Jeremiah 31:7-9Hebrews 5:1-6Mark 10:46-52
[This reflection on the gospel of Mark is made in the light of the deep concern I share with many others for the renewal of our parishes. There are no simple solutions but I believe Bartimaeus gives us a paradigm for one area of the renewal of parish life.]
As Jesus left Jericho with his disciples and a large crowd ...
Jesus was going away from Jericho. He was leaving.
Today, in the experience of our diminishing Catholic communities throughout Australia it somehow seems that Jesus is leaving us. I know this is not really true but it is somewhat the same sensation. When we leave Jesus it somehow seems he has left us.
Bartimaeus (that is, the son of Timaeus), a blind beggar, was sitting at the side of the road.
This is a picture of a sad individual. He is blind, he is a beggar, and he is sitting at the side of the road. This is a rather desperate situation. Like many others, our parish finds itself in somewhat similar circumstances.
From Jesus’ point of view which, would you say, is the worst of these three afflictions?
- Being blind?
- Being a beggar?
- Sitting at the side of the road?
From the perspective of the kingdom the last of his three afflictions is the worst.
Why? Because the road is the road to the kingdom and Bartimaeus is sitting beside it rather than travelling it.
When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout and to say, `Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me'.
Jesus reveals his presence to blind Bartimaeus through his sense of hearing. Jesus always reveals his presence somehow to those who seek him. Bartimaeus begins to shout. Do you notice that?
Bartimaeus knows that he is a blind beggar who cannot travel the road. He knows he is being left behind and so he does what he can. He does what he can. He makes a beginning. He cries out.
As a parish we too need to do what we can and to make a beginning. We must do what Bartimaeus does, we must begin to call on Jesus to help us.
And many of them scolded him and told him to keep quiet, but he only shouted all the louder, 'Son of David, have pity on me'.
You can almost hear them: 'Pull your head in, mate! Give it a rest.'
If I asked all of you in this Church right now to raise your right hand a number would do it. Some would scold me and say, 'No, this is silly, I’m not going to raise my right hand'. Some others would say, 'Not the right hand, the left.' And some would say, 'Not the hand, the foot'. Aren't we a funny lot? It's an amazing thing how few people will allow themselves to be led.
Although it's plain as the nose on our face that our parishes need a new beginning, a new plan of action, whatever plan is finally suggested some will scold. 'That’s a silly idea! Keep quiet!'.
And which people will they be? The very same people who scolded Bartimaeus - the ones following Jesus.
Jesus stopped and said, `Call him here.'
Jesus stopped. Jesus always hears our call.
But why did he not go over to the man himself? Why did he send others to bring the man to him? This is a big question. There is an important principle involved here.
- When we get sick why does God not heal us himself? Why does he send us to a doctor?
- Why did God not just part the waters of the Red Sea? Why did he ask Moses to raise his staff over it first?
- Why does God not just forgive our sins? Why does he send us to the priest?
So they called the blind man. `Courage,' they said `get up; he is calling you.'
Now they are evangelising! Now they are participating in the mission of Jesus. Now they are truly co-operating with him. They are going out to the needy person, encouraging him, and telling him that Jesus is calling him. Wonderful! That’s how we should all be.
So throwing off his cloak, he jumped up and went to Jesus.
When we begin to go to Jesus we always have to leave something behind. That is why Mark includes this detail. The cloak stands for that thing we wrap ourselves in to keep us warm. He wants us to ask ourselves: What is my cloak?
- Tradition? Oh, we’ve never done it like that before. This is something new! And so often we reject the thing that could save us.
- Fear? I’m not going to do that. What will people say? Where is it going to lead?
- Comfort? I’m ok. What’s he going on about? I’m fine, just as I am.
- Pride? Look, I had a plan. I suggested we held a bush dance and everything would be all right but they wouldn't listen so now I am taking my bat and ball and I’m going home.
We have to throw our cloak aside and jump up and go to Jesus because he is calling.
Then Jesus spoke, `What do you want me to do for you?'
Last week Jesus asked this question of his disciples James and John. They asked for honour but they didn’t get it. This week the answer to the question is 'Lord, give me vision! Give me sight, Lord, so that I can follow you.'
'Rabbuni,' the blind man said to him `Master, let me see again.' Jesus said to him, `Go; your faith has saved you'.
What saved him?
The blind beggar believed that if he called out to Jesus and asked for something that would help him follow Jesus along the road to the kingdom he would get it. And Jesus did not let him down.
And immediately his sight returned and he followed him along the road.
What is the lesson for us in all this? I believe that we, as a community, are like Bartimaeus. We don’t know where the road is anymore. We are slowly growing smaller and weaker. We can't see the way ahead, we are blind. The future is dark for us.
Bartimaeus knew he was blind and he called out to Jesus. This is the beginning of all renewal. Jesus answered Bartimaeus; Jesus will answer us.
Can you see why I am always asking you to spend one hour a week before the Blessed Sacrament? - calling out: Jesus, our parish is stuck! We don't know the way anymore! We need your help! Lord, that we might see!
We could call this hour the parish's Bartimaeus Hour.
By the way, have you done yours this week?