional, despite the fact that it was common knowledge that Jesus was regarded by His own townspeople as nothing very special, was openly mocked and contradicted by the official holy ones of Israel, the Pharisees, and actually hated by the authoritative ones, the Sadducees and the Temple authorities. The fact is that a truly Christian faith was dawning in Bartimaeus, a faith which now -- having being cherished for almost 2000 years in the bosom of Mother Church -- we ourselves are most wonderfully privileged to embrace in full, and through which we believe that the Nazarene invoked by Bartimaeus was and is the very Son of God, sent by His Father as Saviour among men. Though now, He has apparently left us Personally and is seated in glory at the right hand of His Father in heaven, that divine transcendency enables Jesus the Nazarine to be abidingly and uniquely present with us as Lord and Saviour in Mother Church and in her Eucharist: that Church which Saul (later to become Paul) persecuted causing the voice of the risen Lord to say to him: ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute ME?’; that Eucharist which Jesus Himself commanded us to receive saying: ‘He who eats ME, shall live because of Me.’
Both the Church and the Eucharist are called Jesus’ Body in the Scriptures; and we should ever more clearly realize that we are worshipping here today because we believe that Mother Church -- despite whatever individual scandals may momentarily disfigure and betray her – is the mystical Body of Christ and that we are only truly and fully Catholics and Christians in so far as we are living members of that mystical Body; and that the Holy Eucharist -- the sacramental Body and Blood of Christ -- is the unique, ultimately sublime, Personal presence of Jesus our God, Lord and Saviour, here on earth, for our salvation.
Dear People of God, never be complacent or careless with regard to such truths and treasures; seek to know and appreciate the Faith ever more, and try to deepen your love and reverence for Our Lord in the Eucharist as the Holy Spirit inspires you.
We human beings are made for lasting and loving relationships, but above all for the one lasting, loving, and personally unique relationship that authenticates who we are ... and that one, unique, relationship is, for our part, only ours in Jesus, by the Spirit, with the Father. For God’s part, He alone, our Creator, is supremely alive and loving, beautiful and truthful, good, Holy and humble enough, so to speak, to have Personally unique relationships with all those who, guided by the Spirit, come to Him in Jesus.
And there a Sunday sermon must end where more explicit spirituality waits to take over.