|The Sánchez Archives
THIRTIETH SUNDAY IN
Patricia Datchuck Sánchez
I Want To See!
In the seven years that he was held hostage in Lebanon, Terry A. Anderson, Chief Middle East Correspondent of the Associated Press was physically and psychologically abused, beaten and tortured by his captors. Chained to a bed or to the wall and stripped to his underwear, Anderson was kept blindfolded so as not to be able to recognize his whereabouts or subsequently reveal the identities of his guards. Deprived of physical sight and freedom, Anderson spent those seven years engaged in a spiritual odyssey marked by an ever-deepening insight. Blindfolded in darkness, he discovered the inner light of grace that enabled him to look once again in faith at God, to see himself in stark truthfulness and humility and even to look upon his captors with a sense of understanding. His probing spiritual perception led Anderson to seek reconciliation with and healing forgiveness from God. Through the ministry of Father Lawrence Jenco, a fellow hostage, Anderson rediscovered his faith. The following is Andersons prayer on that occasion: Where is faith found? Not in a book or in a church, not often or for everyone. In childish times, its easier; a child believes just what its told. But children grow and soon begin to see too much that doesnt match the simple tales, and not enough of whats behind their parents words. There is no God, the cynics say; we made Him up out of our need and fear of death. And happily, they offer up their test-tube proofs. A mystery, the priests all say, and point to saints that prove their faith in acts of love and sacrifice. But what of us who are not saints, only common human sinners? And what of those who in their need and pain cry out to God and go on suffering? I do not know -- I wish I did. Sometimes I feel all the worlds pain. I only say that once in my own need I felt a light and warm and loving touch that eased my soul and banished doubt and let me go on to the end. It is not proof -- there can be none. Faiths what you find when youre alone and find youre not (Den of Lion, Memoirs of Seven Years, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York: 1993).
In todays gospel, another man, deprived of physical sight invites the gathered assembly to share in his spiritual odyssey. Blind and begging by the roadside, Bartimaeus saw what others had missed, did not understand or refused to see. He saw Jesus and recognized in him the long awaited messiah who had come to make all things and all people whole and holy. Whereas others, with two good eyes had witnessed the saving deeds of Jesus and remained unimpressed and unconverted, the blind son of Timaeus, relying only on the inner vision of his faith, believed. Healed within and without he became a follower of Jesus.
Like Terry Anderson, the contemporaries of Jeremiah (first reading) were being held hostage, albeit by their Babylonian oppressors. Their visions of a promising future were darkened by the blindfold of forced exile. By way of encouragement, the prophet held forth the hope that God would act to heal, to reconcile and to restore the freedoms of the people. Promising his readers that God had not abandoned them, Jeremiahs description of their return to their homeland. . . I will gather the blind and the lame. . . became a signal for the era of the messiah. When Jesus came among his own, healing both blind and lame, those with the insight of faith recognized and rejoiced that the time of their salvation had arrived.
The Hebrews (second reading) author celebrated that salvation and the manner in which Jesus accomplished it. Acting as the ultimate high priest on behalf of his people, Jesus offered the one, perfect sacrifice of himself. By so doing, Jesus set free all who had been held hostage by their own guilt and forever removed the blindfold of sin so that all who would believe could see God.
Most of us will never know the horrific experiences of Terry Anderson or the Judean exiles in Babylon. However, each of us is capable of being held hostage by our pride, fear, or self-seeking just as each of us can succumb to the blindfold of indifference to the needs of others. Today, with Bartimaeus, we beg for both freedom and faith, I want to see.
In his study of the prophet and his prophecies, Walter Brueggemann (The Book of Jeremiah: Portrait of the Prophet, Interpreting the Prophets, James Luther Mays and Paul J. Achtmeier, editors, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, PA: 1987) has suggested that Jeremiah was overwhelmingly Gods man. A person to whom Gods persistent, inescapable and overriding word had been revealed, he spent his life coming to terms with that word, finding ways to speak the word so that his contemporaries would listen, and then living with the often hazardous consequences of his efforts. A man of passion, poetry and stunning imagination, Jeremiah used every tool in his emotional and literary arsenal to gain a hearing for Gods word.
Jeremiahs service to the word and to his people took place in during four decades of the most intense political upheaval and turmoil (ca. 627-587 B.C.E.). Rather than withdraw from the public arena in search of inner peace, Jeremiah plunged himself headlong into the fray, convinced that Gods word should factor into every political decision and circumstance. A self-described man of strife and contention to all the land (15:10), Jeremiah accepted intense conflict as part of the job of being a prophet. Brueggemann (op. cit.) observed that conflict was definitional of Jeremiahs call. It occurred because Jeremiah had been given a vision of reality and a word about reality that was deeply at odds with the vision of reality held by his contemporaries.
