30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 31:7-9 | Hebrews 5:1-6 | Mark 10: 46-52
Almighty, ever-living God, increase our faith, hope and charity, and make us love what you command, so we may merit what you promise through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.
These last few weeks, we’ve been listening to the gospel of Mark, tenth chapter. I know it’s hard to remember what the gospel was last week; I can’t always remember it myself even though I preach about it. But if you have a good memory, you might recall that the last two Sundays, we’ve had Jesus in a position when someone comes up to him and asks him for something. I’d like to talk about those three requests, the first two we had before and this one today, and see if we can’t get to the point when we understand more fully what it is that God longs to do for us. What does he long to do for us? In that first reading, from the very beginning, we have this God who says, “I am your Father. I want to take care of you. I want to lead you to a place of fullness. I want to take you home [where we have] level ground and rich, fertile fields that make [the ingredients for] wonderful food.” This image tells us there is a place that God is taking us to, which is where we long to be, and I would say that place is the interior place He has created for us, within us, where He dwells with us, and we dwell with him, and through that indwelling, we dwell in everything around us. That place is where our Father wants us to go.
So, if you have a good memory, the first question concerned a rich man who came to Jesus. He was filled with himself, and he knew he was doing just about everything perfectly. He is such a perfect example of our ego that just thinks there’s nothing better than achieving some kind of greatness, often on our own, so we can pretty much present ourselves to God as a well-working machine that we created ourselves. So he looked at Jesus and said, “What do I have to do to be even better than I am?” He went on and said, “I keep all the commandments. I do all that,” because Jesus asked, “Are you doing that?” “Yes, I’m doing that.” And then Jesus looked at him with love, which is such an interesting image. He looked at him with love, like, “I know your desire is to do the right thing, but you are so far off." He said: Tell you what I want you to do. Give up this idea that your possessions, your talents, your abilities give you value.Stop possessing things like that, and let go of all that and come and follow me.” Many people might say, “Well, then he was told that he should be poor when he was rich. He should give away his money.” No, it wasn’t his money that Jesus was concerned about. It was the fact that he found value in his possessions, and he wanted so much to please God by not having anything in him that was imperfect. Does that sound familiar?
Have you ever prayed, “Just take all this junk out of me. Take away my lusts. Take away my greed. Take away my anger. Take away this fact that I’m so impatient with my kids” or whatever? “Take it away. Make me perfect. Make me perfect.” And there’s something so clear in that gospel passage. That’s the wrong question — the wrong request. We have to live with all that imperfection. Learn how to deal with it. Learn how to forgive it. Learn how to own it.
The second question came the next week when there was a man who came forward. Basically, in this case, what we saw was a person who had a desire, again, for something that was out of balance. It turned out to be his disciples, James and John. “Jesus, we’d like you to do something for us,” they asked. In fact, the question is so interesting. When he posed it, the man said, “Would you just do anything we ask?” That’s a setup. If you say yes, then I can ask for anything. So they decided they would like a position of power. They didn’t fully understand the kingdom. They knew that it was connected to the way the world works. They thought it was probably closer to the way the world works than it really is, but they knew that Jesus would sit on the throne and reign and control everything, and they said, “We’d like to be the vice-president and the chief operating officer, on either side of you. We’d like to run the whole thing too. We love that power.” And Jesus looked at them and said, “Can you do what I’m asking you to do?” “Oh, yes. We can drink the cup. We can be baptized.” Then the answer was so interesting. He didn’t say, “Don’t ask that.” Well, indirectly He does, but He says, “I can’t give that. That’s not my job as your Savior, as the one who is teaching you how to live, and the relationship with God and the world and yourself.” The point is we’re not here to change reality, to change the story, but how often do we pray like that, or how often do we react to the life around us as if there’s something wrong with it? “I’m getting old. I don’t like that.” “I failed at this business. That’s terrible." "How could that happen to me? I want to somehow change the way my story’s going so that it all is, in a sense, easier, more comfortable, it feeds my ego, whatever.” So we often pray for perfection. We pray for power, and then along comes Bartimaeus, this beautiful man who has a sense of his humanity. He has a sense of what it means to be human, but he can’t see.
We can see. I can see. You can see perhaps. Some of those listening to me may not be able to see, but the point is we think that seeing has to do just with havingour eyes open, but Jesus has come into the world to open our hearts, to see things that go so far beyond what our eye can see. So imagine that this man is a perfect representative of human beings. We do have sight. A blind person, he jumps up, throws his blanket aside, ends up right where Jesus is. Did somebody guide him? No. He developed all kinds of senses, more sensitive than they normally would be because he didn’t have eyes. So imagine, we go through life — if we don’t see reality as it is, we can come up with some other ways to navigate through life besides being in touch with reality. We’ll make it up, but here’s this man screaming out, “I want to see. I want to know. I want to be wise.” And when Jesus hears that request and hears the faith in it that says, “This man can do it,” and Jesus looks at him and says, “Do you really want me to do it? And do you think I can do it?” “Absolutely.” And then boom, it happens, and he can see. And what he does is follow Jesus. On the way, he says, “I see things as they really are. I want to be with you. I want to be in your company.”
