Sunday Sermon for October 28, the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Readings: Jer 31:7-9; Heb 5:1-6; Mk 10:46-52
In the first reading today we hear the Lord telling Israel to shout for joy and to proclaim her praise because the Lord has delivered her. The Lord knows the sorrow the people endured as they went into exile, but now there is rejoice because they are going back to their own land. What is important to note is that the Lord did not deliver only the strong and the great, but we are told about the blind, the lame and the mothers who are heavy with child. Those who are in special circumstances frequently recognize more readily than others their need to depend on the Lord.
We see this same truth in the Gospel as blind Bartimaeus is sitting along the roadside begging when Jesus walks by. Upon learning that it is the Lord, he begins to cry out for mercy. The people rebuked him, but he just cried out all the louder. This blind man was able to see clearly what those with 20/20 vision were unable to see: that Jesus was the only One who could heal their blindness.
Bartimaeus was physically blind, but he had profound spiritual insight. The other people, in contrast, had fine physical eyesight but they were spiritually blind. Sight is a beautiful gift that most of us take for granted. Spiritual sight is a far greater gift and few are really seeking it. Bartimaeus was healed on the natural level because of his ability to see on the spiritual plane. Most people are unaware that there even is a spiritual kind of sight because we tend to stay on the natural level.
Bartimaeus is a word that combines both the Hebrew and the Latin to mean Son of fear. The latter part of the name could be Greek, which would make it son of honor. But the text seems to suggest that it is the former meaning that is reflected in the name. When Jesus calls the man the people tell him to take courage and get up. This point about the courage, the need to put fear aside, is what suggests most strongly the Latin root of the second part of this name.
So why am I wasting space taking about something so inconsequential? I do not think it inconsequential at all. It seems to me that the Evangelist is trying to make a point in a subtle, but profound manner. There are two kinds of fear: servile and filial. Servile fear is the frightened kind of fear, a fear of punishment or rejection. Filial fear is one of love, such that the person holds another in such esteem that he fears to do anything that would offend the other person in any way.
St. Mark is letting us know that we do not have to be afraid of Jesus. We can approach Him with confidence, not because we are so great, but because we know that He loves us. If Israel needed the blind and the lame in their midst to teach others to rely on the Lord, then the same is true today. So many are blind to the reality of God’s love and mercy.
Notice that Bartimaeus is calling out for mercy. While there can be mercy extended to others on the natural level, Bartimaeus is calling for something deeper. So many live in either ignorance or despair in our world today. They know neither the truth of God’s love nor His mercy. Be we are like Bartimaeus for these people. They, like the people in the Gospel, think that they have insight and knowledge of what will make them happy or what will bring fulfillment. They think we are blind because we do not see sin as being a means to anything but emptiness and despair.
In their blindness they are not able to recognize the Lord in our midst, the One Who is God and the only One Who can extend the mercy they need. Bartimaeus demonstrated filial fear as he called for mercy from the Author of Mercy. For us, too, as St. Paul reminds us in the second reading, we have a great High Priest, Jesus, Who was appointed to this position by His Father. As High Priest He offered Himself in a gift of pure love as a sacrifice to take away our sins.
As High Priest He mediates for us before the throne of His Father in Heaven. He is the only source of mercy for the world and the unfortunate souls in it. In order to help them, we need to recognize our dependence on the Lord, rejoice in Him and call upon Him with confidence because He has delivered us from the blindness of the present darkness. Your clarity in this regard will help provide insight for those who are, at present, spiritually blind.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.