God’s Chosen People had been banished from their homeland because they had, over many generations, become alienated from the Lord their God by their sinful behaviour. The Promised Land had been God’s gift to them, but, when they turned away from Him, dishonouring rather than glorifying His holy Name, they lost first His favour and finally the gift with which He had so bountifully endowed them.
Now, in our first reading today from the prophet Jeremiah, God is showing that mercy to His People for which many prophets -- together with holy men and women still to be found among the sinful people -- had long been praying: He is returning His gift, bringing them back to their Promised Land, and thereby inviting them to return to Him with their whole mind and heart. This physical returning home was to be an opportunity for them -- back in God’s land -- to hopefully prove themselves more worthy to be God’s Chosen and privileged People.
This physical return was hard, very hard indeed, leading over desert and stony ways: food and drink being necessarily in short supply since, after having had to pay the prices asked for them, they were then obliged to carry those supplies on their own backs as well as on the backs of the few animals they possessed. Moreover, backs for carrying were not plentiful since they were returning with some treasured possessions, and, above all, they were carrying infants and nurslings; moreover, there were many who could not carry anything at all being either blind, lame, sick, too old, or else heavily pregnant. For all these reasons food and drink had to be strictly limited for a journey that was long, over territory that was difficult, and under conditions of great heat during the day and penetrating cold at night.
Those difficulties, however, were not the only nor the greatest ones encountered by the returning exiles; for, although the physical trials of that trek back to Israel were great, nevertheless, it was a journey completed in a period of months; whereas on arrival in their homeland once more, there would be many and greater difficulties concerning rebuilding and restoration which would take years to resolve.
Above all, however, the very greatest challenge facing them would be from their own wayward hearts and minds, for they still had to return to the Lord their God in spirit and in truth. The physical return home was indeed their great opportunity, but a truly successful return would not to be accomplished without years of social endeavour, and even more years of private, soul-searching, obedience and heart-felt prayer, all finding fitting expression in reverent and sincere public worship in the Temple.
With weeping they shall come, and with consolations/supplications I will lead them back.
That is the experience, even today, of many who, for whatever reason, leave Mother Church, and then are led, by the great mercy of God, to return to the fold: their absence has changed them, and, during that absence, Mother Church herself has changed, inevitably, since she is a living Church surrounded by, and responding to, a world in flux. And even though such changes might, perhaps, only have been slight, nevertheless, they are not imperceptible to those sensitized by trial, with the result that some aspects of Church life may seem less familiar, less homely, than before, whilst other changes might even seem to strike an alien note to, or disturbing chord with, the hopes of those returning wanderers.
However, changes in ones’ self and changes in the Church are not the only sources of difficulties for exiles returning home; their return can be made more difficult and trying by one thing that changes most reluctantly, human nature: their own human nature and that of others.
And here we must notice the wisdom and the beauty of the Gospel account: for we are not told either that Jesus rebuked ‘the rebukers’, or that Bartimaeus took any notice of them:
As Jesus was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus -- a blind man, the son of Timaeus -- sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me!”
It was between Bartimaeus and Jesus and that is how it remained.
It is easy for those ‘returning from exile’ to allow themselves to be too aware of, or subject to, the attitude of ‘onlookers’. On the one hand their own nervousness may make them touchy, or their self-love bolster itself with a whiff of pride more easily than admit a trace of noticeable contrition; and on the other hand, while a small minority might be critical, most -- though wanting be welcoming and helpful -- may not always know how best to show their understanding and sympathy, or simply let their own loving acceptance speak – without their words -- for itself.
Now it is undeniably the case that all of us, even those who have never been separated from Mother Church, are exiles returning to their Father, because all of us have experienced that sense of alienation from God which either personal sin, or the surrounding -- ever-threatening and secretly-encroaching -- worldliness inevitably bring with them.
