Sometimes, when things are so bad in a person’s life and they
have been praying for a long time without a seeming answer, they
are reduced to silence. "What more is there to pray about? I’m
prayed out! God has heard a lot from me about my situation, I
have nothing more to say. " In times like these it is good to
hear the words Jeremiah has for consolation.
There are plenty of readings from Isaiah through the liturgical
year, especially in Lent and Advent. But we don’t hear much from
Jeremiah. That is a shame, for he suffered during his prophetic
ministry and he speaks out of his experience to those in similar
The book of Jeremiah is a rather pessimistic commentary on the
moral failings of the prophet’s own contemporaries. He preached the
unpopular message that the Babylonian exile was the deserved-result
of the people’s failure to live the covenant that God had made with
them. This did not win Jeremiah many friends among his fellow Jews.
Today’s reading is a dramatic shift in the tone of his message. The
people to whom he is speaking are in exile, suffering the
consequences of their infidelities. They should have listened to the
prophet’s previous warnings. What could the people now say to
justify a hearing from God? They have no defense and are helpless.
After turning away from God they could expect nothing.
Perhaps, under their duress, they had even given up on God and
stopped praying. The Jews in exile might remind some of us of the
situation in which we find ourselves. After wandering from God’s
ways and finding ourselves stuck in a predicament similar to the
exiles, how will we get free? What can we say to God in our defense?
A suggestion: we could keep a silence and listen to what God has to
say to us.
Our reading today is from, what has been called, "the Book of
Consolations" (chps 30-31). It is mostly proclamations of salvation
– good news. Jeremiah speaks to the people in exile, not on his own
behalf, but for the Lord. Indeed, God’s message is for all people
living in exile. God has seen the their helpless situation and is
coming to rescue them. What moves God to act: the prayers and
holiness of the people? No, God will rescue them because God notices
and comes to save helpless people. What is the "reason" for God’s
saving actions? It is God’s love for the people.
If we find ourselves in a bind, a situation we have caused and
can’t handle by ourselves, then after saying the prayers we feel
moved to say, we could listen to what God says to us through
Jeremiah today. Hear the Good News: God will gather the scattered
people and bring them home to Israel – "They shall return in an
Frequently the prophets warn the people of impending punishment
for their sins. In their prophecies God speaks like a prosecuting
attorney, laying out the reasons for the punishment given the
people. But in today’s prophecy of salvation, no reason is given for
the good God wants to do for the exiles: it is pure gift, it is a
grace. God is free to do what God wants to do – and God wants to
pour out love on the people. Love, after all, is free of charge!
God promises: "I will gather them from the ends of the world with
the blind and the lame in their midst." Jeremiah’s prophecy is
fulfilled in Christ, exemplified in today’s gospel story. A blind
man is begging, sitting by the roadside outside the town of Jericho.
The man, like the exiles in Babylon, is away from his home,
desperate for help. What God promises to do for the exiles, Jesus
does for the helpless blind man; he gives him sight and leads him on
the way to his true home.
Do you remember last week’s gospel and the disciples’ dispute
about who would sit at Jesus’ right and left when he came into his
glory (Mark 10:35-45)? Do you also remember Peter’s rejection of
Jesus’ prediction of his passion (8:32-33. It is obvious that Mark
is making a point about the disciples: they just don’t see.
The last section of Mark’s gospel is beginning. Jesus is about to
enter Jerusalem. Before he does he cures a blind man – who then,
"followed him on the way." Bartimaeus, healed of his blindness,
becomes a follower of Jesus on the way to Jerusalem. There is no
little irony here. Up to this point in Mark, the demons and evil
spirits have recognized and proclaimed Jesus’ identity; while the
disciples have completely missed the point. They need a sight that
only faith can give them.
We too are about to enter Jerusalem with Jesus and, through the
word, we will witness his suffering, death and resurrection. If we
are attentive to that word we will also be healed of our blindness
to God’s saving presence in our lives. We will, as God promised
through Jeremiah, "Shout with joy for Jacob, exult at the head of
the nations; proclaim your praise and say: ‘The Lord has delivered
his people, the remnant of Israel.’"
As we heard in Jeremiah: opening the eyes of the blind signaled
the coming of our saving God, and the beginning of the messianic
age. Bartimaeus cried out for pity, but the crowd tried to hush him.
The crowd is blind. The needy always seem to disturb the order and
peace of established believers. Was that one thing Mark was trying
to tell his church: listen to the cries of the needy, don’t hush
them, but be quick to respond – as quick as Jesus was? The blind
man, through his faith in Jesus, was cured. Meanwhile, Jesus’
followers will continue in their blindness – at least until Jesus is
risen from the dead.
Once Bartimaeus can see, Jesus instructs him, "Go your way, your
faith has saved you." With his new gift of sight Bartimaeus’ way is
the way of Jesus. He has become a follower.
Our stories are unique and diverse. What we have in common is
that in our baptism our eyes have been opened by the Spirit to see
and follow Jesus. The early disciples had to learn that their plans
for discipleship were not God’s way. More than a profession of faith
is necessary for us to be Christians. Christianity is a dynamic
endeavor that requires an active faith – the gift of sight – which
leads us out of darkness each day so we can follow Jesus on his way.
for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
At the time that Jeremiah is offering people hope in God’s vision
for the future, there were devastating wars and deportation among
the nations. Throughout the Bible there is a repeating theme of
going out and return. Spiritually, God is always trying to bring us
back from exile where we are blind or lame or pregnant with
possibilities to guide us to wholeness.
This weekend, we celebrate going out in mission to share the
wholeness we have found. Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral is observing
World Mission Sunday (usually observed on the third Sunday in
October). The entire global Church comes together in support of
mission and all the donations from these worldwide Masses go
entirely to support churches, hospitals, schools and vocations in
countries where the Church is new, young or poor. This is our chance
to show love and solidarity to our family in faith overseas. Through
our prayers, we support missionaries everywhere in spreading the
Good News and by donating we respond to Christ’s call to feed the
hungry and clothe the naked.
In his message for World Mission Sunday 2018, Pope Francis
reminds all that "we are not in this world by our own choice," and
hence there is "an initiative that precedes us and makes us exist."
Each one of us, he says, is called to reflect on the fact that ‘I am
a mission on this Earth," which is why we are here in this world. In
fact, the Pope says, "every man and woman is a mission." "To be
attracted and to be sent are two movements" of the heart that "hold
out promise for our future and give direction to our lives."
Pope Francis continues that the heart of the Church’s mission is
the infectiousness of love, where joy and enthusiasm generates
encounter, witness and proclamation even in "extreme peripheries."
Through numerous ecclesial groups such as parishes, associations,
movements, and religious communities, missionary volunteer work is a
way of serving the "least" of our brothers and sisters, promoting
human dignity and witnessing to the joy of love and of being
Christian. "No one is so poor as to be unable to give what they
have, but first and foremost what they are," the Pope says.
We are each a mission of love.
Director of Social
Holy Name of Jesus
Cathedral, Raleigh, NC