For example, while his fellow Judahites were bemoaning Babylons rise to power and questioning whether God had forgotten the promises made to their patriarchs, Jeremiah delivered a word that shocked and infuriated them. He saw Jerusalems demise as a word of divine chastisement visited upon a faithless people and he repeated this word until at last it be met with understanding and remorse (20:4; 21:7; 22:24-25; 25:9;27:6; 34:2; 37:17; 38:3). However, when the word of punishment was totally enunciated and Jerusalem lay in ruins with its inhabitants sent off to exile, Jeremiah also delivered a word that offered comfort and hope.
As is reflected in this first reading, Jeremiah understood that Gods word spoke to every season of the human experience; in times of infidelity, it chastened; in times of devastation, it edified. In a style and language similar to that of his contemporary Deutero-Isaiah (40:3-5; 41:18-20; 43:1-7), Jeremiah encouraged his exiled people with a promise of a homecoming that would parallel the joy and triumph of their first coming home from Egypts slavery to the promised land. To those who saw no hope in the future, he offered a vision of a new beginning for the surviving remnant of Israel, the constituents of which would be the blind and lame and pregnant and nursing mothers. The weakness and vulnerability of the returnees underscored Gods predilection of the poor and helpless and affirmed the fact that it was Gods word and not any human negotiation that would make it so.
As if to echo the restorative power of the word, the desert would lend itself to the task at hand. On level roads, refreshed by brooks of water (v. 9), the remnant would be led home by their parental and pastoral loving God. Both images, parental (Father, Mother) and pastoral (shepherd), combined with the special care extended to the weak and unprotected (blind, lame), became signals of the era of the messiah.
The early Christians recognized that Gods messianic word had become incarnate in Jesus. By extending a word of healing and salvation (your faith has healed, i.e. saved you, Mark 10:52) to the poor, sick and needy, Jesus realized Jeremiahs vision. Moreover, what the prophet had promised, regarding the return of the exiles to Judah, would be eclipsed by the ultimate return of all peoples to God, a homecoming Jesus would accomplish through the saving, healing power of his cross.
Both Jeremiah and Jesus remind those who have come together around Gods word today, to allow it to speak to every season of the human heart and every circumstance of the human experience.
Like a magnificent piece of music building slowly to a crescendo, the author of Hebrews has been preparing his readers (since the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time) for the great climax of his theological theme, viz., the unique high priesthood of Jesus Christ as a necessary and integral aspect of Gods plan of salvation. In this, the fourth in a series of excerpts from Hebrews, the ancient Christian writer put forth the three essential qualifications of the high priest, all of which were met by Jesus.
First, priests did not apply for the office of high priest but were believed to have been appointed by God to that ministry. Second, priests were chosen to serve the people as their representative before God, offering sacrifices and clarifying the ways and will of God for them. On this particular qualification. Arthur J. Gossip once told his students at the University of Glasgow that when he began in the ministry he felt as if the people were telling him: We are forever involved in the dust and heat of the day; we have to spend our time getting and spending; we have to serve at the counter, to toil at the desk, to make the wheels of industry go round. We want you to be set apart so that you can go into the secret place of God and come back every Sunday with a word from Him to us.
The third qualification of the priest required an empathy for and profound patience with erring sinners (v. 2). To describe this special quality, the Hebrews author used a special term metriopathein. A hapax legoumenon, i.e. a word which occurs nowhere else in the scriptures, metriopathein may have been borrowed from Greek literature; according to Plutarch, it signified that gentle sympathy which enables a person to raise up and to save, to spare, to listen and to bear with others without becoming irritated.
Having affirmed that Jesus possessed each of these qualities, the ancient author supported his argument for the superiority of Jesus high priesthood with references to the Psalter (Psalm 2:7 = v. 5; Psalm 110:4 = v. 6). Like his fellow authors of the Christian scriptures, the Hebrews writer believed that these texts provided a basis for understanding the glorification of Jesus as high priest as part of God foreordained plan. As Reginald Fuller (Preaching the New Lectionary, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN: 1976) has explained, these citations affirmed the early churchs belief that Christs unique priesthood flowed not only from the offering of himself as a saving sacrifice but also from his exaltation in glory whereby his role as priest, par excellence, was divinely appointed and proclaimed.
