Holy Spirit

ACTA COMMENTARY

THE SUNDAY LECTIONARY

THIRTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

YEAR B: YEAR OF MARK

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READINGS

A reading from the prophet Jeremiah                                      31:7-9

Responsorial Psalm                                          Psalm 126 (125). R/. v. 3  

A reading from the letter to the Hebrews                                 5:1-6  

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark           10:46-52  

     

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Many years ago a famous German scholar wrote that all the Gospels were “passion narratives with long introductions”.  There is much truth in his remark.  Certainly, when we read Mark’s Gospel in a single sitting, the impression one gets is that the whole story is rushing to Jerusalem and to the death of Jesus, the Messiah, Son of God (1:1). When John the Baptist has fulfilled his part as the one whom God appointed to “prepare the way of the Lord”, we are told that “after John was handed over” Jesus began his preaching.  Already on the first page we readers are introduced to betrayal and the shadow of death darkens every step that Jesus takes.

  We are scarcely into the story of Jesus preaching his gospel message and healing “all who were ill or oppressed by demons” (1:32), than well-educated scribes are accusing him of blasphemy - a sin that, in the Bible’s view, demands the death penalty (2:7).  This is the teaching:

Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.

Leviticus 24:16   

  Healing a man on the Sabbath instigates a plot “to destroy him”.   Pharisees and supporters of Galilee’s ruler, Herod Antipas, are no idle opponents.  And we are only in chapter 3 when they are plotting against him (see 3:1-6). In the same chapter Jesus selects the Twelve to be his specially trained disciples, one day to be apostles.  There, in a most prominent place, is Judas, “the one who handed him over”.   In chapter 6 we read of the execution of John the Baptist, in a story that has uncanny likenesses to the story of the death of Jesus.  In the same chapter we read that Jesus is rejected by his own family and his neighbours in Nazareth. By chapter 8 Jesus begins to spell out in sharp detail what will happen to him when he comes to the holy city of Jerusalem, and chapters 9 and 10 give more and more detail of the terrors that lie ahead when Jesus is confronted by the highest religious authorities and handed into the hands of the imperial authority:

… the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and they will hand him over to the Gentiles.

Mark 10:33

  To those readers paying attention the opening words of chapter 10 are ominous.  Jesus has gone south into Judea and was not silent: he was teaching there. Some Pharisees have gathered to him, not to listen but to test him, as Satan did in the beginning of the story (1:12-13).     

  

  Then comes the darkest sentences of all, sentences that confirm our greatest fears:

And they were on the way, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.

Mark 10:32-34

  What “after three days he will rise” might mean is as puzzling to today’s readers of Mark’s Gospel as to the disciples who “did not understand the saying” (9:32).  For in Mark’s gospel we do not meet the risen Jesus. We are told “He is risen; he is not here” by a mysterious young man in a white robe. If we wish to see Jesus again, we are informed that that is possible if we are willing to go back to Galilee, that is, to listen again to the whole story.

  We are left, as chapter 10 draws to a close, with words that challenge the heart, even as we believe that all will be well:


For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Mark 10:45

And then we come to Jericho and meet a blind man.

A reading from the prophet Jeremiah                                      31:7-9

For thus says the LORD:

“Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob,

and raise shouts for the chief of the nations;

proclaim, give praise, and say,

‘O LORD, save your people,

the remnant of Israel. ’

Behold, I will bring them from the north country

and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,

among them the blind and the lame,

the pregnant woman and she who is in labour, together;

a great company, they shall return here.

With weeping they shall come,

and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back,

I will make them walk by brooks of water,

by a straight way in which they shall not stumble,

for I am a father to Israel,

                 and Ephraim is my firstborn.

The word of the LORD.

A prophet and a priest, Jeremiah was born around 640 B.C.  and his prophetical witness flourished during the reign of King Josiah (639 -609 B.C.) and during the reigns of that king’s sons, King Jehoiakim (608-598) and King Zedekiah (597-586 B.C.).   Josiah was a great religious reformer (see 2 Kings 22) and faith flourished in his little kingdom of Judah. But the tyranny of the time, the wars between conflicting empires of Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia, dragged the little kingdom into dangerous alliances.  Jeremiah lived through this perilous time. He saw Jerusalem twice besieged, and finally devastated, its Temple, the House of God, burned to the ground, and its people bundled into exile in Babylon. Jeremiah himself died in exile in Egypt. A legend has it that he was stoned to death by his own people.

