Fr John's Homily - 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B - Jesus' New Vision of Discipleship

4 November 2018 | General Interest


Mk 10.46-52  (Jer31.7-9, Hb 5)

Last week I referred to the Invictus (the word meaning ‘undefeated’) Games, with the motto “I AM”, in relation to the young royals doing a bit of good out here, much as I am for a republic!  Apparently, these games were not just for those who had been physically or psychologically damaged, but for any armed service veteran, Harry, as founder, saying the Games “would demonstrate the power of sport to inspire recovery, support rehabilitation and demonstrate life beyond disability.”

Earlier I was talking with my friend Martin Ashe (PP of Mernda), who told me of a handicapped participant speaking coming to a growing awareness that he no longer felt inferior or incapable because of his condition, but regaining his humanity and sense of being a whole person,  gaining a new vision of himself, as he experienced the emphasis on what he could do, rather than what he could not, and feeling fully human and not a pariah, as he had first felt.

This Gospel is as much about insight into who Jesus is and what discipleship means to oneself, as to having physical vision.  

Claude Mostowik MSC uses the example of Alice in Wonderland going down the rabbit hole and finding herself “in another world where different values apply.  She encounters animals with a superior air and treat her as inferior.  The usual roles are reversed.  Alice is trapped in her narrow human way of viewing life and reality… a terrifying experience.  Her fear is unfounded as she gradually experiences a movement from a narrow frame of reference… to see the limitations of her assumptions, judgements and stereotypes about life and people.”  As things are turned upside down for her, her consciousness broadens to accept the unexpected, and enjoy the ride into a new sort of unreality, with Mad Hatters, Red Queens, a vanishing Cheshire cat leaving just a smile, a wily caterpillar, and so on!

Likewise, the apostles’ expectations are turned on their heads as they experience Jesus’ challenging them to take a fresh look at the world around them.   The rich young, middle-aged, senior or older man is caught up in his own comfortable and conforming world that  he cannot see beyond nor let go of what prevents him seeing those who are in need, for whom he could make a difference, if only he opened his eyes, and look beyond the strict prescriptions of the details of the law and ritual.  The disciples themselves are blind for much of the journey with Jesus as to his message of humility and service, as they (or their mothers asking on their behalf in Matthew’s Gospel!) seek the higher places of honour and comfort.

It is surely ironic that blind Bartimaeus and the lepers and the suffering or sinning women on the fringe who have the deeper insights into Jesus message and ministry in the first place, those who are simply and unjustly blamed for their conditions as an unjust cop-out by those who used that excuse to ignore them and their plight.

A sort of secular saint fits right in here, in regard to actual vision, where we have ophthalmologist Fred Hollows, who had a vision and mission to give vision, as he once said of his trachoma treatment program for the indigenous people of Australia, now ongoing through his foundation, 25 years after his death at 63: “Every eye is an eye…  It’s obscene to let people go blind when they don’t have to… I might be a do-gooder, but if doing good is preventing people going blind and curing curable blindness I don’t care what they call me… Good eye service is the right of everybody, not just the wealthy who can afford it… Every eye is an eye, whether you’re doing the surgery there, that is just as important as if you were doing eye surgery on the prime minister or the king. To my mind, having a care and concern for others is the highest of the human qualities.”  He saw a problem with his own eyes, and literally undertook to give vision to others.

And today, here is Jesus in Jericho, one of the world’s most ancient inhabited cities, where Mark’s last recorded miracle of Jesus occurs, before he hits Jerusalem and faces his ultimate fate, much to the denial and yet concern of his disciples.

Surprises keep coming up, as we recall who was seeking preferential treatment in the Kingdom with Jesus, with no insight at all into the reality of what he was saying, about crosses and suffering along the way.  To give them their due, they are sticking with him still, though impeded their self-interest, ignorance and fears, but it is those on the outer who respond to Jesus and persevere in their pursuit, despite rejection and resistance from the disciples, as with the women in trouble, the children turned away, as Jesus consistently reverses expectations and overturns orthodox behaviour and attitudes, reaching out in compassion and forgiveness and acceptance.

This is the second account of a blind man’s healing, the first in Mk 8.22-26, where friends or family bring the man to Jesus, pleading for sight on his behalf, and the process is gradual, as the world around him comes into focus, trees morphing into people, bringing a new clarity of vision, but also presumably about who Jesus is for him personally.  In contrast, Bartimaeus is determined to encounter Jesus, and has an attitude of faith, which overcomes the dissuasion of those around him, and Jesus calls him forward, as he casts off his outer garment, symbolic, they say, of his need to beg, and be inhibited by his limitations.  Perhaps it is also symbolic of him casting off his old ways,  as he finds new sight to follow Jesus on his path of life to Jerusalem (with all its negative connotations as Jesus has forecast 3 times before now, yet presses ahead, with a clear sense of mission and destiny en route), with a positive attitude to being a faithful disciple.

As Mostowik says: He “represents those people who are unwilling to remain on the margins, unwilling to listen to others that things cannot be different... as women and men cry out to be heard, to be understood and seek justice when they have been abused in institutions in this country.”  It was only appropriate just this week, and long overdue, that PM Morrison stood in parliament to give an official apology to those who had been victims of institutional abuse in Australia, so that it can be seen that their treatment was so wrong and destructive of their opportunity to develop their full human potential: “We must be so humble to fall before those who were forsaken and beg them our apology. A sorry that dare not ask for forgiveness.. A sorry that speaks only of profound grief and loss… A sorry from a nation that seeks to reach out in compassion into the darkness where you have lived for so long… Trust broken. Innocence betrayed. Power and position exploited for evil dark crimes… Death can take many forms… the loss of a life lived, a life denied… as a nation we confront our failure to listen, to believe and to provide justice.” And, of course, as we know, the institutional Catholic Church was in the midst of it!

In the Gospel today, Jesus brings new insights into what constitutes a disciple, and a new vision to each person being called, no matter their situation or condition.  Bartimaeus’ cry is loud and clear: “The subversive cry of children, women, sinners and people in need of healing.  It is an incredible act of hope… that things can be different… the refusal to remain powerless and passive.” His cry shows us the way to move forward as more insightful disciples, living this Good News, seeing others and the world around us with the eyes of Jesus, not just through our own blinkered view or rose-coloured glasses of unreality and self-delusion.  Our friend Bartimaeus provides us with a renewed vision of what being a disciple means, “to be filled with the goodness of Jesus, which only Jesus can give”, as Frank Moloney puts it.

john hannon                                       27/10/2018

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