Thirtieth Sunday 2006, Ordinary Time B
I hope you noticed how joyful our readings are today. They’re full of rejoicing, and even laughter! In the psalm we sing, “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.” Even the dour prophet Jeremiah, of all people, tells us to “Shout with joy and proclaim our praise!” In the Gospel we hear the joyful story of Blind Bartimaeus healed and called to follow Jesus as a true disciple. But in the midst of all the joy in our readings, there’s one line of the Gospel that haunts me. It’s the one that says, “Many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.”
This is what the crowds say to Bartimaeus as he sits on the side of the road trying to get Jesus’ attention by yelling out “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” The crowds rebuke the blind beggar and tell him to be silent. In our day, blind people and others with physical challenges are generally treated with respect and dignity. But it’s important to remember that at the time of Jesus, people with disabilities like Bartimaeus were treated as outcasts and even regarded as sinners who deserved their lot in life as a punishment for their sin. The crowds who were flocking to see and hear Jesus, treat this blind beggar as an irritating nuisance. They try to silence him. They render him invisible.
Of course everything changes when Jesus stops and goes out of his way
to meet Bartimaeus at the side of the road. Jesus sees this outcast as
the child of God he truly is. He hears Bartimaeus address him with the
exalted title: “Son of David.” If you remember last Sunday’s
Gospel, Jesus has just finished instructing his disciples that they are
to be servants and slaves of
all, not rulers who make their authority felt by lording it over them. So Jesus, honored by the exalted title “Son of David,” stoops to serve the blind man at the side of the road. He asks Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus puts himself at the service of this blind man regarded as worthless by the crowds.
Imagine for a moment the first thing that Bartimaeus saw when his eyes were healed: Perhaps the first thing he saw was the face of Jesus looking at him with the same look of love that he gave to the rich young man. But this time, Bartimaeus is free to follow. Unlike the rich young man, he throws aside his cloak, probably his only possession, and he follows Jesus on the way to Jerusalem.
The fact that Jesus is willing to stop and serve a blind man is Good
It’s very good news for all of us, because all of us are blind. We are so often like that crowd that fails to see in Bartimaeus a child of God with human dignity. We all so often fail to see Jesus in our midst in the outcast, the poor and the suffering of our world. We are blinded and distracted by many things, like
-the legalism and pride of the Pharisees
-the wealth and comfort of the rich young man
-the glory and honor which tempted the disciples James and John
wants to help us to see by looking at us with love from the cross. Ultimately
it is this sight of Jesus on the cross that heals our blindness. Throughout
the Gospel of Mark Jesus has been trying to show us what it really means
to be a Messiah. It’s not about glory and honor and miraculous
powers. It’s about sacrifice, suffering, and stooping to serve.
Last weekend I accompanied a group of Young Adults from the parish to help out at the St. Francis Shelter in downtown Boston. We did some cleaning and helped bag mounds of donated clothing. But the highlight of the day was connecting in a personal way with some of the people who came to the shelter that day for lunch. After serving lunch, cleaning the kitchen, and washing the dishes, we made our way back to the Green line T stop on the Boston Common. It struck me that many of the people hanging around on the corner near the T stop were the people who we had just shared lunch with at the shelter. As I reflected on this more later in the day, I realized that those same people were probably huddled on that corner, sleeping on park benches, earlier that morning as we made our way to the shelter, but I had barely noticed them. In the morning, they were invisible to me, nameless beggars, much like Bartimaeus.
What a difference a meal makes!
Today we come together to share a meal– a Eucharistic meal, under
the steady gaze of the crucified and risen Jesus. We started this meal
with the same words used by Bartimaeus as he called out to Jesus for healing: “Lord
have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.”
Let us go forth from this meal, like Bartimaeus, healed of our blindness, eager to joyfully follow Jesus to Jerusalem, and to recognize his face in the poor and suffering of our world.
Take courage, get up, Jesus is calling YOU.