  Throughout his life as a prophet he was constantly abused, imprisoned, scourged, and bound in chains.  He lived as Jesus lived, trying to enliven the faith of his people and suffering every step of the way.  His suffering in the cause of God has been a constant inspiration to the faith of Judaism and, of all the great saints on our Bible, Jeremiah is the one that most resembles Jesus of Nazareth.

  The Book of Jeremiah moves between prose and poetry.   It is a confusing book but, as a rough guide, the poetry belongs to Jeremiah.  The prose parts were added by writers who were deeply influenced by the teaching we find in the Book of Deuteronomy.  The teaching of the book swings between hope and despair. When Jeremiah considered how his people disregarded God’s covenant Torah, that is, God’s teaching on how to live in this world, he despaired.  When he considers God’s steadfast love, God’s hopes for his people, God’s patience, God’s power to transform sinner into saint, then Jeremiah’s heart sings with joy and praise. He preached that the suffering and calamities inflicted by marauding armies were punishments for their waywardness. But he believed that God would always give his people strength to renew their faith and to become a light to the nations.  A new covenant would be made:

I will continue my grace to you

I will build you firmly again.

O virgin Israel!

Once more you shall take up your tambourines,

And go forth in the dance of the merrymakers!

Jeremiah 31:4

  Today’s reading continues this song of rejoicing as Jeremiah contemplates a return from exile and a return to faith.  God, as ever, will be a father to his people and through them renew the face of the earth.

Responsorial Psalm                                         Psalm 126 (125). R/. v. 3  

R/.   The LORD has done great things for us;

we are glad.

When the LORD restores the fortunes of Zion,

- we are people who dream -

then our mouths will be filled with laughter,

                     and on our tongues songs of joy.             R/.

Then among the nations they will say,

“The LORD has done great things for them.”

The LORD will do great things for us;

                                      we will be glad.   R/.

Restore our fortunes, O LORD,

like streams in the Negeb!

Those who sow in tears

                         shall reap with songs of joy!                 R/.

He who goes out weeping,

bearing the seed for sowing,

shall come home with songs of joy,

carrying his sheaves.

R/.   The LORD has done great things for us;

we are glad.

This psalm forms part of grace after meals on the Sabbath and feast days in Jewish households to this day.  The psalm presents a difficulty because it is not clear whether the first two stanzas (vv.1-3) speak of the past (“The LORD has restored the fortunes of Zion …”) or of a future when God will restore the fortunes of the people of Zion (Jerusalem).  I have accepted the future interpretation for the future sense resonates more obviously with the hopes expressed in the Jeremiah reading and with the saving work of Jesus in the reading from Hebrews and the Gospel healing of Bartimaeus.

  This is not an arbitrary choice.  The psalm echoes what is clearly expressed by the prophet Joel.  Consider Joel’s call to everyone in Zion to pray for deliverance from foreign oppression:

Oh, spare Your people, LORD!

Let not Your possession become a mockery,

to be taunted by the nations!

Let not the peoples say,

‘Where is their God?’”

Joel 2:17

The prophet imagines the LORD’S mercy springing into action:

Then the LORD was roused

on behalf of His land

and had compassion

upon his people.

The LORD declared

“I will grant  you the new grain,

the new wine, and the new oil,

and you shall have them in abundance.

Nevermore will I let you be

a mockery among the nations”.

Joel 2:18-19

The whole of the prophecy of Joel is well illustrated in Psalm 126.

A reading from the letter to the Hebrews                                 5:1-6  

For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. And no one takes this honour for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.

So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him:

“You are my Son,

today I have begotten you”;

as he says also in another place,

“You are a priest forever,

after the order of Melchizedek”.

The word of the LORD.



The word for “priest” in Hebrew is “cohen”.  Every male Jew of that name is technically a priest.  But since the holy Temple was destroyed by the Romans in the Jewish War (66-73 A.D.), Jewish priesthood is in abeyance awaiting the coming of the Messiah and the restoration of the Temple.  The home and the synagogue are where worship is centred in Jewish religious life in the world today. That is where the Presence of God is experienced.

  At the time of Jesus, the High Priest was responsible for everything pertaining to the Temple and especially for the conduct of Temple worship.  His was the voice of Judaism in the world, both at home and abroad.

  His priestly duty on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, was his most sacred task.  On that day the High Priest offered sacrifice and prayers to God to make reparation for sin.   Today’s second reading and chapters 8 and 9 of the Letter to Hebrew Christians depend heavily on the ritual and symbolism of Yom Kippur to explain Christ’s sacrifice of his life for humanity’s eternal salvation.  See especially, Hebrews 9:1-28 (part of which forms the Second Reading two Sundays from now, and see below).

