Learning to Pray with the Need and Faith of the Blind Man, 33rd Monday (I), November 16, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Monday of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of SS. Gertrude the Great and Margaret of Scotland
November 16, 2015
1 Mc 1:10-15.41-43.54-57.62-63, Ps 119, Lk 18:35-43

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click  below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • On Saturday Jesus gave us the parable of the importune woman bothering the unjust judge in order to convey to us the necessity of “praying always without losing heart.” Today we encounter the living illustration of what he was teaching in the blind man by the side of the road whom St. Mark in his version of the same scene identifies as Bartimaeus.
  • Like rabbis were accustomed to do on the triennial pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the major feasts, Jesus was teaching the crowds along the journey. Bartimaeus was sitting by the roadside begging. He heard the commotion of the crowd and asked what was happening. Upon hearing that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, he immediately began to cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” He had doubtless heard of Jesus’ reputation for working miracles to the north in Galilee and was responding in faith. The fact that he called him “Son of David” was a sign he believed Jesus was the Messiah. But his crying out for Jesus was annoying those who were trying to hear Jesus’ teaching. So the first people in the group rebuked him and told him to shut his trap. But that only led him to cry out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me!” The word St. Luke uses here means basically an animal cry, something coming deep from his woundedness.
  • Jesus stopped and ordered that Bartimaeus be brought to him. For Jesus caring for this man was more important than what he was teaching at that moment. Likely, if St. Luke’s account was chronological, Jesus had been talking about persistent and humble prayer, persistence in the prayer of the importune widow and humility in the parable of the publican and the pharisee praying in the Temple. Jesus was about to show how God responds to such a prayer! Jesus asked Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?,” and Bartimaeus said, “Lord, please let me see!” To some degree, Bartimaeus was already seeing by faith but he wanted to see Jesus with physical eyes so that he would be able to do exactly what he did once cured, to “follow him, giving glory to God.” Jesus replied, “Have sight; your faith has saved you.”
  • This cry of Bartimaeus is one of the most beautiful and frequent Christian aspirations: Domine, ut videam!, “Lord, I want to see.” We should ask for the grace to recognize him in the Holy Eucharist, in Confession, in prayer, in others, in the various events of the day, and especially in the beatific vision. Today we ask him with Bartimaeus to give us the grace of real vision. Before he asks it, however, he had two qualities that we need to ponder a little more: his sense of need as well as his trust in Jesus to hear his cry and then to work a miracle and restore his sight. The story of Bartimaeus, is in some ways the outline of every vocation story, as Christ passes by and we cry out to him, he stops, comes close, and asks what we want. Because this scene is so important to every vocation, I’d like to do an extended Lectio Divina on it.
    • “As Jesus approached Jericho” — Jericho is the lowest place on earth, more below sea level than any other location. Jesus was passing through the depths of the human experience in order to ascend the 15 mile road up hill that leads to Jerusalem, where he would suffer and died to lift us up. There’s no depth to which Jesus wouldn’t descend for us. And he has, in fact, kenotically bent down for us so many times in life, like he did in today’s Gospel.
    • “A blind man sat by the road begging” — Bartimaeus was not born blind, but had become blind over the course of time. We see that in the verb St. Mark uses — anablepo — asking Jesus in the Greek to “see again.” But he hadn’t just lost his sight. To some degree, he had lost the dignity he would have had. He was sitting by the road side begging. He could not rely on himself anymore. He needed help. He had hit rock bottom. He was in the depth of the valley of darkness in the lowest place on earth. But it was precisely in that spiritual poverty that Jesus would come to meet him, as many times he has likewise come to us. St. Augustine, and with him Pope Benedict, have focused a lot on his name as St. Mark describes it, “Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, sat by the road begging.” The evangelist in essence repeats himself, saying first his name is Bar-Timaeus, which means in Aramaic, “Son of Timaeus.” Then he says in Greek, “The Son of Timaeus.” While it’s possible that he was just translation the Aramaic name into Greek, but St. Mark isn’t accustomed to doing that with other names. One of the things that is likely at work is that he was stressing something about this blind man’s situation that the play on words among the two languages elucidates. In Aramaic, the root tame means defilement; in Greek the root time means “honor.” So what various scholars think is going on is showing Bartimaeus’ fall. He was a son of someone of honor — Timaeus — but he had become a son of defilement. He should have been living with honor but now was living in shame. Hence Jesus was going to be restoring not just his sight but his name and personal dignity.
    • “Hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what was happening. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’” — Not coincidentally at all, so many times in our life Jesus comes into our life right when we need him most, right when we’re at our weakest and most desperate. But he “passes by.” He doesn’t intrude. He draws near but he still wants to engage our freedom, rather than force himself and his love upon us.
    • “He shouted, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!’” — Bartimaeus didn’t cry out for alms, which would have been small. He didn’t cry out at that point for a miracle. He cried out simply for mercy. He had doubtless heard of Jesus’ reputation for working miracles to the north in Galilee and was responding in faith. The fact that he called him “Son of David” was a sign he believed Jesus was the Messiah. The word St. Luke uses for crying out means basically an animal cry, something coming deep from his woundedness. He didn’t stop crying out even when people rebuked him and told him to be silent. When they did, he cried out all the more. And his prayer would be answered.