Modern readers of Hebrews may wonder. . . why all the fuss? why so much emphasis and reiteration of this one tenet of the faith? Recall the supposition on the part of most scholars that the Hebrews correspondence was directed at Greek-speaking Jewish Christians who, near the end of the first century C.E., were tending toward laxity in their faith. Some were even abandoning Christ to return to Judaism. This would explain the author of Hebrews insistence on the uniqueness and superiority of Jesus ministry; his was a priesthood and a sacrifice which made forever obsolete the priesthood and sacrificial system of Israel.
Modern readers may also do well to evaluate A. J. Gossips reflection on the ministry in light of the documents of Vatican II. Therein the clerical priesthood was reaffirmed as a singularly important service in the church but also reaffirmed was the participation of all the faithful in the one priesthood of Christ by virtue of their baptism (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, # 10, 11). Taking nothing away from Christs priesthood or from the role of the ordained clergy, readers of Hebrews are given cause today to reflect on their own fidelity to their priestly mission.
According to an old Persian proverb, A blind man who sees is better than a seeing man who is blind. This proverb, seen in conjunction with todays gospel, invites believers to consider the clarity of their spiritual vision and the penetrating power of their faith. Up to this point in Marks telling of the good news, only demons and evil spirits were portrayed as recognizing and identifying Jesus with acuity. Here, however, on the outskirts of Jericho, on the last leg of his journey to Jerusalem and to the cross, Jesus is acclaimed and proclaimed as Son of David, i.e. Messiah, by a blind beggar.
With this narrative about Bartimaeus, Mark has formed an inclusion with an earlier account of another blind mans healing (8:22-26). Inclusions can be compared to literary sandwiches wherein, the slices of bread, as it were, are comprised of similar or repeated words or phrases. In this Marcan inclusion, the slices of bread are the two cures of blind men, one in 8:27 and the other in 10:52. Both, the meat between the two slices of bread or the material inside the inclusion, and the slices of bread or the two parts of the inclusion are to be understood as related to one another, in this case, by comparison. As Wilfrid Harrigton (Mark, Michael Glazier, Inc., Wilmington, DE: 1984) explains, the two stories (8:22-26; 10:46-52) form a framework for the intervening section. They draw our attention to what Jesus had been doing on the way to Jerusalem, viz., striving to open the eyes of his disciples. In contrast to the blind men who were restored to sight by Jesus, and particularly to Bartimaeus who saw Jesus with the eyes of faith and believed, the disciples seemed to be myopic, confused and stumbling around in the darkness of doubt. In Bartimaeus, Mark offers his readers an example of a true and faithful disciple. Healed by Jesus and confirmed in his faith, Bartimaeus followed Jesus up the road; in other words, he became a disciple.
Unlike the glory-seeking James and John (see last weeks gospel) who misconstrued Jesus messianic intentions, the blind man recognized in Jesus words and works the fulfillment of prophecies like that of Jeremiah (first reading). He did not ask for power or a share in glory but for healing; and Jesus, whose mission it was to bring wholeness and holiness to humankind, healed him.
Unlike the first healing of a blind man (8:22-26), no details have been offered with regard to Jesus cure of Bartimaeus. There is no mention of spittle, mud or anointing. The full import and significance of the Bartimaeus event is told in Jesus proclamation, Your faith has healed you! (v. 52). As with the woman healed of a hemorrhage (5:34), this statement implied physical as well as spiritual healing or salvation. The verb sozo means healed as well as saved. Hence, your faith has healed, your faith has saved you.
Jesus instruction to Bartimaeus, Be on your way, and his subsequent following of Jesus meant that he had made his own the way of Jesus. Among early Christians, The Way was another term for the life of Christian discipleship (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23). The way of Jesus becomes a way of life for those who believe; this way would entail suffering and eventually lead to the cross, but it will also lead to glory. Today, Bartimaeus is offered to contemporary believers as a guide along the way. A man of faith and vision, a man unafraid to recognize his need for healing and to cry out, I want to see!, the man from Jericho invites us to follow him up the road.
[NOTE TO USERS: This archive is available for use without charge, but it remains the property of the author and under copyright with Celebrations Publications. Users are permitted to print individual Sunday commentaries for pastoral use, but are prohibited from downloading or copying files or printing any portion of this for sale or distribution.]
e-mail the Celebration editor at firstname.lastname@example.org
Illustration prepared by Julie Lonneman.
The National Catholic
Reporter Publishing Company
115 E. Armour Blvd.
Kansas City, MO 64111