The Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

An often told, and completely correct, preaching of today’s Gospel reading about the healing of Bartimeus’s blindness would say that this story isn’t about hisblindness at all.  Yes, it tells of his physical blindness and healing by Jesus, but the reason we have this story today isn’t just to make us feel happy for the blind man; instead it is to point out some kind of 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. That would be a perfectly acceptable reading of this Gospel story, except that there’s this really interesting detail right at the end of the story.

It’s a throw-away detail, almost, but it changed what the message was for me.  It comes 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 probably 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.”  Now, it’s important to note here that “The Way” (capital “W”) 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.  The Israelites were in a bad situation: they had ignored God enough that he allowed their whole nation to fall and be taken into exile.  Jeremiah’s message was that they had no one to blame but themselves; that God had punished them for turning aside from the faith, following false gods, ignoring the poor and the needy and the stranger in their midst, and allowing every kind of depravity in their lives.  It’s not a very encouraging message, and one can see why Jeremiah was treated so poorly.  In this reading, though, Jeremiah relates God’s 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 would bring them back.  Bartimeus had been going the wrong way living a perhaps-pointless life, but through giving himself over to Jesus and trusting in him, he found purpose in following him on The Way.

nd we have to see what’s going on in our own lives.  Have we been going the wrong way?  Have we paid little attention to our spiritual life?  Have we chosen to live as though our spiritual lives didn’t matter?  For me, it can be frighteningly easy to do that.  It can be very easy to be so busy about the stuff of running a parish that I don’t see what God is doing in my life and in the life of this community. It was good for me to be on retreat this past week; in that precious time, I found much grace and heard God’s call to make things new in me and in my ministry here.  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.

Friday of the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Angels are messengers that God sends sometimes to let us know his plans for us, or to guard and guide us, or even to help us to see what’s really important. And it’s that last thing that the archangel Raphael does in today’s first reading. If we remember all the way back to Tuesday, we heard about Tobit being made blind by cataracts caused by bird droppings, and later in that same story, he scolded his wife for accepting a goat as a bonus on her labor, because he did not believe her story. I mentioned then that Tobit had to learn that charity – for which he was quite well known – begins at home. His period of blindness gave him that very insight, I think, and in today’s story he rejoices in his cleared vision.

Through the intercession of St. Raphael, Tobit regained his sight and was able to see his son safely returned from a long and dangerous journey. He saw also the return of his family fortune. And he saw the union of his son Tobit with his new wife Sarah. There was great cause for rejoicing in all that he was able to see and Tobit didn’t miss a beat in placing the credit where it belonged. He said,

Blessed be God,
and praised be his great name,
and blessed be all his holy angels.
May his holy name be praised
throughout all the ages.
Because it was he who scourged me,
and it is he who has had mercy on me.

And so we praise God today for angels who help us to see what’s really important. We praise God for angels who clear up our clouded vision and help us to see past the obstacles we’ve put in God’s way. We praise God for angels who help us to overcome our pride and self-righteousness so that God’s way can become clear to us. May we rejoice along with Tobit and Anna and all the rest that God has truly sent his angels to us often to bring us back to him.

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.”

St. Boniface

Today’s readings

Boniface was a Benedictine monk in England. He gave up the real possibility of being elected abbot of his community in order to reach out to the German people. Pope Gregory II sent Boniface to a Germany where paganism was a way of life, and where the clergy were at best uneducated and at worst corrupt and disobedient. Reporting all of this back to Pope Gregory, the Holy Father commissioned him to reform the German Church. He was provided with letters of introduction to civil and religious authorities, but even so met with some resistance and interference by both lay people and clergy. Yet, he was extremely successful, centering his reforms around teaching the virtue of obedience to the clergy and establishing houses of prayer similar to Benedictine monasteries. Boniface and 53 companions were finally martyred during a mission, in which he was preparing converts for Confirmation. The success of Boniface’s mission was that he helped the people and the clergy to see how far they had strayed from God’s plan for the Church.

In his blindness, Tobit came to see what was important, too. If we remember all the way back to Tuesday, we heard about Tobit being made blind by cataracts caused by bird droppings, and later in that same story, he scolded his wife for accepting a goat as a bonus on her labor, because he did not believe her story. I mentioned then that Tobit had to learn that charity – for which he was quite well known – begins at home. His period of blindness gave him that very insight, I think, and in today’s story he rejoices in his cleared vision.

