Sunday, October 25, 2009

Jesus Asked Him: "What Do You Want Me To Do For You?

Today’s readings offer us pictures of  how God moves in our lives, offering us a way forward from exile and darkness into light and fellowship.

We hear first from the Prophet Jeremiah. In the year 597 BC, Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, invaded Judah and captured Jerusalem. Ten years later, the city was destroyed, the Temple razed to its foundations, and the leading citizens carried off to exile in Babylon. The prophet, aged, infirm and disillusioned, remained in the city, living among the ruins. In his grief, he cried out, “A curse on the day of my birth! “May the day my mother bore me never be blessed! A curse on the man who brought my father the news that a son had been given to him!” (Jeremiah 20:14-15)

But the LORD continued to speak through the prophet, even in his melancholy. In today’s First Reading (31:7-9), he is encouraging his fellow exiles to sing a happy tune.

Thus says the LORD:

Sing with joy for Jacob;
Exult at the head of the nations.
Make your praises heard, and say:
“The Lord has delivered his people,
the remnant of Israel.

See, I will bring them from the land of the north
and gather them from the ends of the earth.
Among them will be the blind and the lame,
expectant mothers and women in labor;
a great throng will return.

They will come weeping;
they will pray as I bring them back.
I will lead them beside streams of water
on a level path where they will not stumble,
because I am Israel’s father,
and Ephraim is my firstborn son.

Today’s Responsorial, Psalm 126, also celebrates the return of the captives of Zion.

R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

When the LORD brought back the captives of Zion,
we were like men dreaming.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with rejoicing.

R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

Then they said among the nations,
"The LORD has done great things for them."
The LORD has done great things for us;
we are glad indeed.

R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like the torrents in the southern desert.
Those that sow in tears
shall reap rejoicing.

R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

Although they go forth weeping,
carrying the seed to be sown,
They shall come back rejoicing,
carrying their sheaves.

R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

Today’s Second Reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews (5:1-6) honors Jesus, the Great High Priest.

Brothers and sisters:

Every high priest is taken from among men
and made their representative before God,
to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.
He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and errant,
for he himself is beset by weakness
and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself
as well as for the people.
No one takes this honor upon himself
but only when called by God,
just as Aaron was.
In the same way,
it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest,
but rather the one who said to him:
You are my son:
this day I have begotten you;
just as he says in another place:
You are a priest forever
according to the order of Melchizedek.

Today’s Gospel (Mark 10:46-52) tells of the healing of the blind man Bartimaeus:

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 out all the more,
"Son of David, have pity on me."
Jesus stopped and said, "Call him."
So they called the blind man, saying to him,
"Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you."
He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
Jesus said to him in reply, "What do you want me to do for you?"
The blind man replied to him, "Master, I want to see."
Jesus told him, "Go your way; your faith has saved you."
Immediately he received his sight
and followed him on the way.

+++ +++ +++ +++

What we hear in the First Reading has a theme that foretells the beginning of the Advent season, which is close at hand. Jeremiah foretells that the people will be shouting for joy because their loving God is bringing them back. All of them, including the blind, the lame and the little one will be coming home. It was God’s love that allowed them to go into captivity in order to get their attention, and to motivate their faithful response. Now, He will gather his beloved people in their homeland, they who have wept in sorrow will be singing for joy.

Mark ends this segment of his Gospel with the miracle of the healing of Bartimaeus. At the beginning of the next chapter, Jesus will enter Jerusalem riding on a donkey’s foal, but by the end of the week, he will be headed for the cross.

For the past few Sundays, we have been hearing from this same chapter. Jesus has spoken some hard sayings, about divorce, the danger of wealth, and the role of the disciples not as rulers but as servants. Now, the apostles and other disciples are represented by someone who has heard of Jesus, who has listened to his word, but wants to see him more clearly and follow him more nearly.

This man, the son of Timaeus, is blind, unable to see himself, and know what he looks like. He can feel his face; others can tell him how he looks, but these fall far short of the reality. Not knowing what he looks like has resulted in his sitting on the side of the road, calling out for “pity”. His cry is an echo of how he feels about himself.

It seems that the inability to see one’s own face often brings a feeling of negativity about oneself. One might say, “It is impossible for you to have a positive self-image if you can’t see yourself.” But there are those who can see, but don’t like what they see. They too can tend to sit on the sidelines, pitying themselves because they are blinded by what they do see.

Jesus is passing by. He is asking what we want him to do for us. Because of our fallen human nature, we tend to look at ourselves and see only what is shameful, and not our potential for becoming once again the beautiful images of God we were at our creation. If all we do is curse the darkness, we might never see the light.

It is a simple truth that we cannot give what we do not have. Even more difficult is to love our neighbor as ourselves if we do not love ourselves in the first place. That is the condition in which we find ourselves sitting on the side of the road next to that man crying out for “Pity!” Yet, it is also the condition Jesus enters into and asks us, “What do you want me to do for you?” Now comes the real challenge. Be careful! Do you really want to see? Seeing will lead you to accept and appreciate your face, your person, your history. That will lead you to get up, and follow him into positive relationships and generous service. It is his love for us that frees us to love ourselves, and to offer ourselves in service to others with our eyes wide open.


Sarah in the tent said...

When I try to visualize the scene, Bartimaeus is calling to the passers by: can you spare me a denarius? He says the same phrase again and again, faster and faster as the passing crowd grows thicker the closer Jesus comes. "Can you spare me" then suddenly takes on a new meaning and the Holy Spirit opens his eyes inwardly to the presence of the Messiah: Jesus Son of David. He sees this truth better than all the sighted people in the crowd.
It's interesting that Jesus instructs someone else to call Bartimaeus to him. We should be ready for this kind of call.

Fr. John L. Sullivan said...

Sarah, it is easy to visualize Bartimaeus calling out to the passers by "Brother, can you spare a dime?" (or a denarius), the coin of the realm at the time. And I appreciate the notion that as Jesus approached, the blind beggar's message morphed from "Can you spare a coin?" to "Have pity on me", as the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of his soul to the presence of the Savior.

It is also significant, as you point out, that Jesus asked others to call Bartimaeus to him, and just as significant that, when called,Bartimaeus sprang up and came to Jesus all by himself.

The "moral of the story": If we want to help others come to Jesus, we must first seek healing of our own wounds.