Saturday, October 24, 2015

Getting 20/20 Vision: The Readings for the 30th Sunday in OT

Sorry this post is late. I'm subbing for John Kincaid, whose had some stresses this week.  Plus I've been gone all weekend and only seldom had internet access.--JB

My vision is terrible.  Uncorrected, it’s probably much worse than 20/200.  My glasses prescription is about -8.0 diopters, for those of you who know what that means.  Without my glasses, the whole world looks like a poorly-executed Impressionist painting.  I’ve often wondered in Monet had bad eyesight, too.  

Bad vision usually isn’t too much of an inconvenience these days.  High index lenses have taken the bulk out of the old “coke bottles.”  For sports, I can slip in a pair of contacts.  However, there remains a more serious form of “visual impairment” in the spiritual realm: the inability to see reality properly, to see it from God’s perspective.  The Readings for this Sunday seem to be about physical sight on the surface, but on a deeper level point us to our need to see things through the eyes of God.

1. Our First Reading is Jer 31:7-9

Thus says the LORD:
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.
Behold, I will bring them back
from the land of the north;
I will gather them from the ends of the world,
with the blind and the lame in their midst,
the mothers and those with child;
they shall return as an immense throng.
They departed in tears,
but I will console them and guide them;
I will lead them to brooks of water,
on a level road, so that none shall stumble.
For I am a father to Israel,
Ephraim is my first-born.

Poor Jeremiah had a difficult life: he was called by God to preach repentance from sin to the nation of Judah, but he was warned from his youth that no one would listen to him.  And so it went: Jeremiah spent his whole life warning the people of Jerusalem and Judah of their impending destruction at the hands of the Babylonians, but neither prince nor people ever heeded his advice.  He lived through the destruction of Jerusalem and witnessed his home, family and nation be destroyed by their own obstinance.  Needless to say, his prophetic book is not cheerful reading.

However, out of the 52 chapters of the Book of Jeremiah, there is one bright section: chapters 30-33, which we call “The Book of Consolation.”  Unlike the rest of the book, here Jeremiah actually turns his attention to the future after the destruction and punishment of Judah.  There, in the future beyond his lifetime, he foresees a restoration of peace, and of the loving relationship between God and all the tribes of Israel.

Jeremiah 31, the chapter from which our First Reading comes, is best known for the oracle in vv. 31-34, the only passage of the Old Testament to use the exact term “New Covenant” to describe the restoration that God will bring after the destruction and exile of Judah. 

This Sunday’s reading comprises a less famous oracle earlier in this important chapter.  In vv. 7-9, Jeremiah prophesies the restoration of Israel.  “Israel” here refers to the northern ten tribes, who were destroyed and exiled by the Assyrians about 150 years before the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin were conquered by the Babylonians.  Israel here is also called, in the last verse, “Ephraim”: Ephraim is my first-born son.  Ephraim was the leading tribe of the ten-tribe league that made up northern Israel.  Ephraim was the strongest, centrally-located tribe that held the capital and provided most of the kings.

Already in Jeremiah’s lifetime, the nation of Israel was history—long gone, as distant a memory as the Confederate States of America would be to us today.  Yet Jeremiah proclaims that God has not forgotten them, that he will gather them “from the ends of the world,” including their “blind and lame.”

The theme of the restoration of Israel is an important one in the life and ministry of Our Lord as we read the Gospels.  Jesus chose twelve apostles as twelve new patriarchs around which he would restore the tribes of Israel.  Part of the missionary spirit that we see in the Book of Acts flows out of the desire to go to all the nations, where the tribes of Israel had been scattered, in order to gather back the people of God. 

P. Our Responsorial Psalm is Ps 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6:

R. (3) The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.
When the LORD brought back the captives of Zion,
we were like men dreaming.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with rejoicing.
R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.
Then they said among the nations,
"The LORD has done great things for them."
The LORD has done great things for us;
we are glad indeed.
R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.
Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like the torrents in the southern desert.
Those that sow in tears
shall reap rejoicing.
R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.
Although they go forth weeping,
carrying the seed to be sown,
They shall come back rejoicing,
carrying their sheaves.
R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

Psalm 126 comes from Book V of the Psalter, which largely reflects the period of restoration after Judah’s return from Babylonian exile in the late 500’s BC.  This particular psalm is part of the famous collection of “Psalms of Ascent” (Pss 120-134), which were probably pilgrimage psalms so named because one had to “ascend” or “go up” to the Temple in Jerusalem, since it was located on top of the high ridge line that runs the length of the land of Israel. 

Psalm 126 was clearly composed after the exile was over and the people of Judah had returned to Jerusalem.  The Psalmist reflects on what a joyous time it was for the people of Judah, many of whom thought they would never again see their homeland or worship at the Temple.  Even foreigners were impressed with what the God of Israel had done for his people: “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The restoration of Judah after the exile in Babylon was a beginning of a fulfillment of the promise of return that Jeremiah prophesied.  It was a “down payment” on restoration of all Israel.  Yet there remained much more to be fulfilled.  The people of Judah, after their return, found life difficult in their homeland.  There was widespread poverty, as well as discrimination and hostility from foreign powers.  So the Psalmist prays that God would bring to completion the restoration that he had begun:

Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like the torrents in the southern desert.
Those that sow in tears
shall reap rejoicing.

In the ministry of Jesus, we see God acting to fulfill this prayer, to bring hope and wholeness to the descendants of Israel.

