We come to the last Sundays of this Liturgical Year. The readings we are given to hear today are full of reflection on who God is and who we are. God is and remains a saving God! And we are reminded of our vulnerability, and called to give of ourselves from that vulnerable place instead of "at the top of our game."
Every morning when I wake up, I make a list of things I need to do that day. The list begins with the most urgent item that I need to accomplish. When you have a lot on your plate, you have to learn to prioritize by doing what is most important. Today's readings from Scripture invite us to rededicate ourselves to a total commitment to love God and neighbors as a top priority in our life.
In today's Gospel, Jesus' departure from Jericho was interrupted by the persistent cry of a blind beggar. Given that many in that day considered blindness a punishment for some sin the person (or perhaps his parents) had committed, this disruption was not only inconvenient, it seemed downright offensive. Thus, many in the crowd rebuked Bartimaeus, telling him to keep silent. Yet, there is something unique about the cries of this blind man. He asserts a hope-filled faith; and calls Jesus the "Son of David" the name synonymous for the long-awaited Messiah. Still there is some tenuousness to the cry in that the man asks for "pity" - hardly a bold demand, as such! Jesus notices this, stops, and gives the directive, "Call him." Some in the crowd then make an effort to ensure that Bartimaeus realized that Jesus had called him, and they encouraged him to respond: "Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you." And Bartimaeus responds with great enthusiasm! He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
I must confess, the opening verse of this Sunday's readings was a source of great discomfort for me. At the end of September a dear friend and mentor died, too young, after a two year battle with pancreatic cancer. In light of Robert's courageous struggle to live faithfully, I found Isaiah's words extremely disconcerting: "The Lord was pleased to crush him in infirmity" (53:10). What kind of God takes pleasure in enervating a loyal disciple? The perennial question of Job resounds across generations of readers/hearers before the text---why do bad things happen to good people? What makes this fair?
Today's readings offer us choices. For the author of Wisdom, it is between wisdom and the trappings of royalty; for the man in the gospel who came to Jesus, it is between renunciation and possessions.
The divorce rate in the United States for the past decade has been approximately 50 percent for first marriages. The majority cite "irreconcilable differences" as the cause. Two-thirds of those who divorce have young children. While no statistics are available for first-century Palestine, divorce was not uncommon. But marriage practices and attitudes toward marriage were considerably different from our own. In their patriarchal social system, marriages were arranged between families, to strengthen the social cohesion of the two clans. The terms were negotiated between the groom and his father and the father of the bride. Divorce would mean a messy separation of the two families and would bring shame on the family of the bride, since in Jewish tradition, only a man could initiate divorce.
Anyone hungry for a heated discussion need only raise the topic of criteria for acceptance in church ministry today. Before we know it, we will be deluged with complicated issues such as lay ministry, women's ordination, celibate priesthood, homosexual candidates, to name but a few. Such issues can hardly be resolved in a short reflection. But neither can they be ignored when the readings for the day actually raise the question of suitability for ministry. The readings force the question: 'Who has the right stuff?' Perhaps a better question is: 'What IS the right stuff?'
The Scriptures we are given to hear this Sunday reflect on wisdom. What do we understand by "wisdom"? Who is rightly called a "wise" person? What is there about a person that makes that person "wise"? What "wisdom figures" come to mind from history, in family, in church, among co-workers, among friends?
Today's readings are laced with strong reminders of hope; God's fidelity, inclusiveness, strength, and power over oppressors; and Jesus' miraculous healing of a man's capacity to hear and speak. These themes entice us to ask - What events made people fearful, blind, mute, doubtful, hungry, excluded, or deaf? What conditions in our own day leave us vulnerable and in need of reassuring words?
With cold and flu season around the corner, Mark's gospel hardly provides us with a helpful "What would Jesus Do" (WWJD) moment. One can almost imagine countless exasperated parents and health care professionals in the pews asking, why, why could Jesus not just affirm the value of washing our hands especially before handling food? There is a certain common sense wisdom contained in these practices, with hygienic benefit to individuals and communities. But more appears to be at stake here.