30th Sunday of the Year

Monday, October 25, 2021 - 17:45

Fr. Patrick Fitzgerald-Lombard, O.Carm., is parish priest of the parish of St. Thomas of Canterbury, Mayfield, Sussex. He is a member of the Aylesford Community. Today, Fr. Patrick is reflecting on the readings from yesterday's Mass. Please read Fr Patrick's introduction and please re-look at the readings for Sunday before continuing (these will open in a separate window for ease of reading):

“What can I do for you?” says Jesus to the blind man this Sunday as he says to all of us. Last Sunday the Gospel came to a climax with the saying that the Son of Man had come to serve and to give his life for many. Now we follow the consequences of that saying as we echo the blind man’s faith and request to see again.

So instead of following the saying straight away with the ascent to Jerusalem, Mark tells of a brief encounter in Jericho between Jesus and a blind man. Although this encounter is told in all three Synoptic Gospels, it is especially important for Mark. This healing of a blind man comes after the climax of Jesus' teaching about discipleship and before the arrival in Jerusalem. It has therefore an important place in the Gospel. Earlier in the Gospel there was a healing of a blind man which was complicated and took place in two stages. Here the healing will be simple and immediate. The two healings form a bracket around the central section of the Gospel, recounting Jesus' journey or way from Caesarea Philippi to Jerusalem. On the way, as we have seen, Jesus has been predicting his fate as well as teaching about true discipleship. 

This came to its climax with the saying about the Son of Man. This episode about the blind man has several purposes. Firstly, it provides a pause in the story which eases the tension arising in the previous episodes. It also provides a contrast to those episodes; instead of those disciples getting it all wrong, here we have someone who wishes to be a disciple and gets it right. It then shows the process of conversion so that the blind man moves from being by the way to being on the way. With that, the theme of the way which has been prominent in the journey to Jerusalem is brought to its conclusion.

Going through the story, it begins in a definite place, Jericho is the last stop before the ascent to Jerusalem. The beggar is named, Bartimaeus, the only time that this is for one of the little people of this Gospel, those who make just a brief appearance in the story and show they have a true faith in Jesus. The scene is also very public with both the disciples and a large crowd following Jesus. The crowd will have an important role in what follows.

Being both a beggar and one who is blind, Bartimaeus would have been a complete nobody, though he has a name. As we would expect, the overtones of blindness here are spiritual as well. Baritmaeus seeks the sight of faith.

In Greek, but not always rendered by most translations , Bartimaeus is sitting "by the way". From there, Bartimaeus cries out for mercy through Jesus. The crowds promptly rebuke him, and try to silence him, as crowds do. He is a nobody, it is not for him to trouble Jesus. Bartimaeus however is not put off, he just cries more loudly until Jesus hears him. Again he calls Jesus "Son of David".

Jesus the tells the crowd to call the man. And the crowd changes its tune, as crowds do: "Courage, he is calling you." This change in the attitude of the crowd is told only by Mark. Leaving aside his cloak is noteworthy: it would have been the most important item owned by Bartimaeus because the cloak keeps him warm at night. The book of Exodus insists that the cloak must be returned at night. So the blind man casts aside his most precious garment. Jesus asks Bartimaeus what he wants and the reply is a simple "I want to see" which we can understand as both physically and spiritually. The faith of the man rewarded, his total trust in God is fulfilled. From being "by the way", Bartimaeus now follows Jesus "on the way". He has become the complete disciple. This is the way that leads to Jerusalem and the cross.

The blind man is no longer a nobody, he is now a somebody, Bartimaeus by name, and as such he represents everybody. We too have to take Jesus’ question as addressed to us, we too need to seek true sight, insight. Here we have sight as a metaphor, how often we say “I see” for “I understand”. The blind who will never receive physical sight can still make this metaphor their own. Often, when one sense is deficient, other senses compensate. I remember too hearing a comment many years ago that a radio play is better for the young than television because the lack of sight encourages the imagination. Experience also often enables people to see what others miss, a doctor looking at the patient for example. We are therefore those looking for something deeper, the true meaning of our lives which we find in Jesus, the call to faith in him. That deeper insight is to be open to his way. The disciples were stuck in their way of thinking, unable to break free. Bartimaeus faced down the opposition of the crowd, 
persisted in crying out so that Jesus was able to hear him. We can think of the much fuller account in the story of the man born blind in the Gospel of John when even his parents rejected him. 

We therefore follow Jesus “on the way”. My Italian missal calls this Sunday is Il cammino della fede, the way of faith, which is a reminder of the Spanish Camino frequently used to refer to the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. The traditional walking pilgrimage has become common once again in our times, several times I have followed the Holy Week walking pilgrimage to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. Walking hour after hour, day after day, becomes a way of discovery, bringing out and transforming our deeper selves. Hopefully through this transforming experience our search for God and our faith will become stronger. The Camino though can quickly become a community, people who start out on their own soon find themselves in a group going from one hostel to another. The pilgrimage becomes a shared journey, encouraging and supporting one another. The reading from the prophet Jeremiah and the psalm bring out this extra dimension of the pilgrimage of faith. Unusually we have this 
week a complete psalm, one of the pilgrimage psalms, this one celebrating the return of the people from exile to Jerusalem. Jeremiah too as part of his book of consolation has the joyful pilgrimage of the people ascending to Jerusalem. It is a triumphal procession of the whole people. We are not alone, we are part of the great crowd following Jesus on the way of the cross. This way will become the way of resurrection so we proclaim: 

What marvels the Lord worked for us, indeed we were glad.