DO WE FOLLOW CHRIST OR OUR OWN ILLUSIONS?

30th Sunday – Ordinary Time – B

By Fr. Aldo, sx

Jesus is in Jericho, only 30 km away from his final destination, Jerusalem.  Even though he has already announced what’s going to happen in Jerusalem, the apostles and a great crowd continue following him. They seem blind to the unfolding of events. At this point Mark tells of this encounter in between Jesus and Bartimaeus, a blind beggar who is healed and passed from the side of the road to the side of Jesus. Bartimaues here represent all those people following Jesus on the way up to Jerusalem and, perhaps, he represents many of us too at the present time, here in this place.

The person who has not really encountered Christ yet is like the one in “stand by,” seated beside the road, without any serious project of life, just repeating the same gestures, the same mistakes, in the same place, begging… That person is totally dependent on others, on things, on events… S/he begs for money and everything else, even love and acceptance.

The first step towards healing happens when the person becomes aware of his/her not so dignified and less than acceptable situation and decides to get out of it. Bartimaeus refuses to continue in darkness and does not accept the sickness that conditions him to live on alms and solicitations.  Spiritual healing begins in the same manner: inner dissatisfaction and nausea for that kind of life without direction and meaning.

The way towards the encounter with Jesus is not without obstacles. Oftentimes members of the family, friends and all those who live in darkness try to discourage and even laugh at whoever searches for light or suddenly become concerned with faith and religion. Even the followers of Christ sometimes can become an obstacle for those in search for light. Some disciples, instead of being the link between Jesus and the marginalized, they rather think that they have to protect Jesus and prevent him from being bothered by the cry of the suffering. In the same way is blind the entire community or church that silences the voices of those who take a pro-life stand and/or struggle for the sake of human rights. Blind are those who think that the voices of the victims of injustice should not disturb the solemn processions.

So throwing off his cloak, the blind sprang up and came to Jesus. It is difficult to imagine a blind person performing such movements; however the story is told in this way because it certainly has a theological meaning.  For the Israelites, the cloak was considered the only thing the poor had. In the book of Exodus we find: “If you take your neighbor’s cloak in pawn, you shall restore it before the sun goes down;  “for it may be your neighbor’s only clothing to use as cover; in what else shall that person sleep? And if your neighbor cries out to me, I will listen, for I am compassionate.”(Ex 22:26-27) Like any other beggar, Bartimaeus must have carefully extended his cloak on his lap so as to gather the coins that compassionate passersby would eventually give.  The gesture of letting go of it indicates his radical decision to detach from the life situation in which he was living until then.  The kind of life he has lived up to now does not appeal to him any longer. His gesture evokes that of the catechumens of the Mark’s community who, on the day of their baptism would through away their old clothes because they represented all that prevented them from following the Master.

The encounter with Christ and his light takes us away from our comfort zones. Before Bartimaeus was sitting, now he has to stand up and walk; before somehow he could earn at least for is food, now, being healed means also uncertainty; before he had a corner to stay and all people were familiar to him, now the new life is an adventure full of risks and demands commitment. Therefore, Bartimaeus’ experience teaches us that what awaits the one who has encountered Christ and received light is hard and difficult. It is not an easy life filled with comfort and privileges. The new healed life forces people to review their habits, attitudes and behaviors; to question certain kinds of friendship, life choices, time management and one’s relations to material things.

The disciples and the crowds that accompanied Jesus in Jericho had no doubts about their own sight. But in reality they were blind and instead of following Jesus they were following their own illusion. So how do we know that we are not spiritually blind and following our own illusions too?

There is a very simple way to verify it. Observe how sensitive we are to the poor, “the blind ones” that shout along the streets asking for help and support. If they irritate us and provoke repulse in our innermost; if we try to ignore them or silence them; if we always have something more important to do than to stop and listen to them, understand them and to communicate the peace and joy of Christ, then we too are still blind.

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