30th Sunday in Ordinary Time | October 24/25, 2015
Before reading on, you can take a look at the readings here. This reflection focuses on the Gospel reading.
Over the past few weeks,* we’ve been journeying with Jesus and the disciples as they travel south from Caesarea Philippi to Galilee to Judea. Along the way, we hear three times 1) Jesus predict his suffering, death and resurrection, followed by 2) the disciples’ inability (or refusal?) to process the meaning of Jesus’ predictions, and then 3) a teachable moment in which Jesus tries to impress upon the disciples what it truly means to follow him (1).
Today’s Gospel, the healing of blind Bartimaeus, along with Mark’s other account of the healing of a blind man (Mark 8:22-26), act as bookends to this journey towards Jerusalem. The restoration of sight, in both instances, can be seen as a metaphor for the disciples’ eventual insight into the meaning of discipleship when viewed through the lens of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.
Consistent with the upside down kingdom that Jesus describes throughout the Gospel, it is the anawim — “those without status or power who depend upon God as their sole source of hope and help” (2) — who immediately recognize who Jesus truly is, and it is those who are in positions of power and prestige who are blind to Jesus’ identity.
If you’re like I am, you’ve heard Mark’s Gospel proclaimed hundreds of times over the past few decades of sitting in Sunday Mass. It’s part of the beauty (at times, downside) of the liturgy. What we hear in the readings every Sunday is part of a larger 3-part cycle, so it’s inevitable that there is repetition. If we miss something the first or second (or third, or fourth…) time, it’s likely that we’ll get it eventually.
Upon this particular round of reading Mark’s Gospel, I couldn’t help but wonder if the author had a wry sense of humor. It’s hard not to miss that the picture being painted of the disciples isn’t exactly flattering. In fact, they come across as a little dense. Just when you think they’re starting to understand what Jesus has to say, they do something that says otherwise. Several scenes on the way to Jerusalem come to mind:
Peter rebuking Jesus for talking about the necessity of his own suffering and death.
The disciples arguing over who was the greatest.
James and John asking for seats of honor next to Jesus.
It’s like — “Come on, guys! Jesus just got done talking about the last being first, becoming like children, learning to be the servant of all. Weren’t you paying attention?!”
I imagine the Gospel-writer chuckling to himself as he frames these vignettes of the disciples failing to understand Jesus’ central message — that suffering is an inevitable and necessary part of being his follower — with stories of blind men needing Jesus’ healing presence in order to see. It’s as if the author is hanging up flashing arrows, pointing at the blindness of Jesus’ own disciples.
Then, I realize — Wait a minute. I’m a disciple, too.
Isn’t it funny how easy it is to pass judgment on the bumbling disciples, when in fact, we are just as much a part of these Gospel stories as they are? If we claim to be followers of Christ, then we are just as susceptible to the trappings of wealth and honor and power that they were, we are just as likely to be blind or deaf to the message of Christ.
Just this past week, I was lamenting over the fact that, with my ministry degree, I will never have an earning potential that even compares to some of my friends. I kept opening my closet, hoping that more clothes would magically appear. I kept updating our budget, wishing that we didn’t have to always think twice about going out to eat. I daydreamed about going back to work, so that someone other than my 4-month old daughter, could be present and recognize all the little things that get done when no one is looking.
And then I think of the disciples who, at this point in Mark’s Gospel, are still hung up on status, on being the greatest, on the idea of a Messiah who would lead an army and defeat the Romans — not the Suffering Servant that Jesus keeps alluding to. I think of the disciples who have walked and talked and eaten meals with Jesus, and who still can’t seem to fully grasp his message. And then I think of Bartimaeus who, in his blindness, called out to Jesus and knew exactly what he needed when asked: “Master, I want to see.”
You see, the irony of spiritual blindness is that one has to realize that they are blind before they can ask for sight. I mentioned earlier that there can be a downside to repetition in liturgy. That if we hear something often enough, if we become too familiar and comfortable with something, it is easy to assume that we know everything we need to know because we’ve already seen it or heard it before. If we’re not intentional, it is easy for us to become tone deaf to God’s voice speaking loudly in Scripture, blind to God moving in the world around us.
This week, may we come to recognize any blind spots in our lives so that we, along with Bartimaeus, are able to cry out to Jesus and say, “Master, I want to see.” And that upon receiving our sight, we might find the courage to follow Jesus on the way — to Jerusalem, on the way of the cross.
*since the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
(1) Newsom, Carol A. Women’s Bible Commentary. 3rd Ed., Twentieth Anniversary ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012. 485.
(2) Hamm, Dennis, Jeanette Von Herrmann, Mary McGlone, and Lisa Orchen. At Home With the Word 2015: Sunday Scriptures and Scripture Insights. Chicago, IL: Liturgy Training Publications, 2014. 141.