Oct 25, 2015: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

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1st Reading – Jeremiah 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.

Jeremiah was the second of the four great prophets of Israel, a contemporary of Zephaniah, Nahum and Habakkuk. He was born around the year 645 B.C., almost a century after Isaiah.

Jeremiah’s book tells of his calling to be a prophet and chronicles the downfall of Judah through broken covenants. He reminds his hearers that God is a just judge who takes covenants very seriously. He then goes on to prophesy about the restoration of the northern and southern kingdoms (Israel and Judah).

Today’s reading proclaims the future restoration of Israel and the new exodus.

Thus says the LORD:

Jeremiah uses this phrase literally hundreds of times throughout the book that bears his name.  The prophet wants everyone to know that the words his about to proclaim are not his, but God’s.

Shout with joy for Jacob, exult at the head of the nations; proclaim your praise and say: The LORD has delivered his people,

The enthusiasm of the prophet is palpable: shout with joy, exult, proclaim your praise!  This is a time of immense joy, as the Lord has delivered the people.

He is foretelling this as a future event, yet it is stated as an accomplished fact.

the remnant of Israel.

The people are called ‘the remnant’ because they are the small number who escaped when the northern kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians in 721 B.C.

Behold, I will bring them back from the land of the north;

Another reference to the Assyria, where they were being held captive.

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.

The blind, the lame, mothers and their children — all of these are utterly dependent on God and would find such a journey difficult.  Yet none are left behind.

They departed in tears, but I will console them and guide them;

They left their cherished homeland in tears, but God leads them back amid shouts of joy.

I will lead them to brooks of water,

Imagery of fruitfulness and refreshment.

on a level road, so that none shall stumble.

This accentuates how easy the journey will be, in contrast to the exodus (see also Isaiah 35:8 and 40:4).

For I am a father to Israel,

The notion of the fatherhood of Yahweh toward Israel is found throughout the Old Testament; it serves to define their covenant relationship (Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 32:6). The Israel referred to here is not just the northern kingdom; it refers the original kingdom which was formed by the people freed from Egypt.

Ephraim is my first-born.

Ephraim received his inheritance through adoption by Jacob, and like Jacob himself, he was granted the privileges of the first-born in place of his older brother (Genesis 48:5-20).

The status of this ancestor of the Israelites takes on an interesting dimension in this context: the one who represents the remnant is an ancestor who has been grafted onto the family tree, one through whom a people are given a new start.  Just as the returnees are evidence of God’s willingness to grant a second chance, so Ephraim symbolizes kinship through God’s choice.

2nd Reading – Hebrews 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.

Today’s reading shows that just as Old Testament priests were identified with the weak and erring people whom they represented and served at God’s appointment, so also Christ became High Priest by the Father’s appointment and was identified with his people through suffering.

Brothers and sisters: Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God,

The reading begins by stating the general qualifications of the office of high priest (see Leviticus 16).  The first requirement is that he be taken from among men; he must be one of us, a human with flesh and bone.

This implies the following:

1) That man had sinned.

2) That God would not admit sinful man to come to him immediately and alone, without a high priest, who must be taken from among men.

3) That God was pleased to take one from among men, by whom they might approach God in hope, and he might receive them with honor.

4) That every one shall now be welcome to God that comes to him by his priest.

to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.

The people bring gifts and free-will offerings to the high priest, to be offered to God as an acknowledgement that all we are and all we have is from him.  We have nothing but what he is pleased to give us, and of his own we offer him an oblation, freely and in gratitude.

Note that all gifts must go through the high priest’s hands; he is the great agent between God and man.

He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring,

A high priest must be able to empathize with the frailty of those he serves, and willing to minister and teach them despite their shortcomings.

The Greek term metriopathein, translated here as “deal patiently,” appears nowhere else in the Bible. It is translated elsewhere as “having compassion” and “exercising forebearance,” and signifies an appropriate balance between passion and lack of feeling.

for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people.

Everyone, including the priest, is a sinner. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest, before entering the Holy of Holies, offered a sin offering for his own sins as well as those of the people (Leviticus 16:3, 6, 11; Hebrews 9:6-14).

The high priest’s acknowledgement of the human limitations that he shares with the people would prevent his arrogance and keep him from making unrealistic demands on the people.  In other words, humility was a qualification for the office.

No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.

Patterned after the model of Aaron, who was explicitly called by God (Exodus 28:1, Numbers 3:10), the high priest must belong to one of the divinely appointed priestly families.

This is not intended to imply superiority of those families over others; it simply underscores the importance of the office.

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”;

Psalm 2:7 is quoted, identifying Jesus as the son of God.

Jesus did not descend from one of the priestly families, and there was no need for him to make sin offerings for himself; therefore, his right to function as high priest needed explanation, which is being provided here.

just as he says in another place: “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

Psalm 110:4 (see also Genesis 14:18).  Because tradition had no information about his origin, the mysterious priest-king Melchizedek was believed to have had no beginning.

Both quotes refer to an individual with a special status (son of God, priest) that did not belong to the person by right, but was conferred by God.  By applying these verses to Jesus, the author is claiming that the offices Jesus held were conferred by God.

The author is establishing Christ as the perfect mediator, the perpetual high priest, both God and man in one person.

Gospel – Mark 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.

