30th Ordinary Sunday (Year B)
First Reading: Jeremiah 31:7-9 Second Reading: Hebrews 5:1-6 Gospel Reading: Mark 10:46-52
“IF ONLY I COULD SEE THE GOODNESS OF THE LORD!”
Here’s a true story: One day a man woke up to find that, according to the local newspaper, he had died. Actually, the man’s older brother died, but the editors ran the wrong obituary. The man read on, fascinated to have the unique opportunity to find out what others thought of him. But what he read made him shudder.
The writer of the obituary reported the passing of a “great industrialist” who had amassed a considerable fortune from manufacturing weapons of destruction - dynamite, to be precise. His reputation as a heartless employer and ruthless businessman was also chronicled. The newspaper ended its story calling him a “merchant of death.”
The man was stunned. This was not how he wanted to be remembered. And so from that moment on, he devoted his time and fortune to works of philanthropy, justice and peace.
Today, the man who had “died” in an erroneous newspaper story is not remembered as the inventor of dynamite, but as the founder of the prestigious Nobel Prizes.
Alfred Nobel later would say, “Everyone ought to have the chance to correct his/her epitaph in midstream and write a new one.” And when Alfred Nobel actually died, in 1896, his obituary hailed him as “a humanitarian and a visionary.”
And so, we might want to ask ourselves: 'How do we want to be remembered in the light of our own mortality?' We may not have a definitive incident to realize and correct ourselves like Alfred Nobel had; but we can always pray to God to 'open our eyes' and grant a 'clear vision' to guide our lives in the right path in the midst of evil - “If only I could see the goodness of the Lord!”
In the First Reading of today, we hear from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. As a prophet, Jeremiah has something of a bad name - being seen primarily as 'a prophet of doom and gloom.' This was largely because he had been entrusted with the prophecies concerning the collapse of the southern kingdom of Judah and subsequent Exile in Babylon. This wasn't at all a pleasant and an easy task to do.
However, today’s reading shows that Jeremiah “saw beyond” the Exile to the restoration of the people to their homeland and spoke about hope, a new beginning for a people once conquered but now free; a people once overwhelmed by tragedies but now enjoying prosperity and peace. The homecoming is triumphant. Jeremiah sees the compassionate Lord bringing back the faithful in a great company.
However, the people who make up that company are not the great and the good - or a great military force marching proudly to reclaim lost territory. The company is made up of the most vulnerable of people: 'the blind, the lame, women with children and even women in labor.' Those who were dragged in tears from their homes will be guided back with utmost tenderness - led to water and places of rest along paths that will not cause even the blind and lame to stumble.
Here Jeremiah challenges us to hope always in the compassionate God despite the adversities we may experience. “If only I could see the goodness of the Lord!”
In our Second Reading of today from the Letter to the Hebrews, we are confronted with the role of the high priest. Here the author speaks about the work of Jesus, our High Priest, who through his death and resurrection empowers us to have a relationship with God not only in this earthly life but beyond this life: eternal life with God. He also makes it clear that Jesus the High Priest is able to be compassionate because he, himself, is a wounded healer. Here, again, we see the gracious nature of our relationship to our God. “If only I could see the goodness of the Lord!”
In the Gospel Reading of today according to St. Mark, we hear about Jesus healing a blind man called Bartimaeus. In reality, it is much more than a simple miracle story. As a miracle story, it is the last one told by Mark as Jesus heads for the final showdown in Jerusalem which has considerable significance for the story that follows. Its position in this Gospel is no accident as it comes at the end of a long section which tells about Jesus forming his disciples. It is both an epilogue for this section of Mark’s gospel and a summary of the Christian's life and pilgrimage. The story is full of symbolism, highlighting and giving meaning to the rest of the narrative. And above all, it speaks of the goodness, compassion and mercy of Jesus - “If only I could see the goodness of the Lord!”
This is also one of the Gospel stories which is so lively and quite easy to imagine - As Jesus and his entourage walk out of Jericho, we are told that a blind beggar, Bartimaeus is sitting beside the road. He hears all the noise and as soon as he learns that Jesus is passing that way he begins to call out - “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” The people around tell him to be quiet. However, Bartimaeus will not be put off easily. He continues to call out even more loudly. Jesus, we should remember, tells us to keep on asking to receive something.
Jesus eventually hears, stops and says - “Call him over here.” The people then go over to him and say - “Cheer up! Rise up, he is calling you.” Bartimaeus immediately jumps up, throws off his cloak. For a beggar, his cloak was also his sleeping mat, his only possession. Even this he now gets rid of. Very possibly, he now approaches Jesus almost naked: with nothing except himself. That is all he has. It is a symbol of both his inner and outer poverty. Before God, we are all poor.
Face to face now with Jesus, Bartimaeus is asked - “What can I do for You?” In last week's Gospel Jesus asked exactly the same question of the apostles James and John. Their answer: "Give us the two top spots in the Kingdom of your glory." In reply they were told very clearly they would get only what they deserved. They also got some firm teaching about serving others and not looking for privileges. In answer to the same question, Bartimaeus gives a very different answer: "Lord, that I may see." In the context of this story he is asking for much more than physical sight. His prayer is the most basic of all and is the one we all need to make continually.
And finally, when Jesus says - “Go your way, your faith has saved you,” the joyful moment when his sight returns, Bartimaeus immediately follows Jesus on the way. He comes to Jesus with confidence and trust, in freedom, with nothing. Compare this with the rich and young man who could not follow Jesus, because he was rich and did not want to part with his possessions.
So, by creating as detailed an image of it as we can, we gain deeper insights on the story. We can begin to see things in it of which we may not be aware simply by reading it. And this extra dimension - of seeing more deeply – the spiritual insight - is part of the message of the story.
Bartimaeus “saw” in Jesus someone who could heal him. He “saw” the possibility and grasped his opportunity. Even though those around him did not see as he did and tried to quieten him, Bartimaeus trusted to his “vision” and continued to call out to the one he “saw” and who he knew could restore his sight. This blind man Bartimaeus had a tremendous faith in Jesus. “If only I could see the goodness of the Lord!”
The question this poses is: what did he actually see? What did this blind man see in Jesus that so many of those around him did not? And what is the implication of that for us?
Bartimaeus may have been blind, but he could actually see 'Who Jesus is?' more clearly than the disciples and crowd who had been all along. As soon as he was healed and was made whole by Jesus, he left begging behind and chose to follow Jesus.
Some, of course, choose not to see - others cannot see. Why that should be may be due to upbringing or fear of seeing things differently. Another reason for not seeing is that it might require change.
What are we going to do then? Today, in light of that true story about Alfred Nobel, we might want to ask – 'How do we want to be remembered in the light of our own mortality?' - As a man or woman who with eyes of faith, like Bartimaeus in today’s Gospel, sees the reality and goodness of God all around us and makes a difference for the better in the lives of some people; or do we want to be remembered as someone who was blinded to the reality and goodness of God all around us and makes little or no difference. If only we allow Jesus to 'open our eyes' fully, “IF ONLY I COULD SEE THE GOODNESS OF THE LORD!” but then the choice is ours.