The Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

You probably know me well enough that you know I’m going to say that the Gospel story that we have today isn’t about the healing of the blind man. And you’re right; I’m not. But you might be expecting me to say that the story is really about some more pervasive blindness that the man had, and truly, we all have, and the real miracle is that he was healed of that, and that we should reflect on what blindness we have and pray to be healed of that. And honestly, I thought that was how I was going to preach it, until Saturday afternoon when I noticed something I had never seen in the story before.

It’s a throw-away detail, almost, but it changed what the message was for me. It comes at the end of the Gospel, when Jesus tells the man, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” And then it says that it the man received his sight and followed him on the way. So notice the difference: “Go your way” versus “followed him on the way.”

If Bartimaeus had gone his way, as Jesus suggested, he would have returned to sitting on his cloak begging for alms. After all, that was all he knew, having done it his whole life. But he had cast that aside in the pursuit of Jesus, and having received sight, he clearly saw that that was the wrong way, and instead follows Jesus on “the way.” So it’s important to note here that “The Way” was an early way that Christians, before they were called Christians, referred to themselves. They would be known as members of “The Way.” So here we see that the real miracle is that Bartimaeus clearly saw that his life lacked the meaning he needed and that the only cure was following Jesus.

That jibes well with the first reading today. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God says to the Israelites in persecution that he would bring them back: back to Israel, back to the Temple, back to himself. Then, even though they departed in tears – as indeed they did – they would return shouting for joy.

So the real miracle here is not one of blindness and seeing, but one of metanoia, which is the Greek word meaning a change in ones life – really a complete reversal – based on a spiritual interior conversion. The Israelites had been going the wrong way, so God gave them over to their persecutors, but because that penance produced conversion, he brought them back. Bartimeus had been going the wrong way living a pointless life of begging, but through giving himself over to Jesus and trusting in him, he found purpose in following him on The Way.

And we have to see what’s going on in our own lives. For me, even though I’ve been busy about the stuff of pastoral ministry, God has been doing amazing things calling me to new holiness. What is he doing in you right now? Have you been coasting in your spiritual life? Have you paid it little attention? If so, maybe God is calling you to forsake your own way, and give yourself over to The Way.

Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“Master, I want to see.”

As you might have guessed, today’s Gospel story isn’t about healing a blind man.  Yes, that’s what happened in the story, and it was significant, but that’s not the real essence of the story and it’s not why we have this story in the Scriptures today.  The story refers to physical blindness, but it implies a blindness that goes much deeper, a darkening of wisdom and understanding, from which Bartimaeus has been suffering for some time.  We know this because, in the story, he is encamped, all set up, with his cloak spread out underneath him.  This cloak would have caught the alms that people tossed to him as they passed by.

Somehow, he comes to know that someone important is passing by, and someone tells him that it is Jesus.  He begins to call out “Son of David, have pity on me!” which disturbs some of those in the crowd.  But he is persistent and Jesus hears him and calls him to come to him.  At that, Bartimaeus casts aside his cloak and runs to Jesus.  This detail is important.  The cloak in the story symbolizes his past life, everything he had become, and he casts it aside to come to Jesus.  When Jesus asks what he wants, he says, “Master, I want to see.”  To which Jesus replies, “Go, your faith has saved you.”

So Bartimaeus has come to know that his life has not had the meaning he would like.  He is unable to “see” with understanding, and he calls out to Jesus to save him.  Jesus does so, and remarks that it is Bartimaeus’s faith that has saved him; had Bartimaeus not had faith that Jesus could heal him, no healing would have happened.  Then Bartimaeus goes on to follow Jesus on the way.

The question before us today is this: what is our own blindness?  What is on our cloak keeping us rooted in our past life of sin?  Will we have the courage to cast all that aside and call out for the mercy of our beloved Savior?  Because it is only this act of faith that will ever bring us from the blindness of our past lives, our sins and brokenness, into the light of understanding and grace.

Just as he asked Bartimaeus, Jesus asks us today, “What do you want me to do for you?”  May our prayer be as full of faith as Bartimaeus’s was: “Master, I want to see.”

Thursday of the Eighth Week of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

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One of the voices that can never be silenced in us is the voice that cries out seeking to see.  We spend our whole lives crying out as Bartimaeus in today’s Gospel: “Master, I want to see.”  And just as the crowd and even the disciples could not silence his desires, so nothing will silence that desire in our own hearts and souls.  We want to see the truth, we want to see Jesus, we want to see the world as it really is, we want to see our way out of our current messed-up situation, we want to see the end of suffering, we want to see peace, we want to see wholeness, and maybe most of all we want to see ourselves.  As we really are.  As God sees us.  This is our lifelong task.St. Augustine spoke of that very same task in his Confession.  He said, speaking to God: “I will confess, therefore, what I know of myself, and also what I do not know.  The knowledge that I have of myself, I possess because you have enlightened me; while the knowledge of myself that I do not yet possess will not be mine until my darkness shall be made as the noonday sun before your face.”  He goes on to say that he can try to hide from God if he wanted to, but it would never work.  Hiding from God would only result in hiding God from himself.  God sees the depths of our being, so if we try to hide all we really end up doing is running away from God who knows us at our very core.The writer of our first reading had this idea in mind when he said:
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood,
a holy nation, a people of his own,
so that you may announce the praises of him
who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

God is calling us all out of darkness today.  He wants us to see him, and ourselves, as we were created to be.  He wants us to be a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own.  He created us from glory.  And we won’t experience that glory until we go through the rather painful experience of bringing all of our darkness out into the light.  Maybe we’re not ready for that yet.  But we can pray to become ready, and to be open.  We can pray in the words of Bartimaeus: “Master, I want to see!”