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30th Sunday in Ordinary Time homily

Fr. Michael MachacekNativity of Our LordOctober 24, 2021
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today's readings are Jeremiah 31: 7-9; Psalm 126; Hebrews 5: 1-6 and Mk. 10: 46-52

We just heard a delightful gospel story. But it is also a story that can only be appreciated in its full context. So, let’s begin. We hear of a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, who is sitting on the roadside (from the Greek hodos - on the way) – for Mark “the way” is a synonym for discipleship. Bartimaeus knows what is preventing him from following the way – for he is blind, he cannot see – and in St. Mark’s gospel, seeing also means that one has perception and understanding. 

While Bartimaeus sits along the way, Jesus and the disciples approach him as they begin the journey to Jerusalem. Amidst the noise and hustle and bustle of Jericho, Bartimaeus cries out loudly to Jesus, asking for mercy. Contrast his request with what we heard last Sunday when the apostles James and John presented their own request to Jesus. (Mk. 10: 35-45). James and John wanted Jesus to give them whatever they asked of Him, whereas Bartimaeus asked for mercy. 

After Jesus calls him, we read that Bartimaeus sets his cloak aside and goes to Jesus. This simple action of leaving his cloak behind is very significant. In those days in the Middle East, traditionally blind beggars would spread out their cloaks on the ground, in front of them, to collect money from the passersby. As well, their cloak would most likely be their only source of warmth, their only possession. What does Bartimaeus do – he sets aside all he has to come to Jesus. Bartimaeus’ setting aside all that he has can be contrasted to the reaction of the rich man of our gospel two Sundays ago (Mk. 10: 17-30) who, when asked by Jesus, was unable to give up his possessions. But Bartimaeus does – he rushes up to Jesus leaving his cloak and money behind. He doesn’t know what Jesus will say or do for him, and he doesn’t know whether his cloak and money will still be there when he gets back. 

Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Which is the same question He asked of James and John last week. But what a difference in answers – James and John wanted prime time places in heaven, whereas Bartimaeus wanted to be able to see. As a result of their self-centredness, James and John went away chastised. But Bartimaeus is healed – he can see again, and follows Jesus on the way – i.e. he becomes a disciple of Jesus. 

“What do you want me to do for you”? If Jesus asked of you that question, how would you respond? Now I trust that no one here would ask Jesus to let you win the Lotto 649. But seriously, what would your answer be? And please understand that you may get an answer that may be quite different than what you would expected or hoped for.  For often there is a big difference in what we think we need and what we truly need. 

For example, last week, in response to Jesus’ question, James and John expected to receive the glory of special places in heaven. Instead, they were chastised and reminded of the need to serve, and not be served. For Jesus called them, and he will continue to call us, to go beyond our limited world view, a view that is impeded by our own personal blindness, and begin to see with the eyes of faith, the eyes of perception, the eyes of understanding. (God’s ways are not our ways, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts – see Isaiah 55). 

In answer to Jesus’ question, Bartimaeus requested, “Let me see again”. Because of the faith he had shown Jesus, Jesus granted Bartimaeus his request. I wonder what Bartimaeus was able to see as he followed Jesus on the way. No doubt some wonderful things. But he would have also seen things that would make him feel uncomfortable and uncertain. For the world that he had come to know and experience in his blindness would now be a very different world – and not just because he could see, but because he was seeing with the eyes of faith. For seeing with the eyes of faith enables one to look at the full reality of life, both the good and the bad, with honesty and clarity. 

What is it that you need from Jesus? Not for your glory, not for your personal benefit, not for your mere gain. Perhaps what all of us need is simply this – to be able to see as Jesus did, so that you may be able to love as He did, to be able to serve as He did, and be willing and able to follow Him, just like Bartimaeus did, on the way.