Saturday, October 24, 2015

Lord, I Want To See...Maybe

The Gospel for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B, is St. Mark's account of the healing of Bartimaeus.  Bartimaeus is a blind man who hears Jesus is coming through.  He says two things: "Son of David, have pity on me" (twice) and "Master, I want to see."  Even though he is initially dissuaded from approaching Jesus by those around him, he persists.  The lot of a blind man in the time of Jesus was s dismal existence.  Unable to hold a job or farm, their lives were reduced to begging for their sustenance.  The regaining of sight was more than a mere regaining of a lost sense, it was the reconnection to life that the renewed sense allowed.  Once Bartimaeus is healed, he cannot be a blind man anymore.  A new life is given and  the expectations that go with this new life are part of the consequence of the healing.  Jesus acts on Bartimaeus' faith and restores his vision and tell him "Go your way, your faith has saved you."  What 'your way' does Bartimaeus choose?  We are told he follows Jesus.

So, is this a nice story of an interaction between a blind man and a loving Messiah?  No.  There is much more going on.  Let's break this down:

Bartimaeus seeks Jesus.  We hear of many cures that Jesus performs over the course of His ministry.  They all have a striking resemblance: they all are either brought to Jesus or approach Jesus themselves, such as Bartimaeus did.  Jesus didn't go looking for them.  Remember the story of the Prodigal Son from the Gospel of Luke; although the father mourns his son's absence, he does not go looking for him.  His son freely chose to leave and his son must freely choose to come back.  The miracles of Jesus are more than mere stories about what a good guy Jesus is.  All of the healings were about a restoration.  They point to what Jesus came to do: to restore humanity back into an eternal relationship with the Father.  That relationship had been estranged by sin.  Illness, blindness, possession, leprosy, and such were all signs of a  fractured or severed relationship whose presence kept the person from the fullness of life.  Jesus doesn't merely heal, he restores.

However, Bartimaeus his initially dissuaded from approaching Jesus.  He is rebuked and told to be silent.  We are not told by whom and for what reason, only that those around him are quite content for him to remain blind.  When a person decides to seek Jesus, there will always be people who will try to dissuade them.  Some will try to dissuade because they do not want conversion for themselves and cannot bear to have a person they know do so.  Some will try to dissuade because we don't want 'that type' of person amongst our company.  All who dissuade are agents of Satan.  Some will even try to convince that no need of healing is necessary or that their blindness is acceptable. The world is very adept at condoning sin under the guise of tolerance.  Even within the Church there are some who will say that one's blindness is fine.  They will say that this is what mercy looks like.  There is nothing merciful about allowing a person to remain in darkness; there is nothing merciful about prohibiting a restoration of sight when all that is necessary is the faith to seek it and the desire for a new life in Christ.

Bartimaeus, however, is not dissuaded in the least and only cries out all the louder.  This time Jesus calls for him and now there are those around Bartimaeus who tell him to 'Take courage, get up Jesus is calling you."   These are those who actually facilitate conversion, who seek what is good and help in the process of conversion, leading the blind to Christ.  Where those who dissuade are agents of Satan, those who encourage and are willing to lead a person to Christ are agents and disciples of Jesus.  This is our call as baptized Catholics.  To be amongst this group, though, presumes that we see.  We cannot be the blind leading the blind. (Luke 6:39)  A person who is a slave the sin will hardly be of much help in helping to free another who is a slave to sin.  Translated for Catholics: Do we seek to maintain a state of grace in our life, by embracing ongoing conversion (as witnessed to by regular Confession) and seeking to deepen our faith and understanding in Jesus, His Gospel, and His Church?  When we are given sight, it is so that we do as Bartimaeus did; follow Jesus.  It is hard to follow Jesus if we do make the effort to come to know what this entails.  Without the following of Jesus, we might as well be blind.

Finally, when Bartimaeus is asked by Jesus what he wants, he simply says "Master, I want to see!" Notice:  Master.  Bartimaeus makes a profession of faith of who Jesus is.  He is his master; Bartimaeus approaches as a servant.  The name, Bartimaeus, means son of the unclean one.  He is humanity.  His unclean status makes him unfit for the Kingdom.  His blindness is symbolic of this.  To go from unclean to clean necessitates his reorienting his life towards a new master, Jesus.  Only in this reorientation can he go from the son of the unclean one to being a son of God; hence the only reasonable to reaction to Jesus' intervention is for Bartimaeus to follow Him. 

All of this calls for a response on our part.  Do we embrace conversion?  Do we even seek it?  Because we happen to inhabit a pew every so often does not mean guaranteed entrance into heaven.  See Luke 13:22-27.  What we do in Church is supposed to inspire conversion in ourselves in such a powerful way that we become for others a path by which the blind are led to Jesus.  To believe that conversion can happen independent of the sacraments is a fool's game.  To believe that the role of Confession is optional is to steadfastly adhere to blindness. 

That the confessional has fallen largely silent is a stinging indictment against this age.  It is the work of Satan!  How can the blind see if we shut off the path to Jesus?  What does it say, my brother priests, when time for confession for the entire week is less time than an average meal and offered at a time so obnoxiously inconvenient to most that many do not come?  What does it say when 15-45 minutes are allotted for a parish of hundreds if not thousands of families?  Do we hide behind the ubiquitous " or by appointment" knowing that catching us is near impossible. Does this not send a message?  Do we not become the people telling Bartimaeus to be silent?    Yet, we have the audacity to complain that no one comes when we have set the stage for failure?  Do we preach about confession?  Do we speak of the reality of sin?  Do the words 'mortal sin' ever depart from our mouths?  Do we not see how this feeds into a mentality that empties out our churches?  The blame, so to speak, is not only there.  My brothers and sisters in the laity:  Are you insistent on confession?  Do you do an examination of conscience?  Do you allow the world to condone blindness, allowing the 'everyone is doing it' to be reason for your own willful blindness?  I might add this question to my brother priests as well.  How often do we avail ourselves of the sacrament of Reconciliation?  It will be very hard to treasure this sacrament if we ourselves are not open to conversion.

There is no room for "Lord, I want to see...maybe" or "but not now".  Blind disciples are ineffective at spreading the kingdom.  We must have the same humility as Bartimaeus.  We must admit our need for healing and restoration.  We must not allow others to dissuade us from this.  We must recognize that only in reorienting ourselves to God as our master, can we find such healing and restoration.  Jesus is ever near us, waiting for us to call out to Him. Can we say "Son of David, have mercy on me?"   Will we turn from the blindness of sin so as to walk in the way of Jesus?  Will we facilitate this possibility to others?  We know this world is becoming a darker and darker place as sin is called good and conversion is called evil.  In this dark night, we are called to be light.  To be light though, necessitates eschewing the darkness and blindness of sin and a embracing and living of the light of Christ.

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