   Today’s reading begins an extended meditation on the theme of High Priest, the purpose of which is to show that Jesus, our High Priest, offers himself but once and that his offering is forever effective in coping with humanity’s weaknesses.  Since the priest Melchizedek appears from nowhere in the Bible and disappears as mysteriously, with no account of his death, he is a poetic symbol of everlasting life (Genesis 14:17-20). Ps 110, quoted in today’s reading, hails King David as king and priest.  The author of Hebrews sings the praises of Jesus as Messiah, Son, and eternal priest (Hebrews 5:3-6). As the writer explains later in his letter,

For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

Hebrews 9:24-26

 

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark           10:46-52  

And they come into Jericho and as he was going out of Jericho, with his disciples and a great crowd, the son of Timaeus, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting alongside the way.  And hearing that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say,

“Son of David, Jesus, mercy me!”

And many rebuked him to silence him.  But he cried out all the more,

“Son of David, mercy me!”

And stopping, Jesus said, “Call him”.   And they call the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart, rise up!  He’s calling you!”

And throwing off his cloak, jumping up, he came to Jesus. And Jesus, answering him, said, “What do you want me to do for you?”  So the blind man said to him, “My great one, that I may see!”

And Jesus said to him,

“Go, your faith has saved you!”

And immediately he saw again and followed him on the way.

The Gospel of the LORD.

The journey from Galilee to Jerusalem is almost over.  The first sentence of chapter 11 reports that Jesus and those with him are on the outskirts of the city.  Bartimaeus is the last to meet Jesus before he enters Jerusalem and faces all that will happen there. The meeting with the blind man is not a fortunate happenstance.  It is a dramatic encounter that summarises what Mark’s Gospel has been telling us about who Jesus is and what God has sent him to do. The story tells all we need to know about “the way of the LORD” announced in the very first sentences of Mark’s Gospel.

  The first thing to do is to pay attention to the words:

Disciples and the great crowd

Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus

Blind

Beggar

Way, (wayside)

Son of David

Jesus

Mercy me

Rebuke

Be silent

Call him

Take heart

Rise up

Cloak

Rabbouni

Go

Faith/save

Immediately

Followed

Tracing these words in all that has gone before we will come to appreciate why this incident is told at this point and how Bartimaeus is the perfect model of the true follower of Jesus.

Disciples and the great crowd

The learners, the apprentices, have been with us from the very beginning.  We have come to see how disappointed Jesus is in them. They misunderstand, they fail to grasp the meaning of things, they are, to a man, ambitious and they want to have the rewards of discipleship but without the persecutions.  And out of these specially chosen disciples will come the traitor who will hand him over into the hands of his enemies.

  The crowd, too, has been with us from the beginning.  Up to this point the crowd has been mentioned 28 times.  So great was the crowd that the paralysed man had to be dropped through the roof (2:4).  All the crowd was constantly coming to Jesus (2:13) and gathering about him (5:21). The crowd followed him everywhere (5:24), even into the desert (6:34).  The compassion of Jesus was ever given to the crowd (8:2) and so he fed the thousands who flocked to him and were satisfied (6: 42 and 8:8). And so on until we come to Jericho and a great crowd are passing through with Jesus on the way to Jerusalem.

The son of Timaeus, Bartimaeus.

Bar-Timaeus means in Hebrew “Son of the Unclean”.  We have met many in Mark’s story who were regarded as unclean, unacceptable to God.  Demons were, of course, evil by nature, unclean spirits opposed to the ways of God. Jesus was confronted by people believed to be possessed by demons, such as the man he met in his first encounter in the Capernaum synagogue (1:26).  Remember, too, the leper who cried out to be made clean(1:40), the madman of Gerasa (5:2), tax collectors (2:15), and the woman with a persistent haemorrhage (5:25). All these are made clean, that is, brought back into God’s care and protection.  Who can forget the daughter of a determined pagan woman (7:24), or the father of a very disturbed child (9:17). When we meet the blind man, “the son of the unclean” father, Mark’s attentive readers/hearers will recall all those “unclean” who have gone before and who were blessed to have met Jesus, the man from Nazareth.

A blind man

Jesus healed a blind man (8:22), a man brought to him by some people.  Jesus took the man by the hand, led him out of the village, spat upon his eyes, and laid his hands upon him. In contrast, Bartimaeus is healed in an instant - for he is a man of persistent faith.