Moreover, we have before us a totally new and unimaginable promise and prospect, for we are now called to prepare ourselves, or rather, to allow ourselves to be prepared for, not simply a return to the natural condition of Adam -- originally the friend of God -- but to the supernatural condition of children of the heavenly Father, through sharing, by the Spirit, in the eternal glory of Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God. We have to make a journey not like that of the Israelites of old, simply across perhaps unknown, though most certainly not unfamiliar, territory to a land we had once wandered and worked before losing, but one into totally strange and unknown ‘territory’ because it is supernatural and heavenly, one which our imagination finds impossible to foreshadow, one with which it cannot, In any way, familiarise us. We can aspire to undertake such a journey only out of love for, and confidence in, Jesus; moreover, it is one we can actually make only in the power of His Spirit.
We were told in the second reading:
Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. No one takes this honour upon himself but only when called by God.
Jesus, our Brother, offered His gifts to the Father for us, since all of us had been exiled from the Father by sin. Only infinite love -- the love that Jesus alone could offer -- could wipe out the insult of sin and fittingly respond to that heavenly invitation. But if Jesus was to give, express, divine love in and through His human body it could only be by His bursting the limitations of that body, committing it to His Father’s supreme glory. His human love for the Father entailed the ultimate price: His crucified Body and Blood poured out. In that way He won for all of us exiles that first gift of the Spirit, that original inspiration, to start us out on the way back to our Father in Mother Church. Thanks to the supreme prayer of Jesus and His ‘Sacrifice of Self’ on Calvary -- the sacrifice made available and effective for all ages in Mother Church’s continuous offering of Holy Mass -- we too can gain a hearing when we pray, as His disciples, Lord have mercy on me.
Having, in the name of Jesus, gained a hearing, and having begun our return in Him and with Him to the Father, we have to persevere throughout a long, and at times difficult, journey, overcoming -- as did those returning exiles in the first reading -- trials from both without and within ourselves. Thanks be to God, in Mother Church, at Holy Mass, all of us who are, to whatever degree, alienated from the Father by our sinfulness, can draw near and call out to Jesus as did Bartimeus on hearing the noise of the crowd, because Jesus at Holy Mass is so close at hand and so ready to hear our cries and answer us, as He did so long ago:
"What do you want Me to do for you?" The blind man replied to Him, "Master, I want to see!"
What would you have asked for in such a situation, People of God? What do you, in fact, ask of Jesus at Holy Mass? Each of us is making his or her own journey to the Father, and each and every one of us has his or her own difficulties to overcome; but whatever our needs and whatever the request we might ask of Jesus, let us remember and learn from what we are told about Bartimeus, for Scripture says that:
Many rebuked him, telling him to be silent; but he kept calling out all the more, "Son of David, have pity on me!"
People of God, in our present situation under a positively secular-minded and anti-religious government there is much opposition and ridicule both public and in private for those who would serve God and conscience first and foremost. Whatever opposition you may encounter, whatever the difficulties and disappointments you may experience, keep your hopes firmly fixed on Jesus, like Bartimeus, and pray that despite all, through all, you might be enabled to hear and see well enough to follow the Spirit of Jesus ever more closely along His way that leads ultimately into the presence of the Father.
We are now surrounded by people who profess themselves satisfied by what they think they know, and assert themselves able to do all things necessary to sufficiently advance their own purposes and achieve their own goals; their wise ones acknowledge no truth beyond their own ken, their mighty ones, no realms beyond the reach of their abilities. Consequently, they cannot understand, and indeed tend to dismiss or despise, those of us who -- as Christians -- look to Jesus to give us, by His Spirit, insight to recognize what is true, strength to walk along His way towards its attainment, and ultimately to enjoy its fulfilment in His Father’s Kingdom.
This process, in alien surroundings, of becoming one with Jesus in love for the Father and the service of our fellows, is never-ending while we are still on earth; and it is one that can only be accomplished in us, through us, and for us, thanks to the Holy Spirit -- the Personal bond of love between the Father and the Son -- bequeathed to us in Mother Church by Jesus. He is the Spirit whereby the love and the truth of Jesus are sublimely active and effective in overcoming the sin of the world; the Spirit whereby Jesus is able to comfort all who look to Him for salvation and cry to Him with focussed love and confidence, using like words to those He addessed to Bartimaeus:
Go, carry on, your way; your faith and My Spirit will save y