Today’s reading is about Bartimaeus, a man who was healed by Christ and also called to become a disciple.  This account is the last story in Mark’s gospel before he begins his description of Passion Week.

As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd,

Jericho is fifteen miles northeast of Jerusalem and five miles west of the Jordan River. The journey which began in Caesarea Philippi is reaching its destination in Jerusalem.

Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging.

Bartimaeus is the Aramaic form; “the son of Timaeus” is an explanation in Greek.

Bartimaeus is the only person helped by Jesus who is recorded by name.  Scripture scholars have suggested that it was because he probably became an early Christian convert, and so it was Mark’s way of pointing out to other Christians someone they might know by name in their midst.

“Mark has recorded both the name of Bartimaeus and of his father, a circumstance which scarcely occurs in all the many cases of healing which had been performed by the Lord. … Consequently there can be little doubt that this Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, had fallen from some position of great prosperity, and was now regarded as an object of the most notorious and the most remarkable wretchedness, because, in addition to being blind, he had also to sit begging” [Saint Augustine of Hippo (ca. AD. 400), The Harmony of the Evangelists, 2,65].

On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”

“Son of David” identified Jesus not only as a descendant of King David, but also as the long-awaited messiah who was expected from this royal line.  This would make Jesus the heir of the promise made to David through Nathan (2 Samuel 7:12-16; 1 Chronicles 17:11-14; Psalm 89:29-38).

This is also noteworthy because it is the first public application of this messianic title to Jesus.

And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.

In many other healing narratives, people brought those who were sick and afflicted to Jesus for healing.  In this instance, the people nearby try to silence Bartimaeus, perhaps because Jesus speaking to the crowds and he was interrupting.

But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.”

The faith of this man is demonstrated by both his actions and his messianic acclamation.  He knows that Jesus has the power to heal him, but he also believes that Jesus is the anointed of God, the Christ, who has come to inaugurate the reign of God.

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage; get up, he is calling you.”

The man’s persistent, bold trust stops Jesus.  He has him Bartimaeus brought to him.

He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.

Beggars normally would spread out their cloaks to receive offerings.  This beggar throws his cloak aside, apparently leaving behind both the alms he has already received and his life of begging.

Some see his casting away the cloak as a form of the baptismal divesting.  Regardless, he leaves what he has in order to respond to the call of Jesus.

Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Jesus’ question is the same as to James and John (Mark 10:36). Their request for seats of honor contrasts with Bartimaeus’ humble request that follows.

The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.”

The word the man uses is rabboni, which means “my master” or “teacher,” and is a more reverential address than the customary title of rabbi.

Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”

Faith is the necessary prerequisite for a miracle and an essential demand of Jesus’ preaching.  The man, though blind, already had eyes of faith.

He acted on this faith and publicly proclaimed it, despite the attempts of others to suppress his statements.  Jesus tell him it is this faith that gave him his sight.

Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.

Bartimaeus is one of the people of faith in Mark’s gospel who embody true discipleship, in contrast to the blundering disciples.  Having been cured, he knows follows Jesus “on the way” — that is, actually walking in his footsteps.

“So let us follow Him as our pattern: offering Him for our ransom, receiving Him as our Eucharistic food and waiting for Him as our endless and exceeding great reward” [Saint Augustine of Hippo (between A.D. 391-430), Sermons on the Liturgical Seasons, For the Easter Season, (No. 231,2)].

Connections and Themes

  • The responsorial psalm for today is, “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.”  This is an accurate reflection of the theme for this Sunday.  For many of us we turn to God only in times of crisis or need; today, we focus not on our needs, but on the many gifts we have received.
    • The reading from Jeremiah was addressed to a people who had suffered great losses.  They had been separated from their families, scattered in a foreign land.  Instead of focusing on the gloom, Jeremiah directs them to “shout with joy,” “exult,” “proclaim your praise.”  Despite the fact that they had committed many grave wrongs against God and were punished by being sent away, God never gave up on them.  God still loved them and saw himself as their father, and he promised he will save them.
    • The reading from Hebrews centers around Jesus as the great high priest.  As we consider all that God has done for us, near the top of that list must be the fact that he sent his only Son to humble himself as a human, with all of our sufferings and limitations.
    • In the gospel reading, Bartimaeus did not focus on his limitations, but rather on the gift of being in the presence of the Messiah.
  • Bartimaeus was physically blind, but many see his story as a metaphor for spiritual blindness as well.  Note that after regaining his sight, Bartimaeus did not simply move on with his life — he became a disciple and his life was forever changed.  James and John certainly demonstrated spiritual blindness in last week’s reading, when they asked for places of honor with Jesus in his glory, right in the middle of him speaking about his impending suffering and death.  Like James, John, and Bartimaeus, are we also blind?  Do we see Christ in our lives?  Have we heard God’s promise that he will gather, guide and console us?  Do we live our lives accordingly?
  • There will always be negative aspects of life; it’s part of being human.  It is easy, and perhaps even natural, to focus on our problems and how to solve them. However, it is just as important to dwell on the the good things in our lives, the many blessings God has given us: the love of a child, the beauty of nature, our safety and security.  If we focus our attention on our blessings, we realize how enriched our lives are.  Within this mindset, we can work to make the world closer to the kingdom of God that Jesus preached about.

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