Reflection for the 30th Sunday. Year B. 2018
– By Fr Ugo Ikwuka
Two young nuns were asked to paint a room in the convent by the Mother Superior who warned that they must not drop paint on their habits. The nuns thought fast. They locked the door, and decided to paint nude. Soon, there was a knock on the door. “Who’s there?” asked one of the nuns. The “blind man,” came the response. The nuns look at each other and shrug, deciding that there’s no harm in letting in a blind man so they opened the door. The man exclaims “Wow!” and then asks “Where do you want these window blinds hung?”
Friends, the healing of the blind man, Bartimaeus, in this Sunday’s Gospel reveals two kinds of blindness; the physical blindness of Bartimaeus and the spiritual/moral blindness of the crowd who tried to stop him from getting across to Jesus for help.
While physical blindness could be managed, with moral or spiritual blindness, one is lost.
How often has Jesus passed us by, and we fail to recognise and call on him, all because too often we have fixed ideas as to where we are likely to see him or the forms under which he will appear.
It is easy to find Jesus in the Tabernacle and genuflect but less easy to find him in a person we dislike. Yet, Jesus can come in any form and in any person or situation, even in the most unlikely.
He did in the form of a hapless child in the manger and could as well do so in the form of your mother-in-law, even if to determine your tolerance threshold.
In his physical blindness, Bartimaeus could spiritually see that Jesus was Christ the Messiah and reached out for him. Yet, we have the disciples that physically see and directly hear him every day, once, asked that Jesus showed them the Messiah (John 14: 8).
In his physical blindness, Bartimaeus sees better with his heart than many of those around him because he has faith and hope. What an irony that the religious crowd on pilgrimage to Jerusalem was unable to recognise the reign of the Messiah already in their midst.
In his physical blindness, Bartimaeus could spiritually see that the crowd stopping him was wrong, so he refused to be hushed. That’s how the society hushes the church to silence her. That’s how the society shouts you down when you want to express your faith.
Bartimaeus knows that time comes when you have to resist social pressures and stand by your convictions even if that makes you unpopular. The crowd that shouts you down would eventually recognise those who are standing.
Doesn’t that attitude of the crowd also make evident the unadmitted disposition of the wealthy of all times that misery remains hidden, not to disgust the sight or prick the conscience of those who are well.
Like that crowd that stood in the way of Bartimaeus, many people, things, and concerns, can also prevent us from coming to Jesus. How often have we got no time for Mass, for prayer, for charity and for getting involved in Church activities? Worst still, how often have we blocked someone from approaching Jesus through our words and actions?
In his physical blindness, Bartimaeus could see that this is his only chance so he desperately seized it. How desperate are you for salvation? How desperate are you to see your family saved? A disciple once asked his Master how he can see God and the Master held him down under water for a while and then told him: “You’ll see God the moment you become desperate for God as you were for breath while under water”.
Bartimaeus eventually caught Jesus’ attention and Jesus invites him to come forward. He jumps up, throwing off his cloak, his only possession. He now approaches Jesus naked, in freedom, with nothing except himself. Compare this with the well-dressed rich man in last Sunday’s Gospel, who could not follow Jesus because with his wealth he thought he had a lot to lose.
Jesus asks him: “What can I do for you?” It was exactly the same question he asked the two brothers James and John in last Sunday’s Gospel but in their ambitious greed they asked for the two top spots in his Kingdom of glory. Bartimaeus gives a very different answer: “Lord, that I may see.” This is much more than a prayer to regain physical sight. In fact, this should be the prayer of humanity. The secret of life is to be people of vision, to be able to see life’s real meaning and direction, to know where God is to be found.
Unlike the prayer of James and John, it is a prayer that is sure to be answered. So Jesus responds: “Go, your faith and trust in me have saved you.” Immediately, Bartimaeus was able to see and we have a man with vision, who knows very clearly where he should be going – following Jesus on the road, which was exactly what he did. And this is a road that leads to Jerusalem, in other words, to suffering, death and resurrection. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
This story summarises the Christian’s life and pilgrimage. On our own we are blind and poor. As Christians, we have our eyes opened to the meaning of life. We are called to undergo a radical conversion that gives new direction to all we are and do, making us see things differently from the world. Then, we are ready to walk with Jesus the narrow path that leads to life.
Reflection on the Second Reading
A young man goes to his parish priest and asks: “Father, is it a sin for me to sleep with my girlfriend?” And the priest shakes his head and goes: “Nope, so long as you are sleeping”.
Our second reading this Sunday from the Letter to the Hebrews highlights the figure and role of the priest. It said of a priest first of all that he is “chosen from among men.” In other words, he is neither uprooted nor fallen from heaven, but a human being who has behind him a family and a history like everyone else.
It also means that the priest is made of the same fabric as any other human creature: with the emotions, struggles, doubts and weaknesses of everybody else. Yet, this is seen as beneficial for others, not a basis for scandal for it implies that the priest will be more ready to have compassion, as he is also cloaked in weakness.
The priest is moreover “appointed to act on behalf of men”. In other words, he is placed at the service of the human community from which he was chosen – a service that affects the most profound dimension of man – his eternal destiny. Yet, every now and again, as is increasingly the case today, the news and events tell the sordid tale of the priest’s broken vows and frequent falls.
Yet, an important truth is that the priest can err, but the gestures he carries out as priest, at the altar or in the confessional, are not invalid or ineffective because of it. The people are not deprived of God’s grace because of the unworthiness of the priest. It is Christ who baptizes, celebrates, forgives; the priest is only the instrument.
The words uttered by the country priest of Georges Bernanos before dying comes to mind: “All is grace.” Even the misery of his alcoholism seems to him to be a grace because it has made him more merciful toward people. Hence, the disgrace can be turned into grace if the priest learns from his own brokenness to deal more gently with the ignorant and wayward.
Priests should be holding up to sinners an invitation to God’s mercy and not a threat of God’s impending judgment. Today, many are on a crusade to cleanse the church, bent on removing the weeds from the wheat. When we do that, we are playing God (Matthew 13:30). Our work as priests of God is essentially to reconcile people with God and the best and most effective way to do that is not by being harsh or judgmental but by being gentle to sinners. Our prayers should be, “Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto thine.”
Yet, all believers share in the priesthood of Christ as spelt out in the well-known passage from the First Letter of Peter. “But you are a chosen race, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, a people to be a personal possession to sing the praises of God who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). The common priesthood of all believers means that all Christians are called to lead people to God and to bring God to people.
While the ministerial priests fulfil this role by offering sacrifices for sins, believers in general fulfil theirs by interceding for people before God’s throne of mercy and by ministering God to people. One person who lived the common priesthood of all believers to the full is St Francis of Assisi. The Peace Prayer attributed to him shows us what it means for every believer to be a priest.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love; / when there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith; / where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light; / and where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that I may not so much seek / to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand, / to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive, / it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.