    • “Then Jesus stopped and ordered that he be brought to him — When Jesus heard Bartimaeus’ pleas, he stopped in his tracks and ordered that Bartimaeus be brought to him. For Jesus caring for this man was more important than what he was teaching at that moment, because he was about to show the Gospel rather than just verbally describe it. He was also going to show how he responds to persistent prayer. In St. Mark’s version, they said to Bartimaeus, “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.” It would have been very easy for Jesus to come to meet Bartimaeus exactly where he was begging. But Jesus loved him too much and understands the human heart too well to do that. Instead he drew near, he got close, but then he had Bartimaeus get up to come to him, to exercise Bartimaeus’ freedom, to stoke his desire, to give him greater participation in the miracle Jesus himself was about to accomplish. It takes courage to get up and leave our comfort zone to respond to the Lord. Bartimaeus had that courage and did. St. Mark tells us, “He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.” The cloak was his outer garment that kept him warm at night. It was in a sense his security blanket. It was quite valuable to him and part of his life. But he was intentionally embracing a new life and establishing a new security. He left it behind, which is not just a fact but an important symbol of how he was thinking more about clinging to Jesus and the new life for which he was hoping than clinging to the past. The second element is he “sprang up.” Even though he was blind, he got up immediately. He always raced to respond to his being called by the Lord. Unlike the excuse makers in other sections of the Gospel who said that they would follow Jesus after they had buried their father (who might die three decades later), inspected their oxen, enjoyed their honeymoon, etc., Bartimaeus responded with alacrity.
    • “When he came near, Jesus asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’”— Jesus asks us this question always with the love of the most generous person who has ever existed. What do you want? What do you seek? He wants us to examine our desires and ask for the big stuff, the most important. We’ve been made ultimately to want him. Bartimaeus didn’t ask for alms, because he wanted far more.
    • “He replied, “Lord, please let me see.”” — The Latin words for this have become a very popular Christian aspiration, “Domine, ut videam!” Bartimaeus says, “I want to see! I want to live in the light. I want to see things as they really are. I want to see you!” The verb used in St. Mark in Greek is “to see again.” He wants to live in grace again. He wants to live anew in the light. He knows what he lost and he knows where to find it. To say to Jesus, “I want to see!,” is not just to turn to a healer and ask him to restore his vision. It’s to say I want to live in your vision. St. John would write in his Gospel, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will have the light of life.” That’s the gift for which Bartimaeus was begging.
    • “Jesus told him, ‘Have sight; your faith has saved you.’”— Jesus says two very beautiful things to him upon healing him. The first is about the greater miracle than the healing of his physical sight. “Your faith has saved you!” The Lord not only gave him his wish to see but heard his initial cry to have mercy on him, and Jesus’ generosity far outdid Bartimaeus’ imagination to ask. Faith in response to God leads to salvation, and even though Bartimaeus didn’t dare ask for that, God gave it. And likewise in response to our bold trust in him, in response to our leaving our stuff behind and hustling toward him, in response to our sincere telling him what we want, God responds by giving himself to us and granting us far more than we had implored. The second thing we see in this scene is Jesus continues to engage Bartimaeus’ vocational freedom. In St. Mark’s account, he also says, “Go your way!” In other words, he was giving him the chance to choose what to do with his sight. He wasn’t going to make him an indentured servant for the rest of his life, paying off the debt of the Jesus’ spiritual optometry. No, Jesus had given without a quid pro quo and left Bartimaeus free to choose his path. That’s what makes how he used it so much more relevant.
    • “He immediately received his sight and followed him, giving glory to God.” — Bartimaeus used his freedom to follow Jesus. He left the depth of Jericho behind and followed him up to Jerusalem, he followed him on Palm Sunday, he followed up on the Way of the Cross, he followed him. And St. Luke comments, “He immediately received his sight and followed him, giving glory to God, and when they saw this, all the people gave praise to God” (Lk 18:43). He spent the rest of his life glorifying God in such a way that others joined him in that divine praise. The end of our vocational story, our cure, our petition, is a similar glorification of God, hoping that our example will be contagious. This doxological sequela is what the Christian, consecrated and priestly, life is all about!”
  •  That was what the life of St. Gertrude the Great, whom the Church celebrates on November 16, was all about. She was a 13th century mystic known for her books of prayer — a prayer begging for God’s mercy and grace — but her most famous prayer of all is for the souls in Purgatory. “Eternal Father, I offer You the most precious blood of thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, for those in my own home and in my family. Amen.” She offers Jesus’ blood, given for the forgiveness of sins, to the Eternal Father in communion with all the Masses for the Holy Souls in Purgatory awaiting purification and for the conversion of all those still on earth. This was a prayer she prayed with perseverance and that many after her have prayed as well. Using her words or our own, we should pray the Mass in the same way, faithfully interceding for the salvation of all the dead and for the conversion and sanctification of all the living as we offer to the Eternal Father his dearly beloved Son’s body, blood, soul and divinity. Today we began Mass by echoing Bartimaeus’ cry to have mercy on us and Jesus has had mercy in calling us to himself over and again. Today the same Jesus who has passed by our lives and invited us to follow him passes by this E. 66th Street, summoning us by name, and asking, “What do you want me to do for you!” With gratitude for all his gifts, with gratitude for our vocations, we ask him for the grace to see Him in the Eucharist, to see him in those we serve, to see him in all those crying out, and finally with them one day to see him face-to-face forever!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 1 Mc 1:10-15, 41-43, 54-57, 62-63

