30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
As Jesus was leaving Jericho with the disciples and a large crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus was sitting at the side of the road. When the beggar heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth passing by, he began to cry out and shout, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me!” Many in the crowd scolded him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the louder, “Son of David, have pity on me.”
Jesus stopped and said to his disciples, “Call him here.” So they called the blind man. “Don’t be afraid,” they said. “Get up. Jesus is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, Bartimaeus sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus asked, “What is it you want me to do for you?” The blind man responded, “Master, I want to see!” Jesus replied, “Go your way. Your faith has saved you.” Immediately Bartimaeus received his sight and began to follow Jesus along the road.Homily for 26 October 2003
Rev. Frank Baiocchi
Game shows continue to be very popular on television. Programs as old as Let’s Make a Deal and as new as Who Wants to be a Millionaire continue to hold people’s interest. By answering questions correctly, people earn money and prizes. We get used to the idea of earning things. By studying hard, we earn diplomas. By working hard we earn paychecks and promotions. By following the rules, we earn people’s respect. There’s nothing wrong with this – until we transfer this very human exchange into the realm of the divine, into the dimension of our Christian faith. That’s where we can sometimes go wrong.
So much of what we were taught early on about our faith life is misleading and downright erroneous. Priests and sisters taught us that if we obey the ten commandments, if we go to church every Sunday, if we fast and abstain from particular foods, we will earn God’s favor. We will be in God’s good graces. And if we don’t do these things, we will be in “dis-grace” with God.
This gives us a terribly distorted view both of God’s grace and of the very concept of God! It tells us that we can earn God’s grace, God’s favor, by doing good things, and we cannot! This is bad theology. It assumes that God keeps all our behavior written down in an account book somewhere; and if these accounts balance out at life’s end, we earn heaven. But God doesn’t keep the books on us and we don’t earn heaven. Quite simply, we can’t earn God’s favor. It is a gift, freely given, to each of us.
We need to familiarize ourselves with the true Gospel of grace presented to us in this morning’s reading of Mark. This Gospel, this Good News, is that God always takes the initiative with us. God doesn’t wait for us to do something good before loving us. It is God’s loving us that encourages us to do something good. God simply loves us. God always takes the initiative, the first step in this divine dance with us. In Mark’s Gospel story, notice it is Jesus who takes the first steps. He walks right into the world of the blind beggar sitting at the side of the road. It is Jesus who asks the beggar what he wants. It is Jesus who heals and gives sight. It is Jesus who graces the beggar without demanding any conditions or anything in return!
This Gospel of grace is the way God deals with each of us. But our culture has made this Gospel, this Good News, hard to understand. We constantly here phrases such as “There’s no free lunch,” “You get what you deserve!” “You want love? Earn it!” “God loves good little children!” We are too often left with the impression that even God’s favor is something we have to earn. But it isn’t! We can’t do anything at all to earn God’s favor; and until we can freely admit that, we wont make much headway in the life of the Spirit! God initiates. We are free to respond – or not! That’s the way our faith life works.
Our huffing and puffing to impress God, our scrambling for brownie points while hiding our pettiness and troubled hearts, are a waste of precious time. These things just don’t work. They are a flat denial of the Gospel of grace – the very Gospel to which Jesus invites us to experience.
Bartimaeus is a fortunate man not because he earned the healing, but because he responded to Jesus’ presence. In the very last verse of today’s Gospel, we learn something else about this formerly blind beggar. “Go your way, “ Jesus said to him. But Bartimaeus didn’t go back to his previous way, sitting at the roadside begging. Having been graced with a new vision, he followed a new path walking right alongside Jesus. I’d say his new vision was 20/20, wouldn’t you?