30th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Oct. 25, 2015
Mark 10: 46-52
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle
“As Jesus was leaving Jericho…, Bartimaeus, a blind man, … sat by the roadside begging” (Mark 10: 46).
Jesus has passed thru Jericho and come to the outskirts of the city, to the periphery, to use one of Pope Francis’s favorite words. More significant, there he finds a blind beggar, a man who is on the periphery of society.
The people around Jesus—and this presumably includes the 12—want Bartimaeus to stay there on the periphery. When he calls out to Jesus, they tell him to hush. You’d think that at this point in Jesus’ ministry, the disciples—not only the 12 but all of them—would know Jesus’ concern for the poor and disadvantaged. You’d think that at this point they’d have absorbed a little bit of his teaching about service having precedence over power.
You’d think that at this point in the life of Jesus’ Church we also would have absorbed those lessons and would find it perfectly natural to go to the peripheries—both places and the people who live and struggle in those places—and wouldn’t need the extraordinary charisma of a Pope to push us in that direction. You wouldn’t think that the Pope would have to chastise high-ranking clerics about careerism or urge lower-ranking ones to get out of their rectories and into the lives of their people.
I know that the Ursulines are indeed sensitive to the world’s outcasts, and you strive to make your pupils and others likewise sensitive—to immigrants and refugees, the unemployed, struggling families, et al.—our 21st-century versions of blind Bartimaeus. Strive also to be sensitive to the needs—emotional, spiritual, and physical—of the people immediately around you, your sisters in community. Could there be sisters on some kind of social or physical periphery here or elsewhere in your province?
The episode of Bartimaeus is, of course, just one example of how Jesus showed sensitivity, and more, to the people around him and the people on the edges of society. We turn now to what the son of Timaeus does, this man whose proper name we don’t know but whose story merited Mark’s attention.
Jesus tells him to go his way (10:52). (The Greek text—upage—actually says, “Go off”; “be on your way” is a fair rendering.) Jesus, tho, does not instruct him to “come” or “follow me.” He dismisses Bartimaeus to go where he pleases, to go about his business.
And what does the healed man, the man who now sees in a way he didn’t see before, do? He follows Jesus “on the way.” He goes the way of Jesus. What is Jesus’ way? We’ve been hearing it for several weeks: he’s on his way to Jerusalem, to the cross, to giving his life as a ransom (10:32-34). The man who was blind sees what no one else does—not the scribes and Pharisees, not the crowd that tried to hush him up, not even the 12. He alone makes his way the way of Jesus by willingly following where Jesus is going.
Bartimaeus is opting for the community of Jesus’ disciples, albeit with—this is implied rather than stated—more insight than anyone else; opting for community rather than individualism, self-centeredness, going his own separate way. Jesus instructed him to be off, but he doesn’t go his individual way. You know that a lot of folks today want to be “spiritual but not religious,” i.e., not part of any organized religion, not part of a religious community (parish or church). None of that for Bartimaeus! He goes with Jesus, the 12, and the rest of the disciples. He’s demonstrating for us the free, total choice of Jesus and of community.
There’s more in Bartimaeus’s choice—for Mark’s readers, for us, if not for Bartimaeus directly. He can’t have been aware of all that Jesus has been teaching the 12 in the preceding passages, such as last Sunday’s gospel (10:35-45), which immediately precedes this one in Mark 10.
This community that Bartimaeus is joining is very far from perfect. James and John were just plotting a coup, to get themselves the key places of power and influence in Jesus’ kingdom, and the other 10 were “indignant” with them because of that. They argue among themselves like a bunch of kids. Jesus has to explain to them again what “greatness” in his kingdom means; has to remind them that he’s on his way toward the surrender of his life and not the conquest of a kingdom, at least not a kingdom as they understand it.
As I said, Bartimaeus must not be aware of any of that. But we, Mark’s readers, are. We are part of a very imperfect, still-on-the-way community, like the one that Bartimaeus is choosing to join even as he attaches himself to Christ. Christ’s community of disciples is a community of sinners. Some people can’t handle that, and they divorce themselves from the great community of the Church—Martin Luther, Marcel Lefevre, the “spiritual but not religious” types, and many ordinary religious dropouts who can’t fathom membership alongside a bunch of sinners.
But these sinners—we sinners—are following Jesus: Jesus who heals, Jesus who leads us into light, Jesus who is more powerful than all our weaknesses, Jesus who transforms his disciples into saints while they walk along his way.