Homily: 30th Sunday Year B (25 October 2009)
The verses from both Jeremiah in the first reading and from the Psalm enthuse poetically and passionately about the joy of God’s chosen people returning home after being in exile in Babylon for nearly eighty years. The return, says Jeremiah, had come about not through the power of men but through the power of God. To emphasise this he refers specifically to those who were absolutely without power or influence in society at that time: “See, I will bring them back …….all of them: the blind, the lame, women with children, women in labour.”
An interesting aside, but one that nevertheless has some bearing on the Gospel reading, is that the familiar phrase “sour grapes” comes from this chapter of Jeremiah. In writing about the future prosperity of God’s People, Jeremiah says “When that time comes, people will no longer say ‘The parents ate the sour grapes but the children got the sour taste.’ Instead whoever eats sour grapes will have his own teeth set on edge.” Jeremiah is talking about accountability. He is saying that each one of us is accountable for our own conduct and that God will not hold us accountable for the actions of our parents and ancestors. Today the phrase ‘sour grapes’ has come to mean the bitter taste of resentment or envy.
Blindness was not uncommon at the time of Jesus and while many considered blind people personally accountable for their blindness as a consequence of their sin, it was more likely a common consequence of poor hygiene and medical ignorance. Mark’s telling of the meeting between Jesus and Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, is rich in detail and a particularly marvellous account. Bartimaeus is not mentioned again by name in the Gospels but we can be reasonably sure that he is specifically mentioned here by name because he and the story of his extraordinary encounter with Jesus had become well known in the early Christian community.
Let us for a moment imagine the scene and perhaps find some relevance in this story to our own life’s story.
Jesus is passing through Jericho; a town situated about 25kms north of Jerusalem in a harsh, barren, bleak landscape. He is walking with his disciples and a large crowd. The vast majority of the crowd are pilgrims en route to Jerusalem for the Passover.
Sitting on the side of the road just outside the city gates of Jericho is Bartimaeus, a blind beggar. He can’t see the crowds but he can certainly hear them and feel them as they jostled past him – he’s in a good spot to be begging and his expectations are that the pilgrims will be generous.
Don’t we too sometimes do that? We let the world pass us by relying on the generosity and good will of others to sustain us.
Bartimaeus becomes aware that Jesus is in the crowd and he begins to shout. He can’t see Jesus; he doesn’t know where he is but he’s been told that he is out there somewhere and he’s desperate to get his attention. He shouts over and over again persistently.
Have we not at some time in our lives shouted out in desperation to Jesus?
We don’t have to shout – Jesus is right here; the Real Presence of Christ. He hears even the gentlest cry in our hearts and he says ‘Come to me.’ But we too can be blind sometimes and we can’t see him and we wander about shouting, hoping to find him somewhere else.
Many of the people in the crowd scold Bartimaeus and tell him to keep quiet. And then Jesus stops; and tells his disciples to call him.
How do we react when we meet people who are searching for Christ? Do we prefer that they keep quiet or do we encourage them saying “Get up and go to him, he is calling you.”
Bartimaeus throws off his cloak, jumps up and goes to Jesus. Bartimaeus’ very life depends on his cloak. It protects him, it keeps him warm and it’s his bed at night. It is literally his safety blanket. Without his cloak Bartimaeus is extremely vulnerable. Yet he doesn’t hesitate and he throws the cloak aside and puts his trust in Jesus. That’s faith. Faith is not sitting around waiting for a miracle to happen. Faith is trust and hope in action. That’s a hard lesson and a demanding challenge for all of us.
Remember he’s blind, he can’t see Jesus, so he stumbles towards him – eagerly, in blind faith and hope. Bartimaeus doesn’t know who Jesus is theologically. He calls him ‘Son of David’ – perhaps thinking that he has powers of healing like Solomon; he calls Jesus ‘Rabbuni’ and ‘Master’ – terms of deep respect for a great teacher. And yet even though he doesn’t understand who Jesus is, he believes. He believes on the strength of what he has been told about Jesus. We don’t have to understand vast volumes of theology to get close to Jesus. We need only believe what we are told about him in the Gospels. Sometimes we will run to him confidently and sometimes we will stumble blindly.
And then the big question. The question Jesus asks each of us: What do you want me to do for you?
Bartimaeus wanted to see. He couldn’t follow Jesus while he was blind but when his sight was restored he followed him to Jerusalem. What are the blind spots in our life that make it difficult for us to follow Jesus?
As we share in this celebration of the Eucharist, let us imagine that we are sitting on the side of the road waiting for Jesus.
Courage! He is here and he is calling you.
Believe! Throw aside your cloak and tell him what it is you want him to do for you.