What is it that he asks to see? What are you or I — what are we supposed to ask to see? I think the obvious, biggest and simplest answer I can use is: what is real? Who is God? I want to see God as he is. I want to see Jesus, who represents God and who is God, who walked the earth, who’s like me, I want to see him as he is. I want to see myself as I really am. I want to be honest and see this person who is me. I don’t want to fall into the illusion — if I’m more powerful, I’m valuable; if I’m perfect, then God loves me more. I want to be real. I want to be myself, and we’ve been working on that forever. That’s what Scripture’s about. It’s an incredible story that’s filled with mystery and contradiction and symbol. It’s loaded with wisdom, but it has to be worked with. You can’t just take it on the surface, but here’s the part that’s interesting to me. We live in a world now, a time, I should say, when all of a sudden, we’re discovering all kinds of things about the world we live in, the world and matter.
Pastoral Reflections put together a lecture at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas that featured Dr. William Tiller, an author who has written about scientific discoveries. He came into the city and talked about matter and how it operates. It was a mind-changing, mind-boggling kind of lecture because he told us what the last 500 years of science has been telling us about the limitations of our cells and our relationship with matter has been a lie. What science has been saying, and the one thing that science has been pointing to, which is what our basic, logical mind points to, is that matter is inanimate — it’s there, it’s not alive, it doesn’t have much of a relationship with us other than to imagine that it’s the stuff around which we work. It’s the stuff we use to get things done, but it’s so much more than that — so much more than that, and we’re learning, through medicine, about the heart. It’s so much more than a pump; it actually sends out some kind of energy, resonating into the world, changing people and changing matter. We believe somehow that there is this mysterious thing inside us called our intention, and what quantum physics has been teaching us — let me finish the heart thing. The heart can resonate our intention out there, and it can be felt by people and — are you ready? — by matter. Somehow human beings have the possibility of changing matter.
I was thinking about that. It’s so amazing because it means that the world … that God is alive. We need to participate in him. We need to be a part of him, he a part of us. I am a human being, and I know I participate in other human beings. Something flows between us. I know how much they affect me and have affected me and how they affect you. I look at my parents and see all the things, positive and negative, they’ve done, that are in me. Some of it I have to work through. Some of it I just have to embrace and thank God they gave that to me. All this participation, but I never thought much about participating with matter. It seems so strange, and then I thought, “Wait a minute. I’m a Catholic priest. There’s a ritual I do every Sunday.” I go to an altar after I teach and try to open people to the mystery of the word of God and try to immerse us in this incredible, saving, loving process called salvation. And I go through these prayers, and I pick up a piece of bread, and I lift a cup of wine. I lean over it, and I say these words: “This is my body. This is my blood.” And Catholics are trained to believe that this is not just a symbol, it’s also real. So all of a sudden, this bread is no longer simply bread; it now has the resonance and the energy and the force — the presence that God has. And so I’ve just made God present. It’s a very bizarre thing to people who don’t understand it or haven’t been taught it from birth, or even if they take it just to the symbolic level, a symbol is still something that can affect what it symbolizes. So if it’s just like a symbol, it’s as if there is something special about this priest intending, and everyone around intending, that this matter, bread, this matter, wine, becomes something that carries, is imprinted with life. And then I’m surprised that science has now discovered that the intention of a human being can be imprinted in matter and that matter carries it.
I was thinking of the way we bless. Catholic priests bless houses. We bless cars. We bless metals, and somehow we believe that, if a thing is blessed and you ask God to fill a car with his presence, that it helps protect the people in the car. We believe that, and I find it fascinating that, if you say to somebody in a way that you’re not in religion or something, and you’re talking about the way the world is, we say, “Well, that doesn’t happen in the world.” Well, the interesting thing about that is we tend to make a separation between these mysterious, mystical things we can do and reality. It’s as if, when God changes bread into his body, it’s like, “Well, that’s not possible for a human being to do that. That has to be God somehow going against nature.” Well, it doesn’t make sense that God would create a world where, when he works the most wonderful things that he does, that they would go against the way he created the world.He created the world this way, that we have this amazing ability to participate in it, and through participation and being most effective in creating the world that God has given us, [we have] this place of peace and beauty and joy; it’s how a home filled with love becomes a place where people feel loved, even if no one else is there, and you’re alone in the house. A church can be blessed and consecrated, and you walk into it, and no one’s there, and yet you feel something in the stone of the room that gives you a sort of feeling of comfort. I think it’s fascinating that science is now saying, “Well, that’s the way nature works. Matter is made of tiny, tiny particles that are responsive to human beings’ intention.” That flies in the face of Descartes who said, “That’s impossible. Matter can’t be changed by the mind.” Maybe Descartes didn’t realize that we’re talking about the heart. The heart is the new brain, and the heart is what changes everything. Maybe he’s right about the brain, but human beings can change. The mind that’s us, the soul that’s us, the spirit that’s us has this power to affect changes in everything — everything, people, matter.
So what I’m saying is that this request that Bartimaeus has is the request we should all have in our hearts. If you’re going to ask to see, you have to be open to what’s out there. When people have been blind from birth and they can now all of a sudden see, it’s very confusing and very hard, and it’s really difficult for them because they’re seeing what they never saw before, feeling what they never felt before. When we see a new idea, a new concept, it’s sort of that way. We say, “Well, this doesn’t make sense, or if it does, then everything sort of doesn’t seem to make as much sense as I thought it did, or it’s different than I thought it was. And that’s disturbing.” But what a prayer, what a request of God — “Open my eyes. Let me see who I am, who you are, what this world is about. Let me be alive.”
Father, you’ve placed within our hearts a longing. We turn to so many things to fill that longing without realizing there is one thing that we’re made for, and that is to see you as you are, ourselves as we are, the world as you made it to be in reality, in the present. So let the prayer of Bartimaeus be our prayer. Let what you’ve done for him you do for us, and help us to see and to grow and to become, and we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.