Jeremiah 31:7-9; Hebrews 5:1-6; Mark 10:46-52
In today’s readings we praise God and proclaim the greatness of the one who is willing to come and save us. In the first reading prophet Jeremiah reminds us of God’s promise that he will save us and become a Father to us. In the Gospel we have the miraculous cure of Bartimaeus the blind man, the sign that God in Jesus is indeed doing great things among his people. Prophet Jeremiah tells us that God wants to gather his people and bring them home, even the blind and the lame. He reveals that the remnant of loyal and faithful Israel will return one day to their homeland from all the places to which they had been scattered by warfare and exile. We read in the Gospel the blind man is cured and Jesus asks him to go his way. But the man follows Jesus instead and prefers to be his disciple to listen to his words of teaching. In the second reading Jesus the high priest offers the sacrifice to God but not alone; he does this as community, holding the whole group together. If we carefully look at our Christian community we too are assembled with Jesus without any distinction of caste or color. We want to be with him and serve him as his own people. Jesus as a person is able to transform everything and hold us together as the children of one Father.
In our First Reading we heard the prophecy of the return of the exiled Jews from Babylon back to their homeland. In fact there was small number of people who had escaped the Assyrian captivity of sixth century BC. Purified through their exile, they were the new Israel, faithful to God. Through suffering, the people humbled themselves and turned to God with sincere repentance. The reading is a hymn of praise and rejoicing because of what God is going to do for his people. In this joyful moment, the people sang aloud with gladness, displaying endless echoes of thanksgiving to God who had delivered the weak, the lame, those with children and those in labour. These were the ones who had received spiritual sight, they knowing and understanding the righteousness of the Lord that delivers salvation., In the words of Yahweh the prophet says, “I will gather them from the ends of the world with the blind and the lame in their midst”, and again he says, “I will lead them to brooks of water on a level road, so that none shall stumble”. By God’s grace the people will experience many blessings. The presence of mothers and mother to be is a sign of hope for a brighter and more secure future. Joy will replace their tears which they shed when they were taken into exile.
In our Second Reading, we heard that while every high priest is chosen from among mortals, their own people and he is chosen and appointed by God to be in charge of things that pertain to God on their behalf, they too must offer sacrifices for sins because they also are subject to human weakness. The function of a high priest is not one of self- appointment or an appointment by man. It is a calling from God, just as Aaron was called by God. Equally, Jesus, although he is God-man did not seek glory by elevating Himself as a high priest. No, it was the Heavenly Father who appointed Him when He said to Jesus, “You are My Son, today I have begotten you and am pleased with you.” Elsewhere, He said, “You are a Priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” Yet the call of the master is indeed great and behaves as one who has come to serve and not to be served. Jesus is called here as the high priest because of his relationship with hi Farther. By his glorification and entrance into the eternal sanctuary he fulfills his vocation as the eternal High Priest.
The gospel passage of today is actually the last miracle story recorded in Mark. It comes at end of a long section where Jesus is forming his disciples. Jesus was already instructing them on the nature of the discipleship and his own identity. Throughout these narratives the disciples appear to be blind to who Jesus really was and what it means to accepts the demands he makes of them. Jesus indeed points out to the necessary abilities of the Christian disciple: to hear and understand the Word of God and to share the message with others. There is the two-stage healing of a blind man. This story clearly indicates the gradual opening of the disciples’ eyes as to the true identity and mission of Jesus. And the whole section ends with the healing of the blind man which is not merely coincidence. At this juncture Jesus is now very near to Jerusalem. In fact, Jericho, which lies to the north-east, is on the way to Jerusalem. This has great significance for the miracle story to follow. This miracle speaks of the discipleship and the meaning of spiritual blindness that was present in the disciples and the followers of Jesus.
It is unusual to have a name given for a person Jesus heals. We know him as a blind beggar, Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, is sitting beside the road. He hears all the noise, is told that Jesus is passing by, and begins to call out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” He must have heard stories about Jesus as a marvelous healer. For him this was a great opportunity, a moment of hope to get himself healed. He cries out using the Christological title “Son of David” and we are not told how he knew of this title. But he certainly drew the attention of Jesus. However, the people around tell him to be quiet. After all, he’s only a poor beggar. He cannot and should not disturb an important person like Jesus who is respected as the rabbi. But Bartimaeus could not be put off so easily. He tries to draw Jesus’ attention by calling out even more loudly, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”. Jesus now hears the shouting of the blind beggar and stops. He responds with the words “Call him over here.” The people would have told him, that the master is calling you and take courage. He is sure to give you a special gift, perhaps some alms for him to live. So they bring the man to the presence of Jesus.
Now Jesus asks the blind man: “What can I do for you?” this indeed was the moment of hope for the blind man. He seems to be sure of receiving a great gift namely his sight. So Bartimaeus gives Jesus a very simple answer: “Lord, that I may see.” This was a very simple question and Jesus receives a humble and simple reply. It is the type of Christian prayer, a prayer of petition with the understanding, ask and you shall receive with the belief that we receive whatever we ask in faith God will give it to us. Jesus responds to him with affection and says that he is going to receive his sight and new sight is given to him. Once the blind man receives his sight, we are told that he went following him all the way, or in other words, he became a disciple of Jesus. Jesus does show a contrast here between his chosen disciples and the new disciple in the blind beggar. While the former were spiritually blind but had physical sight, while the new disciple became a person with new spiritual vision along with his physical vision and he chose to be with Jesus as his disciple.
At the beginning of the story we saw a blind, an impoverished beggar sitting by the roadside and asking for help. He now reaches out to Jesus. At the end of the story, we have a man who can see, has vision, who knows very clearly where he is going and where he should be going. No longer is he a beggar but greatly enriched by that vision. No longer sitting passively waiting to get or receive but now actively walking with Jesus. No longer beside the road but now on the road, on the Way. Jesus is the Way: Jesus is Truth and Life. For the blind man it represents a situation where he casts off his old life in order to take up a new life of discipleship. Part of the requirement for being a disciple of Jesus is to give up one’s possessions which Bartimaeus does very quickly.
Today we heard the persistent cry of the blind man of Jericho who said to Jesus, “My Teacher, let me see again.” This episode is a summary of the Christian’s life and pilgrimage. While physical sight is desirable, spiritual sight is an absolute necessity for our salvation! In order to have this spiritual sight we must pray to Jesus and say Lord, my Teacher, let me see again. And when we receive spiritual sight, we come to know and understand that “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” As Christians, we have our eyes opened to the meaning of life, we are to undergo a radical conversion experience which gives new direction to all we are and do. Let us pray that today’s Word of God will touch the heart of those who have been spiritually blind so they will find the strength in Christ to walk away from what destroys the faith. Let us also pray this week for the grace of God to shine on those in need so their eyes may be opened and remain opened to faith and love of Jesus the master .
Fr Eugene Lobo SJ