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 former-leper (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 abiding sin, but 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.
Jesus heard Bartimaeus’ cry because Bartimaeus was centered totally on the Person of Jesus: deaf to the words and abuse of 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 -- fixed on Jesus: the woman with the incurable hemorrhage working her way through the surrounding throng, the Samaritan grateful beyond measure, going back to 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 to say, ‘that is how we should pray … 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, active membership of, 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 innumerable relationships with, for, before, the world, but they cannot belong to the world any more than Jesus did; and ‘people’s opinion’ is no guide for, nor should it hold any terrors for, such disciples.
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 , as it were, of Jesus. Bartimaeus was indeed just sitting there; but he had put himself in the right place, where he was able to hear Jesus Who was not directly looking for Bartimaeus but just in the vicinity, passing by. 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 book appointments when people can come to Him, discuss with Him, and learn from Him, rather He hears, infallibly, those who, like Bartimaeus, cry out to Him in patient faith and sincere humility, with true reverence and persistent endeavour.
There is yet another aspect of Bartimaeus’ relationship with Jesus: he recognized the unique presence of God in the otherwise much disregarded humanity of Christ. His was a distinctly Christian faith. We too believe that the all-holy God is uniquely present in something, someone, so weak and frail as a creature of God, part of His creation: the Church and the Eucharist:
Saul persecuted the Church and the voice of the risen Lord said to him: ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute ME?’
Jesus commanded us to receive the Eucharist 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, like the blind beggar in our Gospel, believe that the sacred humanity of Jesus Christ with us today in the Church -- despite whatever individual scandals may momentarily disfigure and betray her -- and in the Eucharist, is the unique, ultimately sublime, presence of God here on earth for the salvation of mankind. People of God, never be complacent or careless with regard to such treasures; seek to know and appreciate the Faith more, and try to deepen your love and reverence for Our Lord in the Eucharist as the Holy Spirit inspires you.