October 28, 2018
Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily on the 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B) on October 28, 2018, at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126; Hebrews 5:1-6; and Mark 10:46-52.
Today’s gospel passage is the culmination of the middle section of the Gospel of Mark: the story of the healing of Bartimaeus. Most of us in Austin have met people who look like Bartimaeus: people with physical ailments, on the side of the road, screaming at the top of their lungs. I think a lot of us treat these people as the disciples treated Bartimaeus: they wanted him to shut up and go away.
Nevertheless, Bartimaeus is something of a hero in the Gospel of Mark. Today, we will review the general structure of Mark’s gospel, to make the case for why this passage is so pivotal.
In light of the violence in our country this week, I will address the package bomb scare and the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting at the conclusion of the homily.
God will console us and guide us, even in the midst of affliction. Let us celebrate God’s infinite gift of mercy!
For most of Christian history, the Gospel of Mark was considered sort of a Reader’s Digest version of Matthew. People believed that Mark had taken key stories from Matthew, told them more concisely, with worse grammar, and got some of the details wrong.
But in the past few centuries, we’ve come to recognize that Mark was the first gospel written. Mark’s favorite word is “immediately.” It’s a story of action – Mark gives no commentary on why Jesus does what he does or says what he says. Mark leaves it up to us to interpret what Jesus meant.
One of the hallmarks of Mark is the repeating of stories to make important points. Mark cleverly delineates the central section of his narrative with a triplet encased in a doublet. The section begins and ends with stories of Jesus healing blind people, but in the first miracle, the healing doesn’t work instantaneously: the man only gradually comes to see, in stages. In between the two healings of blind people, Jesus predicts his passion, death, and resurrection three times. After each prediction, someone talks with Jesus, but falls short in understanding what it means to be Jesus’ disciple. After the first prediction in Caesarea Philippi – roughly 105 miles north of Jerusalem – Peter rejects the idea that Jesus must suffer, and Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan!” After the Transfiguration and the second passion prediction in the Galilee – roughly 70 miles north of Jerusalem – a young man walks away from Jesus upon learning that he needs to give up his possessions. After the third prediction, in which Jesus reveals that this will all happen in Jerusalem – and telling them when they’re only 20 miles from the city – James and John ask Jesus to promise them thrones of honor in heaven.
Immediately after the exchange with James and John, we come to today’s passage with Bartimaeus. Here’s someone who’s had every disadvantage in life, and yet he is the one who understands. He calls out to Jesus as the “Son of David,” and he won’t be quiet even when everyone else tells him to shut up. He has faith in Jesus. So when Jesus asks him the exact same thing as he asked James and John – “What do you want me to do for you?” – Bartimaeus does not hesitate to ask for the impossible: to see.
What does it mean, to see? Surely, Bartimaeus wanted to regain the use of his eyes. But I think it’s something more. To come to an even deeper faith. To truly understand what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Clearly, Bartimaeus receives all three of these gifts: to see, to believe, and to take action. Immediately after receiving these gifts, he follows Jesus.
We might not appreciate how amazing this is, because we won’t hear the subsequent passage in Mark next week. We already heard it 7 months ago. Because, when Jesus, Bartimaeus, and the other disciples ascend from the oasis of Jericho up through the 20 miles of desert into the lush outskirts of Jerusalem in Bethany and Bethphage, they find a lot of people doing something similar – and yet very different – from what Bartimaeus did in Jericho. People are lining the streets, screaming out to Jesus as the Son of David. However, these people have lain their cloaks on the road and are waving palm branches: they are expecting Jesus to lead a military overthrow of the Roman government. Bartimaeus – when he was still blind – saw who Jesus was more clearly than these multitudes do.
This crowd reminds us of the early days of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee – where crowds followed him, to see him work miracles. However, as Jesus has begun to teach of the sacrifice required to be his disciple, it seems as if the crowds have dissipated.
In Mark, Jesus’ mission appears to conclude in failure. Jesus is rejected and abandoned. But in his death, there is a glimmer of new faith: a Roman centurion looking upon Jesus’ crucified body is the first person to recognize him as the Son of God. Some women who have accompanied Jesus go to his tomb and find it empty. Mark makes it clear: it is up to US – not Jesus – to proclaim the kingdom of God.
After today, we have only three weeks remaining with the Gospel of Mark until we begin again after Thanksgiving of 2021. But in our remaining three weeks, we will meet two more people who are as unlikely as Bartimaeus to have deep faith and true insight: a poor widow and one scribe we expected to be part of the group plotting for Jesus’ death.
So, what’s holding us back on the journey of discipleship? Physical disabilities didn’t hold back Bartimaeus. Financial means didn’t hold back the widow. Belonging to the privileged few didn’t hold back the scribe. As Jeremiah proclaimed on behalf of God, in the time of bleakest despair for the nation of Israel: “Shout with joy…. I will bring them back…. so that none shall stumble.”
If Bartimaeus could find his way to discipleship, so can we!
This past week’s violence struck close to home for me. The Paulist motherhouse in New York City had to be evacuated during the bomb scares at CNN headquarters, less than a block away. As a Pittsburgher, I often drove through the Squirrel Hill neighborhood on Friday nights and Saturday mornings as people were walking to Shabbat services. And last night, I learn that the shooter at the synagogue went to my high school. (I don’t know if I ever met him: he was two years ahead of me in school.)
One reason that Vatican II, the great ecumenical council, was called was because of the Holocaust. How could Christianity be used to justify the execution of millions of people, including more than half of the Jews living in Europe? Vatican II produced a document called Nostra Aetate, which addresses the relationship of the Church to the other great religions of the world. The largest part of this short document is about relations with our Jewish brothers and sisters. I’d like to share one short passage with you:
In her rejection of every persecution against any [person], the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.
Our staff has not met since the synagogue shooting happened, but I’m sure we will be talking about this week about what we can do to support both our Jewish and Muslim neighbors. Please pray for them, and please let me know if you have any suggestions on what we can do.