29th Sunday in Ordinary Time: "Purity of Courage"
We continue to follow Jesus in His journey to Jerusalem. He was leading His disciples and a great multitude as He set His face resolutely to go to Jerusalem. Jerusalem represents the Son of God coming not to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many. We follow Him because this is what we desire in our hearts – to be like Him- to be a servant; to be a giver; and to be a giver of life. And in order to do this, we need vision.
It is ironic that in the past chapters and verses in the gospel of Mark, those who were physically not blind actually could not see. The disciples, Peter, Pharisees, the rich young ruler, James and John, all could see. The disciples witnessed how Jesus fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fish, but the gospel says that they had not gained insight in the incident of the loaves. Peter and the apostles could not get what Jesus said, after three times that He mentioned, how that He, the Messiah, must suffer in the hands of sinners in Jerusalem, must be put to death and on the third day rise again. Peter still said, “No, that would not happen,” because he still could not see the will of God and what was written in Scriptures.
The Pharisees, the leaders supposedly of the people who were tasked to making God known, still missed the sacraments that they saw marriage as something that they could take advantage of to satisfy their pleasure. The rich, young ruler also could not see how that the true treasure is found in the kingdom of God, not in earthly possessions. With James and John, they could not understand what the kingdom of God is all about. It is not about power, prestige, position or whatever the world values as something we should pursue.
Jesus said, “The worries of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for other things choke the Word.” The Word is that which is intended to enrich and to sustain us, and that which God wants abundant in us. We are not of the world. We have a different culture in the kingdom of God. We are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart, and God’s own possession so that we could show forth the praises of Him. God has translated us out of darkness into His kingdom of light. We are no longer in darkness. God intends for us to live in the light. In the kingdom of God, it is different. We are peculiar. It is not about pleasure, not about possessions, not about position, power or prestige but about joy, peace, righteousness in the Holy Spirit.
In the gospel, it talked about Bartimaeus. Bar – means son, and –timaeus means honor. He was a son of honor, yet he finds himself on the side of the road begging, marginalized, looked down upon, told to shut up, and without dignity. He was made in the image of God, but short of it. Do we sometimes feel this? We hear preachers, teachers, and clergy telling us that we were made in the image of God. We have dignity and honor, and yet when we go home, we find ourselves in circumstances and situations that make us feel that we are a scum. It is like that we are a beggar, a nobody and without honor. We don’t have to stay here. Sometimes the circumstances tell us to forget shouting out to God. In the story of Job, his wife told him, “Forget about calling out to God. He made you suffer. What you are going through is not worth calling out to God.” Do we sometimes feel like this way? Do we feel circumstances overwhelm us that we forget that the real answer and the light comes from only one Source? It is the light that enlightens every man, as John 1:9 says. We have to acknowledge our need of enlightenment.
There are lessons from the story of Bartimaeus. One, we need to realize that we are blind or at least we don’t see fully yet. St. Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians, “For now, we see dimly as in a mirror a cloudy reflection.” We need to acknowledge that we don’t fully see yet. Jesus confronted the Pharisees in John 9:41 when they asked Him, “We are not blind, too, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you acknowledge that you are blind, you would have no sin; but since you say that you see, your sin remains.” This happens because we refuse the light, the help that comes from Jesus who is the only One that can give us vision.
We have this phrase term “Pharisaic arrogant certitude” where we claim that we already know what the preacher or the pastor says because we have a relationship with God, and we say that we are not like those who cannot see. We think that we have gotten things figured out, and we think that we see and others don’t. We hear while others don’t. We see the speck in our brother’s eye and we fail to see the log in our own eye. Sometimes we think that others cannot see or cannot hear like we can, but maybe the problem is with us. We need to acknowledge that all of us need enlightenment from the Light coming to the world. We need to humbly see that we need vision.
