October 28, 2012 - Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm 126:1-6
Hebrews 5:1-6
Mark 10:46-52

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks Bartimaeus, and Bartimaeus is ready with an immediate answer. Are we ready with an answer? If we heard that Jesus was waiting for us, and he asked this question, would the answer come so quickly to our lips? Bartimaeus does not have a list. He does not pause between various options. He knows what he wants: to see again. We should have a desire in our hearts as strong as the desire of Bartimaeus to see again. He wants to see so badly that even when the people tell him to be quiet, he calls out all the louder.

What should this desire be? If it were for some material object, it would not be worthy of being all-consuming. If it were merely for a physical healing, it would be inferior because it would be temporary. We are all going to die. Every one of us is terminally ill. A physical healing might grant us a few more years or even decades, but nothing more. The desire of our hearts is for something greater, for a healing that will last more than 100 years. The desire of our hearts is for the Resurrection. In the Resurrection, we will have every material thing we need. In the Resurrection, our bodies will be healed of every pain and disability. And the Resurrection is forever.

But what does it mean to desire the Resurrection? The Resurrection signifies a completely different mode of being. To desire the Resurrection is to desire change. If I want to participate in life forever, I have to be changed into the sort of person who can live forever. Right now I am not good enough. If I lived forever, my faults would infinitely multiply. The only way we can live forever is if we first become perfect. Perfection seems like a hopeless goal in this life, but it is a necessary prerequisite for the Resurrection. Since the Resurrection is the desire of our hearts, this perfection is the desire of our hearts.

The perfection we want is not simply to be freed from all sins. It is not enough to stop doing bad things. When Jesus says, “Be perfect”, he is speaking about love. To be ready for heaven, our love has to be perfect. First of all, our love of God has to be without qualification or reservation. We must love God with all of our heart, strength, mind, and soul. And then we must love each other as Jesus loved us. That is what it means to be perfect.

We cannot achieve this perfection by our own efforts. Justification, which is the process of God making us perfect, is by grace alone. It cannot be accomplished by human strength. Bartimaeus could never have healed his own blindness. All he could do was wait for the healing of God. But his waiting is not a passive waiting. He actively cries out to God for healing. So too we cannot just wait around for God to justify us. We work every day for the unattainable perfection, waiting for the day when God brings it within our reach. This waiting is full of striving and prayer. We strive so that we are headed in the right direction, but it is our prayers that will do the most good.

Like Bartimaeus, we must call out, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” We must not call out just once or twice. We must not stop if the crowd tells us that our cry is useless. Like Bartimaeus, who could not see Jesus, but still called out for him because he heard that Jesus was there, we too call out for what we cannot see but have only heard of. Bartimaeus must have wondered after calling out for the tenth or twentieth time whether Jesus was still there, or whether he had ever really been there. Suddenly, the crowd tells him, “Jesus is calling you.” Can we even imagine what it will be like after calling out for Jesus for the millionth time to suddenly hear the crowd of angels and saints tell us, “Jesus is calling you.”

What does Bartimaeus do when he receives his sight? Jesus says “Go”, but Bartimaeus instead follows Jesus along the way. Where else would he go? Jesus frees Bartimaeus to go wherever he wants, but where he wants to go is with Jesus. Just a few weeks ago, we heard Jesus tell the rich young man to go and sell everything and then come follow. Bartimaeus, being poor, is free to just get up and follow. The possessions of the rich man act as chains on his heart that prevent him from going easily where he wants. Bartimaeus, having nothing, is not held down by anything. With these stories next to each other, we see the contrast between the freedom of poverty and the slavery of riches.

Our readings today are filled with the promises of the Resurrection. God will bring us back from wherever we have wandered off to, and in the life he has planned for us, the blind will see and the lame will walk and every tear will be wiped away. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy. This life we live now is filled with reasons for sorrow, but every sorrow will be forgotten in the life to come. This life is hard because we are separated from God and from each other. Jesus is the high priest who can finally achieve for us the reconciliation with God. When we have been forgiven by God, we will naturally forgive our brothers and sisters. There is a perfect life waiting for us, and all we need to do is become perfect.

If we want to see the fulfillment of these promises we are going to need the faith of Bartimaeus, the ability to believe even when we cannot see, and the hope of Bartimaeus that continued to call out when Jesus did not immediately answer, and the poverty of Bartimaeus; since he did not have material things to love he was free to love Jesus and follow him. Bartimaeus is for us an example of faith, hope, and love. This is the contradiction of the Gospel. A blind beggar who was dismissed by those around him is for us today an example of perfection.