Through the intercession of St. Raphael, Tobit regained his sight and was able to see his son safely returned from a long and dangerous journey. He saw also the return of his family fortune. And he saw the union of his son Tobit with his new wife Sarah. There was great cause for rejoicing in all that he was able to see and Tobit didn’t miss a beat in placing the credit where it belonged. He said,

Blessed be God,
and praised be his great name,
and blessed be all his holy angels.
May his holy name be praised
throughout all the ages,
Because it was he who scourged me,
and it is he who has had mercy on me.

And so we praise God today for angels who help us to see what’s really important. We praise God for angels who clear up our clouded vision and help us to see past the obstacles we’ve put in God’s way. We praise God for saints that point us back in the right direction – toward Jesus Christ. We praise God for all those witnesses who help us to overcome our pride and self-righteousness so that God’s way can become clear to us. May we rejoice along with Tobit and Anna and Boniface and his companions, and all the rest that God has brought us back to him, time and time again.

Tuesday of the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today Tobit finds out that charity begins at home. All his noble deeds of burying the dead are worth nothing if he does not know how to honor the living who are with him. The blindness he develops in today’s first reading is really on two counts. First, and most obviously, there is the physical blindness caused by the cataracts and the doctors’ treatments. But second, and perhaps more seriously, there is the blindness that is caused by cataracts of the heart. His physical blindness is beginning to embitter him, and he cannot “see” past his own suffering to see that others may be hurting too. He doesn’t even take time to listen to his wife, who has been laboring faithfully to support the family during his disability.

The Pharisees and Herodians in today’s Gospel had their own kind of blindness. They wanted to trap Jesus into being either a tax evader or an idolater. If he said don’t pay the census tax, he was an anarchist. If he said pay it, he was blasphemous. But Jesus isn’t going to fall for that. He sees that their blindness is a lack of generosity. Giving Caesar what belongs to Caesar is easy. The hard part is giving to God what belongs to God. That requires true generosity, a willingness to reach out to the poor and needy, a desire for union with God that requires prayer to burst forth into service.

If we would be people of the Gospel, we need to break free of the blindness that sometimes overwhelms us. We have to see past our own needs, and perhaps past our own suffering, to see the needs of those around us. We need to see past getting caught up in trivialities and instead open ourselves up in generosity to our God who is the most generous of all. We need to be the kind of people our Psalmist sings of today: “Lavishly he gives to the poor; his generosity shall endure forever…”

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Today’s readings
[These readings were used for the Mass of the Second Scrutiny.]

When Dad was alive, we pretty much couldn’t go anywhere with him and not have him find someone there that he knew. He’d been a softball coach for over 25 years, had been a catechist at church, and helped with the youth retreat for many years. So it often seemed like he knew everyone everywhere we went. Sometimes it was kind of annoying, to be honest. We had a schedule, but he had to stop and catch up with whoever it was he recognized. To us, they were all strangers, but to Dad, they were so-and-so’s brother, or the girl he coached fifteen years ago, or the son or daughter of someone he knew from church. Not only that, but Dad was able to see in them talents or gifts that they sometimes didn’t know they had. He brought out the best in those he coached, and after he died, many people told us how he encouraged and challenged them to do wonderful things. We knew he did those things for us, of course, but to know how he saw great things in others was a real blessing.

Dad had the kind of vision that God wanted from Samuel in today’s first reading. It’s easy to get caught up in seeing people from the outside, but God’s vision goes way beyond that – to the heart, to what makes the person whole and holy. Eliab was the logical choice for king of Israel. He was strong, mature, and good-looking; he would be charismatic enough to lead the people. But that’s not what God was looking for. He was looking for a man with a good heart, and David was that man. He too made a “splendid appearance” but that appearance went through to the core of who he was, and that was the vision God had for Israel.

Today’s readings are filled with images of vision – blindness and sight, light and darkness. And it’s our second reading today that points to the problem: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” Notice how it does not say “You were once in darkness” – no, it says, “You were once darkness.” We were once darkness itself, plagued by the darkness this world can so often bring upon us, engaging in the darkness that keeps us from seeing the heart of others but instead keeps us focused on their outward appearance or first impression. But, as that line also points out, we have the antidote – we have the Lord who makes us light – and not just people in the light, but people who are light itself. This is the crux of what the scriptures are getting at today.