[From the descendants of Alexander’s officers]
there sprang a sinful offshoot, Antiochus Epiphanes,
son of King Antiochus, once a hostage at Rome.
He became king in the year one hundred and thirty seven
of the kingdom of the Greeks.In those days there appeared in Israel
men who were breakers of the law,
and they seduced many people, saying:
“Let us go and make an alliance with the Gentiles all around us;
since we separated from them, many evils have come upon us.”
The proposal was agreeable;
some from among the people promptly went to the king,
and he authorized them to introduce the way of living
of the Gentiles.
Thereupon they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem
according to the Gentile custom.
They covered over the mark of their circumcision
and abandoned the holy covenant;
they allied themselves with the Gentiles
and sold themselves to wrongdoing.Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people,
each abandoning his particular customs.
All the Gentiles conformed to the command of the king,
and many children of Israel were in favor of his religion;
they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath.

On the fifteenth day of the month Chislev,
in the year one hundred and forty-five,
the king erected the horrible abomination
upon the altar of burnt offerings
and in the surrounding cities of Judah they built pagan altars.
They also burned incense at the doors of the houses and in the streets.
Any scrolls of the law which they found they tore up and burnt.
Whoever was found with a scroll of the covenant,
and whoever observed the law,
was condemned to death by royal decree.
But many in Israel were determined
and resolved in their hearts not to eat anything unclean;
they preferred to die rather than to be defiled with unclean food
or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die.
Terrible affliction was upon Israel.

Responsorial Psalm PS 119:53, 61, 134, 150, 155, 158

R. (see 88) Give me life, O Lord, and I will do your commands.
Indignation seizes me because of the wicked
who forsake your law.
R. Give me life, O Lord, and I will do your commands.
Though the snares of the wicked are twined about me,
your law I have not forgotten.
R. Give me life, O Lord, and I will do your commands.
Redeem me from the oppression of men,
that I may keep your precepts.
R. Give me life, O Lord, and I will do your commands.
I am attacked by malicious persecutors
who are far from your law.
R. Give me life, O Lord, and I will do your commands.
Far from sinners is salvation,
because they seek not your statutes.
R. Give me life, O Lord, and I will do your commands.
I beheld the apostates with loathing,
because they kept not to your promise.
R. Give me life, O Lord, and I will do your commands.

Alleluia Jn 8:12

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I am the light of the world, says the Lord;
whoever follows me will have the light of life.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Lk 18:35-43

As Jesus approached Jericho
a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging,
and hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what was happening.
They told him,
“Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”
He shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!”
The people walking in front rebuked him,
telling him to be silent,
but he kept calling out all the more,
“Son of David, have pity on me!”
Then Jesus stopped and ordered that he be brought to him;
and when he came near, Jesus asked him,
“What do you want me to do for you?”
He replied, “Lord, please let me see.”
Jesus told him, “Have sight; your faith has saved you.”
He immediately received his sight
and followed him, giving glory to God.
When they saw this, all the people gave praise to God.
jesus_heals_helps2