Sunday, October 25, 2015

Bartimaeus, a Blind Man

                                    30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
                                


           
Today’s first reading from the book of the Prophet Jeremiah is about the Lord’s deliverance of his people from slavery. He speaks of an immense crowd finally able to return to their native land.

Behold, I will bring them back
From the land of the north;
I will gather them from the ends of the world,
With the blind and the lame in their midst…

In today’s gospel reading from Mark we can see that the cure of one blind man by Jesus is a fulfillment of the prophecy. Bartimaeus was the blind man’s name. Actually “bar” means “son of” and so the poor beggar is only identified as the son of his father, Timaeus. Bartimaeus is begging at the entrance to Jericho when he hears that Jesus is passing by followed by a large crowd.  He raises his voice and says, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”

We are told that people tried to stop his shouting but he persisted until Jesus stops and calls for him. Immediately, the man jumps up and approaches Jesus who simply asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” His reply is simply, “Master, I want to see.” In a way, we can all put ourselves in the place of Bartimaeus when we approach Jesus. What prayer could we say that would be any better than “Master, I want to see.”

Mark does not bother with any details but only indicates that a few words from Jesus were enough to enable Bartimaeus to see. “Go your way, your faith has saved you.” 

Today, many people like to think of Jesus as a good man and a fine teacher. Despite the accounts of miracles like the one above, they find it hard to see that Jesus is something else. Such was not the case with the people who witnessed these miraculous healings as well as with the early followers of Jesus. In our second reading today, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews calls Jesus a High Priest according to the line of the ancient priest Melchizedek.

The role of the High Priest is to offer gifts and sacrifices for the remission of the sins of his people. He is also to deal patiently with the ignorant and the erring. While High Priests were taken from men to perform their role, Jesus was a unique and special case. He is the Son of God. His followers recalled the words at the Baptism.

You are my son: this day I have begotten you.

Jesus said that it was the faith of Bartimaeus that saved him and allowed him to see. But Bartimaeus could not see until he encountered Jesus on the road to Jericho.


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Reading 1.  Jeremiah 31: 7-9
Reading II. Hebrews 5: 1-6
Gospel. Mark 1Mark 10: 46-52 (Bartimaeus, a blind man)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Ransom for Many

                                    29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
                                    

           
All three readings today deal with self-sacrifice, the central element of our Christian faith. The first reading is part of the suffering servant discourse from the book of the Prophet Isaiah. The words have always been applied to the work of Jesus.

If he gives his life as an offering for sin,
He shall see his descendants in a long life,
And the will of the Lord shall be accomplished through him.

The second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that in Jesus we have a priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses because He too was tested in every way.

In today’s gospel reading Jesus obviously applies the words of Isaiah to Himself but then also to all who would follow him.

For the son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.

The remark of Jesus had been prompted by a dispute that had broken our among his followers. James and John had asked for special treatment in the Kingdom of God. It was a foolish request and Jesus told them, “you do not know what you are asking.” After all, to share in His glory would mean sharing in all the pain and suffering He was going to endure.

When the other apostles heard of the request of James and John, they became indignant at the two brothers. At that point Jesus calls them all together and tells them that the way of the Gentiles cannot be their way. Their place in the Kingdom of God will not be one of authority but of service.

Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;
Whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.

Whenever we hear the word “Gentile” in scripture we should broaden our horizon beyond biblical times. In those days, anyone not a Jew was called a Gentile by the Jews, who severely limited their contact with foreigners. Not only did Gentiles fail to acknowledge one God, but also their ways and customs were often regarded as unclean. Although Jesus went out of his way to praise and help virtuous Gentiles, he warned his followers to avoid their bad behavior.

You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them,
And their great ones make their authority felt.

The Gentiles are still with us today. Our great ones still make their authority felt. Even though we live in a democracy and our leaders call themselves public servants, they often act like the potentates of old. They constantly give speeches but rarely listen to anyone but their wealthy contributors. They take the best places at banquets or gatherings. During the recent visit of Pope Francis to America, leading politicians usually found their way to the front row even at Mass.

I recently found a wonderful example of true service right in my own parish community. Recently, my wife and I attended a dinner in our own parish to raise funds for “Off the Streets”, a small organization formed a few years ago to help the “homeless” find homes. It was created by a deacon of the Diocese of Bridgeport, and one of the deacons in my parish formed the local chapter.

“Off the Streets” found that families with children make up about 36% of the homeless population. Single men make up 44% while single women make up about 13%. The remaining 7% are unaccompanied minors. Surprisingly, about 44% of the homeless are doing paid work. However, these cannot afford the security deposit on an apartment, or the expenses involved in furnishing the apartment.

“Off the Streets” works to meet this need by providing the security deposit and the basic furnishings for an apartment. The organization relies entirely on volunteers who receive no pay. Its overhead is about $20 per month but so far it has managed to find housing for almost 1000 families and individuals.

In the Acts of the Apostles we find that deacons played a very important role in the very beginning of the church. When the Apostles found it difficult to tend to all the physical needs of their growing community, they appointed deacons to assist in the care of the needy. But over the centuries the diaconate became just a kind of temporary step in the process of ordaining a priest. However, after the Second Vatican Council the Church created the permanent diaconate as a way for the laity to take a more important role.

Today the deacons and volunteers who staff “Off the Streets” are literally following the words of Jesus to be servants of all. *

Reading 1.  Isaiah 53: 10-11
Reading II. Hebrews 4: 14-16
Gospel. Mark 10: 35-45 (a ransom for many)

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* Note In its brief existence, “Off the Streets” has succeeded in providing almost 1000 homeless individuals and families with a place to live. It has a devoted group of volunteers who work year round. In its pamphlet OTS explained how it helps.

*OTS generally pays security deposits and other upfront costs.
*OTS’ process can usually provide a fully furnished apartment in as little as two to fourteen days.
*OTS provides basic household (furniture, bedding, etc.) to help give our clients a fresh start.
*A bus ticket can get a homeless person off the streets when family from out of town are willing to take in the person.
The Off theStreets website provides much more information of what it does and on the ways others can help.


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