There is the story of a Rabbi asking two men, “How do you know when night is over and a new day has begun? One said, “If you look to the East, and are able to distinguish between a sheep and a goat, then, a new day has begun.” The other man said, “Well, it is when you look to the East and you see a fig tree and an olive tree, and distinguish one from the other.” Both men asked the rabbi, “What about you? How do you know that the night is over and the new day has begun?” The rabbi said, “It is when you look to the East and you see a man, and you are able to say, ‘He is my brother.’ Or if you look to the East and see a woman and you are able to say, ‘She is my sister.’ If you are not able to say that they are your brother or your sister, it doesn’t matter what time it is to you. It is still night.” We need the vision of God to see this. We see people, but what we do see in them? Do we see them as our brothers? Do we see in them Jesus? Do we see in them the naked Jesus wanting to be clothed? Do we see in the least of our brothers the presence of Jesus? We need to acknowledge that kind of vision and it can only come from God.
The second lesson that we can learn from the story of Bartimaeus is that: desperately with unrelenting faith seek restoration of our sight. When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was there, he grabbed the opportunity and jumped up, and he called out, “Son of David.” He “saw” Jesus. He was the first to use this Messianic phrase. The religious people did not recognize Jesus as the Christ. Peter did only when God revealed it to him that he said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” But a few verses after he said this in the gospel, he forgot all about it and he didn’t understand what being a Messiah was all about. Bartimaeus saw and he understood and realized that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of David. When he faced opposition, being told to be silent, all the more he shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those who told him to shut up turned out to be the ones who led them to Jesus. They said, “Take courage, He is calling for you.”
God causes all things to work together for good. Maybe, we face situations that made us feel that we should just shut up or stop calling to God. This is the time that we all the more need to shout and to proclaim the need for the Messiah and for His help. Situations will turn around and it will usher His presence and lead us to the answer.
The third lesson that we can learn is that Bartimaeus gave an immediate and total response to God’s call to him. He jumped up and threw off cloak. The cloak of a beggar is his security blanket. It protected him from the weather. Being a beggar, the cloak represented all that he possessed and what he did was to throw it. Contrast it the rich young ruler, he already obeyed before he reached Jesus. He was told to get rid of all the things that he had placed his trust in, and Jesus told him to look only to Him. On the other hand, Bartimaeus followed Jesus on the way, on His journey.
Who is likely to see? Who is likely to see the vision? It is he who hears the voice of God. Thus, they are bound to regain his sight. It is he who seeks against all odds. It is he who puts all their trust in Jesus, and is ready to obey and to respond His calling.
A theological term called hermeneutics means the right interpretation of the Scriptures, seeing the background and the culture of when it was told. There is the group of Christians called the hermeneutics of obedience. They are not the analytical, intelligent, interpretation of Scripture, but it is the understanding that begins with a heart, not the mind, and that is willing to obey. If it is of the mind, it is head knowledge.
Jesus said in John 7:17, “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself.” If there is a willingness to obey, we can understand God’s will. Psalm 119:100 says, “I understand more than the aged, because I have observed Your precepts.” Understanding comes from obedience and/or the willing to obey. It is not only a matter of the mind, but of the heart. Solomon’s prayer to God was to have wisdom because he wanted to please God and to be able to fulfill his calling and be pleasing to God. What God did was to give him even that which he did not asked for because he delighted God. Psalm 37 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” It is a prerequisite to delight ourselves in the Lord because the desires of our hearts will be in accordance to that of delighting in the Lord. It is not in accordance to power, prestige, position and possession, but it is according and after God’s own heart.
In our Collect of the day, we prayed, “…so that we may obtained what You promised, make us first love what You command.” A hymn that we sang said, “Has Thou not seen how all thy longings have been granted in all that He ordained it according to what He set, according to His will.”
Jesus asked James and John the same question that He asked Bartimaeus: “What do you want Me to do for you?” James and John did not get what they asked for because their request was just to satisfy their whim, a worldly self-centered will, not according to the will of God, to the delight of a godly heart. Bartimaeus request was according to the will of God because after he received his sight, he followed Jesus. We need vision especially when we are tired of failure and of defeat. We hear victory being preached day in and day out, week in, week out and all we see around us is defeat, darkness and failure that we are overwhelmed and discouraged.
Be like blind Bartimaeus. Learn from his attitude: seek desperately, respond immediately and totally. God has called us out of darkness, but He is continually calling us out of darkness because He wants us to fully be in His kingdom of light for the purpose of showing forth His praises, to display His works, and to declare His glory for this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.