2.  Our Second Reading  Heb 5:1-6:
Brothers and sisters:
Every high priest is taken from among men
and made their representative before God,
to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.
He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring,
for he himself is beset by weakness
and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself
as well as for the people.
No one takes this honor upon himself
but only when called by God,
just as Aaron was.
In the same way,
it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest,
but rather the one who said to him:
You are my son:
this day I have begotten you;
just as he says in another place:
You are a priest forever
according to the order of Melchizedek.

The Book of Hebrews focusses on Jesus as a priest-king after the order of Melchizedek.  Now, Jesus is the royal son of David, and the Davidic dynasty took over the throne of Jerusalem, where Melchizedek had once ruled (Gen 14:18, “Salem”=Jerusalem).  David and his sons, including Jesus, were heirs of Melchizedek, the righteous priest-king. 

God also gave David a covenant of eternal, universal kingship (see Psalm 2, Psalm 89, Psalm 132, 2 Samuel 7).  In this passage, the author of Hebrews quotes two of the most important Davidic covenant psalms: Psalm 2 and Psalm 110.  The author of Hebrews does not even have to argue that these Psalms apply to Jesus.  He and his readers all assume that they do.  Hebrews proves Jesus’ high priesthood by quoting the heart of Psalm 2, where God establishes his covenant with the Son of David: “You are my son, today I have begotten you” (Ps 2:7).  A covenant is the extension of kinship by oath.  In Psalm 2:7, God is establishing the Son of David as his own son by adoption.  Jesus is Son of God naturally in his divine nature, and also Son of God by covenant in his human nature as the heir of David.  A priestly role went along with being the Davidic heir.  Psalm 110 says to every heir of David: “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”  The throne of Jerusalem was the seat of Melchizedek.  Whoever ruled Jerusalem became the successor of Melchizedek, similar to the way that the Bishop of Rome sits in the chair of Peter and succeeds to his role and responsibilities.

At first it doesn’t seem like the passage from Hebrews has anything to do with the “restoration of Israel” theme in the First Reading and the Psalm.  However, the restoration of Israel was not possible without the restoration of the Davidic King.  Only David and Solomon ever ruled over the united twelve tribes.  Saul, David’s predecessor, and only established military control over the center of the country.  And after Solomon, the twelve-tribe unity broke up.  So David and his Son were the only kings of all twelve tribes.  In the Gospel, we see Jesus called “Son of David,” the king to rule over and restore the twelve tribes of Israel.  

3. Our Gospel is Mk 10:46-52:

As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd,
Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus,
sat by the roadside begging.
On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth,
he began to cry out and say,
"Jesus, son of David, have pity on me."
And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.
But he kept calling out all the more,
"Son of David, have pity on me."
Jesus stopped and said, "Call him."
So they called the blind man, saying to him,
"Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you."
He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
Jesus said to him in reply, "What do you want me to do for you?"
The blind man replied to him, "Master, I want to see."
Jesus told him, "Go your way; your faith has saved you."
Immediately he received his sight
and followed him on the way.

“Bartimaeus” means “son of Timaeus.”  Timaeus is a Greek name, meaning “honor” or “honorable.”  Plato wrote a Socratic dialogue named The Timaeus.  “Bar”, on the other hand, is a Jewish-Aramaic word meaning “son.”  Other names of this form include “Barnabas” and “Barabbas.”  So Bar-timaeus was a Jewish man whose father had a very Greek name.  The very form of the name is testimony to the exile of Israel among the nations, where they took on foreign names from the cultures among which they were scattered.

Bartimaeus is blind, like the “blind and lame” among the exiles in Israel mentioned in our First Reading.  He cries out to Jesus under the title, “Son of David.”  The Son of David is the king who will rule once more over the Twelve Tribes.  Bartimaeus, son and victim of the exiles and disasters that befell Israel, cries out to the Son of David to be restored.

The crowd wants to hush this blind beggar, but he keeps yelling.  Jesus notices him and calls to him.  “What do you want me to do for you?”  Bartimaeus isn’t shy: “I want to see!”

Isn’t that we all want?  We want to “see.”  We want to perceive things for how they really are.  To be able to see things as God sees them. 

I’m reminded of a prayer that St. Josemaria Escriva used to pray for years and years during his youth, “Domine, ut videam!”  “Lord, that I might see!”  St. Josemaria knew he was called by God, but did not see clearly to what God was calling him.  So he prayed for this spiritual vision in the words of Bartimaeus.  Many of us need to do the same. 

Jesus responds to Bartimaeus, “Go your way.  Your faith has saved you.”  And Bartimaeus receives his sight!  But he does not go his way.  He follows Jesus on Jesus’ way.  That’s remarkable.  Bartimaeus doesn’t just want to have his eyes healed.  He wants to be part of the kingdom of Israel that the Son of David is restoring, starting with the Twelve New Patriarchs, the Apotstles.  He wants to be a disciple of Jesus, a member of the Church. 

We read this account and focus on Bartimaeus receiving his sight.  However, there is another lesson on sight going on in the story.  The crowd looks at Bartimaeus and sees only a blind beggar, a “throw-away” human being who is not worthy to disturb the busy rabbi from Nazareth.  Jesus looks at Bartimaeus, however, and sees a true son of Israel, a victim of the sins of his people and a fallen world.  He has compassion on this man and restores his sight, and also welcomes him into the New Israel that he is forming around himself: the Church.

This Sunday we come to mass in need of having our vision restored.  Sin, sadness, and the stresses of life cloud our vision, making it impossible to see things as they are.  We pray with Bartimaeus and St. Josemaria, “Domine, ut videam!”  “Lord, that I might see!”  Lord, help us to see our vocations, help us to see what you would have us do, and help us to see in every human being someone worthy of love, that no one would be to us an “overlookable” or “throw-away” human. 

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