Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B 2021, 24 October 2021
Readings: Jeremiah 31:7-9; Hebrews 5:1-6; Mark 10:46-52
Bartimaeus, an unlikely model of discipleship
This Sunday, we give thanks to God for the grace of being able to celebrate the Eucharist in person after months of lockdown. As we emerge out of isolation, we learn to strengthen our relationship with one another and the community. As believers, we also take care to recover the sense of the sacred especially through the Eucharist. It is in our corporate witness as the Church that we become an effective sign of God’s Kingdom and transform the world according to the values of the Gospel. The Eucharist both nourishes and challenges us in our mission of being the critical yeast for the people of our time.
The Word of God today presents a hope-filled messianic vision of the world where God makes all things right for the poor and the disadvantaged. This divine preference strikes at the heart of the imperial system where the strong and the powerful have total monopoly. Hence, the community of believers is necessarily aligned to this vision. Instead of being beholden to the power structures of the world, we are called to enact the messianic vision that affords justice, mercy and compassion to the least, the last and the forgotten.
In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah speaks words of comfort and hope to his people. During the long and harrowing exile in Babylon, many of them had given up their ancestors’ faith and drifted away. Those who remained loyal and steadfast in spite of the ordeal came to be known in the prophetic literature as the remnants of Israel. These were not the movers and shakers, the elites and the echelons of Jewish society. Rather the remnants were the people considered to be the lowliest and the most vulnerable among the exiles. Jeremiah referred to them as “the blind, the lame, women with child and women in labour”. He galvanised them with fresh hope. He prophesied that God would bring them back from captivity and they would rebuild Israel.
Like the remnants of Israel, we too must learn to be an alternative society of solidarity, compassion, justice and love in the midst of the brave new world around us. Jeremiah’s messianic vision of a caring and viable society for the vulnerable still challenges us today. We have much to learn from our ancestors in faith. We must learn to be once again the Church that embodies God’s compassion, that ministers at the peripheries, that advocates for the rights and wellbeing of the poor.
The Gospel depicts Jesus as one who engenders hope in despair, light in darkness and grace in vulnerability. He and his disciples were found around Jericho which was a long way outside their familiar territory in Galilee. Jericho is a rich symbol for God’s inclusive embrace. It was the site of the battle against the Canaanites in the Old Testament and also the place of grace-filled encounters with life-changing stories of Zaccheus and the Good Samaritan.
Today’s episode is no less powerful. Jesus met, healed and changed the life of the blind beggar. He saw the faith and dignity of someone whom society dismissed as inconsequential. We can see the contrast between the attitude of the crowd towards the blind beggar and that of Jesus. When he cried out “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me”, many rebuked him telling him to be silent. Thus, there was the unacknowledged stigma associated with his status and disability. The voice of Bartimaeus was considered of little value. It was Jesus who turned this assumption upside down. He attuned his ear to the cry of the beggar; he sought him out; he affirmed his dignity; he championed his cause.
The blind beggar on his part did something that everyone else failed. He acknowledged who Jesus truly was. For in the Gospel, the title Son of David is indicative of the true identity of Jesus. He is the Messiah, the Saviour. In other words, the blind beggar was able to see much more than the crowd. He possessed true vision. That is the irony. The people who had physical sight yet were blinded by their prejudices. Bartimaeus turned out to be the unlikely hero of discipleship.
Brothers and sisters,
In the midst of our own darkness, we need the vision that Jeremiah gave to the exiles and Jesus gave to Bartimaeus. Like the remnants of Israel, it is by living our faith through the chaos of captivity rather than by yearning for past securities that we find new life. Like them, we learn the art of agile, resilient, humble and faithful witness.
Let us not be afraid to go and serve the vulnerable in the Jerichos of our time. For it is in these places of extreme hopelessness and vulnerability that we meet the God of hope and transformation. As Pope Francis says in the season of creation, “The pandemic has highlighted how vulnerable and interconnected everyone is. If we do not take care of one another, starting with the least, with those who are most impacted, including creation, we cannot heal the world.” Let us follow the footsteps of Jesus as we listen and respond to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.