Theme: I want to see!
There are some people who have been intentionally deprived of freedom, spending several years engaged only in a hopeless experience until they discovered the inner light of grace that enabled them to look once again with faith at reality. Seeing themselves in stark truthfulness, they recognized their misery with a new understanding prompting a spiritual perception that led them to seek reconciliation and healing in a way they never imagined before.
It is when challenges seem endless that they became the best avenue towards rediscovering real faith. But where is faith found? Not in a book or in miracles; faith is what you find when you are alone.
First reading: Jeremiah 31:7-9
Jeremiah was that God’s man to whom a persistent Word had been revealed to the extent of spending his life coming to terms with on how to transmit it to powers that be. A man of passion and stunning imagination, Jeremiah used every tool in his arsenal to gain a hearing from kings. He ministered around 627-587 B.C for forty years most intense with political turmoil. Rather than withdraw from the public arena, Jeremiah plunged himself headlong into the fray, convinced that conversion was only possible when God’s word would influence every political decision. This earned him a title of a “man of strife and contention to all the land” Jeremiah15:10.
Jeremiah embraced conflict as part of the job of being a prophet because he had a vision of reality contrary to that held by those in authority. For example, while his fellow Hebrews were bemoaning Babylon’s rise to power and questioning whether God had forgotten them, Jeremiah shocked and infuriated them by asserting that Jerusalem’s downfall was a result of divine punishment upon a faithless and evil people who could only be saved by conversion. Yet, as punishment befell and Jerusalem lay in ruins with its inhabitants sent off to exile, Jeremiah promised a joyful and triumphant homecoming similar to the exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land which would mark a new beginning for surviving remnants, majority of whom would be blind, lame and nursing mothers. To echo the restorative power of God’s promise, the desert would be peaceful with leveled roads with refreshed brooks of water. To the surprise of many, this return of the exiles to Judah would be eclipsed by the ultimate return of all peoples to God thus foreseeing a universal peaceful world when humanity would come together around one God.
Second reading: Hebrews 5:1-6
Like a magnificent piece of music building slowly to a crescendo, Hebrews has been preparing us for the great climax of this unique theological theme of high priesthood of Jesus Christ which is a necessary and integral aspect of God’s plan of salvation. Here Hebrews put forth the three essential qualifications of the high priest all of which were met by Jesus. First, priests did not apply for this office but were believed to have been appointed by God to that ministry. Second, priests were chosen to serve the people as their representative before God offering sacrifices and clarifying God’s will and ways for them. The third qualification is that the priest required empathy and profound patience with “erring sinners” Hebrews 5:2. To describe this special quality, a special term metriopathein has been applied, a word which occurs nowhere else in the scriptures only borrowed from Greek literature to signify that gentle sympathy which enables a person to rise up and save, spare, listen and bear with others calmly.
Having affirmed that Jesus possessed each of these qualities, the letter to Hebrews supports the argument for seniority of his high priesthood with references to Psalm 2:7 thus providing a basis for understanding his glorification. Christ’s unique priesthood flows not only from the offering of himself as a saving sacrifice but also from his exaltation in glory as priest par excellence. As we read this letter today we may wonder why all the fuss? This was the time when Greek-speaking Jewish Christians were falling into laxity by abandoning Christianity in exchange of ritual Judaism; Hebrews comes in to explain clearly the uniqueness and superiority of Jesus’ priesthood as a sacrifice made once for all. Even for me and you today, priesthood is that singularly important service in the Church through which all the faithful participate in the one priesthood of Christ by virtue of baptism cf. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, # 10, 11.
Gospel: Mark 10:46-52
An old Runyankole proverb puts it that, ‘A blind man who sees is better than a seeing man who is blind’. Such a comparison, seen in conjunction with today’s gospel, invites us to consider the clarity of our spiritual vision and the penetrating power of our faith. Up to this point in Mark’s telling of the good news, only demons and evil spirits were portrayed as recognizing and identifying Jesus with sharpness. Here, however, on the outskirts of Jericho during the last leg to Jerusalem, Jesus is acclaimed and proclaimed as Son of David by a blind beggar.
With this narrative about Bartimaeus, Mark forms an inclusion with an earlier account of another blind man’s healing cf. Mark 8:22-26. Inclusions mean performance of a similar sign to different people for the sake of a deeper revelation. In this Marcan inclusion, the strong revelation is the cure of two blind men; one in Mark 8:27 and the other in Mark 10:52 which form a framework for basic catechesis of allowing Jesus open our eyes always. Jesus new the importance of this sign thus the reason for performing it on the way to Jerusalem with an intention of opening the eyes of his disciples. In contrast to these blind men who were restored their sight, and particularly to Bartimaeus who saw Jesus with the eyes of faith and believed; the disciples seemed to be myopic, confused and stumbling around in the darkness of doubt.
In Bartimaeus, Mark offers us an example of a true and faithful disciple. Healed by Jesus and confirmed in his faith, he opted to follow Jesus up the road; in other words, he became a disciple. Unlike the glory-seeking James and John who misconstrued Jesus’ messianic intentions, the blind man recognized in Jesus’ words and works the fulfillment of prophecies like that of Jeremiah. He did not ask for power or a share in glory but for healing; and Jesus, whose mission it was to bring wholeness and holiness to humankind had healed him.
Unlike the first healing of the blind man in Mark 8:22-26; no details have been offered with regard to Jesus’ cure of Bartimaeus. There is no mention of spittle, mud or anointing. The full import and significance of the Bartimaeus event is told in Jesus’ proclamation, “Your faith has healed you!” Mark 10:52. As with the woman healed of a hemorrhage cf. Mark 5:34, this statement implied physical as well as spiritual healing or salvation. The verb sozo means healed and saved. Hence, your faith has healed/saved you was all the blind man wanted. Bartimaeus had also the courage of “throwing aside his cloak!” Mark 10:50 and coming to Jesus physically naked to allow the fundamental question “what do you want me to do for you!” Mark 10:51. The answer was clear and original “Master I want to see” Mark 10:51. Jesus’ instruction that “go your way” Mark 10:52 and his subsequent following of Jesus meant that he had made his own the way of Jesus. Among early Christians, ‘The Way’ was another term for the life of Christian discipleship cf. Acts 9:2. The way of Jesus becomes a way of life for those who believe; this way would entail suffering eventually leading to the cross, but also to glory. Today, Bartimaeus is offered to us as a guide along the way. A person of faith and vision who is not afraid of recognizing his need for healing by crying out that “I want to see!” Mark 10:51. This man from Jericho invites us to follow Jesus wherever our Jericho may be located.
Like Jeremiah we may be held hostage by our oppressors who continue to blindfold us. We are invited to be a people of hope that God is restoring us to freedoms. God can not abandon us. In Jesus we are assured of the eternal priest who offers himself as a perfect sacrifice for our salvation. Most of us will never know the horrific experiences of Jeremiah or the Judean exiles in Babylon and that of Bartimaeus, however, each of us is capable of being held hostage by pride, fear or self-seeking thus succumbing to being blindfolded by indifference to the needs of others. Today, with Bartimaeus, let us beg for sight, freedom and faith to be able to see.