A beggar   

An important detail.  Bartimaeus is one of the poor.

Way

Bartimaeus is sitting on the wayside, along the way that Jesus is on as he makes his way to Jerusalem.  Mark’s readers first encountered the word ‘way’ in reference to God appointing John the Baptist as the messenger “who will prepare your way” … “the way of the LORD”.  Careful readers will have noted the layers of meaning given to the word in Mark’s story.  The word occurs 14 times in this little pamphlet, twice in this story.

Son of David, Jesus

How does Bartimaeus know that Jesus the Nazarene is the Son of David, a descendant of that ancient king?  How does the blind man have more insight into the true identity of Jesus than those, disciples included, who are on the way with him to Jerusalem?  Twice he insists on shouting the names.

Mercy me!

We are familiar with Lord, have mercy.  That is not what our Bibles say.  In Greek there is a verb that means ‘to pity (someone)’.  If I may be permitted to translate accurately what Mark wrote, then what Bartimaeus cries out is Son of David! Jesus! Mercy me!   The other surprise is that his cry is a cry of command, an imperative, as it is when we pray Kyrie, eleison, Lord! Mercy (us)!   

Rebuke/Be silent!

This word has always been used in Mark to denounce powers or persons inimical to Jesus or to his God-given enterprise.  Jesus rebuked the demon in the Capernaum synagogue and reduced the evil spirit to silence (1:25; see 9:25). He rebuked and reduced to silence the demon-created storm that threatened the lives of his disciples (4:39).  Peter rebuked Jesus when he revealed that the Messiah was destined to suffer many things and to be put to death (8:32). In turn, Jesus rebuked Peter, calling him Satan because he resisted the will of God (8:33). The disciples rebuked people who sought to have Jesus touch their children and drove Jesus to anger (10:13-14.  Many of those walking the way with Jesus rebuke the blind man and seek to silence him.

Call him!

To the many who rebuked the blind man, Jesus issues a command: Call him!  And Mark has the crowd repeat the word:  He is calling you.   The mission of Jesus is to call people to God.  He began by calling Simon, Andrew, James and John.

Take heart!

We have met it once before.  When Jesus came walking on the water to his frightened disciples he cried out, Take heart; it is I.  Do not be afraid (6:50).

Rise up!

Jesus raised Simon’s mother-in-law: “he raised her up”.  Everywhere in Mark and in the New Testament this is the verb that is used of the resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus himself uses it when he predicts his death (see 8:31; 9:31; 10:34). The young man at the empty tomb uses it, too (16:6).

Cloak

Don’t miss the cloak.

Rabbouni

This is often translated as Rabbi.  But it means more than that.  The more exact translation is My great one!

Go!

The verb here is often translated “Go your way”.  Jesus is inviting the man to head off wherever he wishes, now that he can see where he is going.  But Bartimaeus has other ideas.

Faith/Save

The link between faith and saving is familiar to Mark’s readers.  Remember the woman with the haemorrhage? Daughter, your faith has saved you; go your way … exactly the same words as spoken to Bartimaeus.                                                                                                                                                               

Immediately

The word occurs 42 times in Mark’s story.  How apt is it here? What does it tell you about Bartimaeus?

Followed

Simon and Andrew, the fisherman followed him when called  (1:18). The rich man declined the invitation (10:22). Bartimaeus follows him on the way … to Jerusalem and beyond.

Conclusions

  Carefully attending to almost every word in this carefully constructed story, it becomes clear that Mark intended it to be a summary of much that has gone before.  Jesus has almost reached his destination and his destiny. Bartimaeus illustrates what a true learner, a true apprentice, a true disciple must become. The truly clear-sighted will know that you must leave all and follow Jesus whatever lies ahead.  Faith is always saving faith but it always demands following him on the way, his way, the way that lies ahead in Jerusalem and wherever discipleship is lived in a hostile world.

  I imagine the cloak to be a symbol at the heart of the story.  Bartimaeus is a blind man who places his cloak on the ground beside him to receive the offerings of passers-by.  In that way money received is not scattered all over the road. His cloak is his security blanket. There is a mountain of faith in what he does: And throwing off his cloak, jumping up, he came to Jesus.  He gives up everything and puts his life into the hands of the man from Nazareth.  Blind Bartimaeus stands out as the one person in Mark’s Gospel who knows Jesus, who knows that in him resides the mercy of God come into our world, who trusts him totally, and whose faith impels him to follow him on the way.  The blind man from Jericho is the model disciple, then and now.

Joseph O’Hanlon  





 








       

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