Sunday, October 29, 2006

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
The Evolution of Bartimaeus

Readings: Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6; Hebrew 5:1-6; Mark 10:46-52

There is someone sitting by the side of the road... It’s a strange sight. The road is meant for traveling, not camping. Yet here he is, setting up shop. Who is he? Where is he from? What’s wrong with him? No time to ask. I’m in a rush. I’m on the road. I’ve work to do and mouths to feed. Got to go…

And there he is again, that person by the road. Doesn’t he have any place else to go? Doesn’t he know it’s very unsightly, sitting there in his rags? I wish I didn’t have to see him everyday. He makes me uncomfortable. But only for a moment. I’ve got to go… work to do, mouths to feed, bills to pay…

But there’s no escaping him. Day after day, I see him by the side of the road. Sometimes I’m in such a hurry I almost don’t notice him. But he’s there all the same. What to do? Can’t stop to chat. So little time. So much stress. Work to do, mouths to feed, bills to pay, dreams to live… Got to go…

Then one day it happens… The market crashes… a job is lost… a child dies… a spouse leaves… a tumour is discovered… All this while, rushing headlong on this road, thinking I’m going somewhere. Thinking there’s really somewhere to go. Now I’ve hit a dead-end. Drained and heartbroken… close to despair… I can’t see a way forward. It’s as if I’m blind. Darkness engulfs me… I collapse in a heap…

Again, there’s someone by the side of the road, someone who cannot see. And that someone is me…

How foolish I’ve been. Did I really think I could escape the limitations of weakness, the limitations of human living – that I could cheat suffering and death – if only I set my mind to it, if only I worked hard enough, if only I focused my efforts? I never really gave it much thought, but isn’t this how I’ve lived my life – thinking I could somehow buy my own happiness, earn my own salvation? How foolish and how blind. Now I’m beginning to see that it is really true – what is written in the scriptures – no one takes this honour on himself, but each one is called by God.

You can’t really save yourself. You need to be called.

So when they told me that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t care what others said or thought. He is my only hope, I said to myself, he is my salvation. He will show me a way out. He will let me see again. So, shamelessly, I cried out as loudly as I could. In a voice choked with emotion, I begged him to have pity on me.

And wonder of wonders, he called me over. Jesus of Nazareth – the Son of David, the promised Saviour – he actually called me. What do you want me to do for you? He asked. I wasn’t sure what he would do when I told him. At first I thought he’d simply point me in the direction I was to go. I thought he’d simply open my eyes to a road I’d not seen before, a way out of my predicament. But he did much more. He actually led me along the right path.

It was a mysterious path – narrow and winding. But as long as I kept him in my sights, as long as I held onto him – sometimes tightly holding his hand, sometimes barely clinging to the fringe of his cloak – I didn’t fall. Steep as it sometimes was, with him leading me, I persevered on the road. And as we traveled, I couldn’t help but be reminded of that verse from Jeremiah: I will bring them back… all of them: the blind and the lame… women in labour… I will comfort them as I lead them back, by a smooth path where they will not stumble.

Still, as the road wore on, parts of it began to seem strangely familiar. I began to suspect that this was the road to Jerusalem, the road to Calvary. In some ways it seemed like the same road on which I’d faltered those many days – or was it months, or even years – ago. I was reminded of that very spot where my first journey had ended, that place where I’d collapsed by the side of the road. And fear gripped my heart. But the Saviour’s steps remained sure, his guiding hands firm.

At the crucial point where I thought I would once again collapse under the weight of my difficulties, he took my place. He offered his shoulder to the dark wood of the cross, his hands and feet to the cold steel of the nails, his life for the sake of my own.

And yet, miracle of miracles, in spite of his sacrifice – or rather, because of it – he lives! And so do I!

Indeed, as the psalmist sings, in Christ, in Jesus of Nazareth, God has done great things for us. He has opened our eyes and planted our feet firmly on the path of life. He has taken away the tears of our sorrow and filled us with laughter and music.

There is so much over which to rejoice. There is so much to celebrate. But even as we exult, we need to keep moving. For there are still many others waiting to see again, many others waiting for the call of salvation.

Yes, there is still someone sitting by the side of the road…
What are we doing about it?

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