The vision theme is really played out in today’s Gospel reading. We have here the man born blind, and his healing. So I imagine you’ll all be surprised to know that this story is not about the healing of the blind man. Sure, that’s how it looks on the surface, but just like Samuel, we are being called to look a little bit deeper. Yes, Jesus heals a blind man. He does that rather quickly, actually, like in the first minute of the story. Then we spend all the rest of that story standing there listening to something else. And that something else is the real story here – that something else is the healing of the formerly-blind man’s darkness from the inside out.

Notice the progression. He is sent to Siloam to wash and on coming out, he can see. He then is questioned by the people who knew him as a blind man about whether he was in fact the man who was blind. He replies “I am.” Then he has this to say about Jesus: this man called Jesus restored my sight, but I don’t know where he is now. Simple as that. Later he is questioned by the Pharisees, and when they suggest Jesus is a sinner because he does not respect the Sabbath, the blind man rejects this and says “he is a prophet.” He is questioned a second time by the Pharisees, and this time he goes a little further, he suggests that he is a disciple of Jesus, and when he meets Jesus after being thrown out of the synagogue, makes a beautiful confession of faith and says, “I do believe, Lord.” His faith has grown from being in total darkness, to recognizing Jesus as a man who healed him, to seeing him as a prophet, to acknowledging him as Lord and God. He has grown in his faith.

So that, I would suggest, is the real story here. We have a story of a man who has grown in his faith. Just like last week, if you came to the nine o’clock Mass, we had the story of the woman at the well. It wasn’t just a story about a woman who gave Jesus a drink of water. It was a story of a woman who came to know Jesus more deeply, and realized that she was really thirsting for that living water that only Jesus can give.

There are a couple of details in the story of the healing of the blind man that are worth noticing. First, he is sent to the pool of Siloam to wash the clay off of his eyes. So the detail here is that there is water involved. Whenever we see water mentioned in the Scriptures, it usually reminds us of a certain sacrament – what sacrament is that? Right, baptism. So what’s involved here is a baptismal moment, in which a man who was formerly plagued by darkness is now redeemed and re-created and comes to new life and light through the sacramental remedy of baptism. The name of the pool – “Siloam” – is significant. We are told that it means “sent.” So by washing in the pool of Siloam, the man receives baptism and is then sent forth into his true vocation. This is a mirror of our own baptisms in which the blindness that we are born with is washed away in the pool of baptism and we are sent forth to be people of light.

The second little detail is the answer the man gives when he is first questioned by those who used to know him as the blind man. He is asked whether he is indeed the man who was born blind, and he says, “I am.” That probably is a familiar Scriptural phrase for you. Because whenever you hear it, it’s always in reference to God. When Moses asks God who he should say sent him to deliver the Israelites from Egypt, God says, “tell them I Am sent you.” In the Gospel of John, the phrase “I am” is used many times, but only by Jesus and in relation to himself. Except for this one time. Here it is used by the man re-created from darkness to light. Why would that be? Well, nothing in the Gospels is ever an accident, so we can dismiss that thought – it’s certainly no mere coincidence.

What I think it means is that this man is presented now as another Christ, who has been healed and forgiven and converted from darkness to light and now sent into the world to witness to his faith and draw others to faith in God. And here, then is the real story, finally. The story is about all of us. We are the “other Christs” who are washed clean and recreated from darkness to light in baptism, and are called on to deepen our faith throughout our lives, and to spread the light to every corner of the dark places in which we live. We have to be people who reject the devil’s darkness: we have to reject seeing and labeling people in negative ways, reject racism and hatred, reject violence, terrorism, war and crime, reject the idea that life is expendable, we have to simply reject the darkness this world calls us to in all its forms. We have to go to the pool of baptism and allow God to recreate us as people of light.

We do this together with our Elect, those who will receive the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist at Easter. As they come before us for the second scrutiny today, we reflect on the darkness in our own lives and we set it before the One who is light itself, the source of the light that we receive at baptism, and we renew our pledge to be the “other Christs” who will spread the light in our world – in our workplaces, our schools, our communities, wherever it is that God puts us. Because God intends to recreate those places, and all the people who are in them, with his wonderful light as well.

Physical blindness isn’t nearly as destructive as the blindness that comes from stubbornly resisting the light. There is no sin in physical blindness. But we cannot – indeed we must not – remain as the Pharisees, saying “we see just fine, thank you.” That is the way sin remains. Just like the man born blind, we have to acknowledge our own darkness in order that it would be exposed to Christ’s wonderful light.