Today’s readings: Jeremiah 31, 7-9; Hebrews 5, 1-6; Mark 10, 46-52.
Jericho was the last stop en route to the city of David, and St Mark, not accidentally, here sets the scene of Bartimaeus, the blind man, as Jesus was leaving Jericho. Strictly speaking this is a story of discipleship rather than healing.
There are many significant elements in the narrative that confirm this: Bartimaeus shouts loud the title ‘Son of David’; in spite of the crowd seeking to silence him, he persisted; the gesture of throwing off the cloak; and finally, having his sight restored, he kept following Jesus.
It seems that in all this, Mark wants to emphasise not the action or teaching of Jesus but the struggle of Bartimaeus to come out of his hiding to the light. This beggar, in contrast with James and John and with the rich man in preceding texts, simply begs for ‘vision’. The disciple-adventure demands that we recognise our blindness and that we seek true vision where our own life and that of the world around us is concerned.
‘Vision’, in the case of Bartimaeus in the gospel, is a question not just of physical sight. Bartimaeus, thanks to Jesus, found his way out of the exile he lived in and recognised who Jesus really was. ‘Vision’ in the case of Old Testament Israel, as we read from Jeremiah, is a question of facing the exile and being led from despair to hope.
Today’s text from Jeremiah is a powerful poetic text, the core of the hope the prophet was conveying to his people. It was the time of the return from exile which for Israel meant the second exodus, the first being the one out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses.
The ministry of Jeremiah in this context was to convey the newness of God, to speak boldly and poetically even in the face of tragedy and trauma. It is not a question of rhetoric, the clichés we so easily repeat in the face of suffering and death. Jeremiah shows strongly, as Walter Brueggemann writes, that “resurrection faith is not only something for funerals”.
Jeremiah’s word, Brueggemann continues, is not a sure doctrine or a new piety or a reassuring morality. It is an assertion that living in denial is living in falseness, and that it is only “facing the exile” that yields joy and freedom. Jeremiah watched, and saw clearly what his people were going through. All along, he kept holding on to his dream. A prophet, as Elie Wiesel describes him, is someone who sees people as they are, and as they ought to be.
There is a dying going on among us even in our times. In our reading of the times it is not enough to see things as they are. There is always the risk of misreading the situation, of wrongly diagnosing and missing the right therapy.
Entering the pain and the grief around us wrongly distorts our understanding and leads to no vision. This is a risk even the Church itself at times succumbs to, pretending to minister to today’s society by teaching doctrine or just encouraging piety.
The prophets teach us important lessons about resilience, even the modern-day ones, if and when we acknowledge them. Resilience is normally defined as the capacity to bounce back.
In physics it refers to a material’s quality to resist deformation or destruction. This has obvious metaphorical parallels for us in our struggles to cope with adversity, to be constant in resisting destruction, and to be able to construct, come what may, a new sense for our living.
Basically this is what our ministry should be about today. It was what Jeremiah kept doing with his people in the trauma of exile and what Jesus did with Bartimaeus, not only restoring his sight, but particularly restoring back to him the dignity he had completely lost as a blind beggar. These readings provide the right perspective for a re-visioning of what we, as believers, are expected to give to society.
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