Friends, as I said in the bulletin message for this week; the chosen scriptures call us to service in the footsteps of our brother, Jesus. And we see clearly what that service will entail—it is and will be about meeting people where they are—loving them there and doing what we can for them there.
I think many times we are like those first followers of Jesus—we want to choose where we will serve, at our convenience, and for only those whom we find acceptable. Jesus’ followers in the gospel today didn’t want to be bothered with some “screaming creature” on the side of the road. But Jesus shows them the way—“Call him here.” And then he does an even more astounding thing—he asks Bartimaeus what he wants Jesus to do for him. This is clearly not about Jesus’ agenda—he wants to do for Bartimeus what Bartimeus needs, a good reflection for the bishops as they conclude their Synod on the Family. I reflect on this when I’m deciding what to do with my time in retirement—is it all about me or is my heart big enough to truly discover what people need and then do it? It truly is a work in progress, because I am as human as the next one.
I am encouraged in this journey—struggle really, to do what people most need as I read Nadia Bolz-Weber’s, Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People. I recall an incident where she was called to do the funeral of a young, suicide victim, someone not from her parish and on one of only three days her had off in that month. Everything human within her was saying, “No, I can’t,” yet, within another place, came, “I have to do this!” The family said they would understand if she couldn’t and she left it with, “I will get back to you.” Within a short time, she called the family back and agreed to do the funeral.
Something, actually Someone, was calling her to fulfill what this family grieving the loss of a beloved son to suicide—probably one of the most horrible ways to lose a child, most needed and wanted. Families of suicide victims always agonize over what more they could have done or said to have prevented this tragedy and see it as a failure to have been there for a loved one. Within some belief systems it is even seen as an unforgiveable sin by God. Nadia assured this grieving family that “God is always present in love and suffering and that God was present both the moment Billy entered this world and the moment he left it, loving him back into the arms of his Creator.” This was all his family, not religious, needed and wanted to know, and they thanked her. Would someone else have been able to do the same for this family if they could have even found someone—we don’t know. Now having said that, I do feel the responsibility of throwing into the mix, for those of you who give tirelessly, the caution of taking care of ourselves too—it’s a balancing act.
In our lives as baptized followers of Jesus, the Christ, we are called and in fact have the responsibility to carry on his work of love in our world. Sometimes it is like planting seeds; we may not harvest the fully grown plant, but we still have the responsibility of getting things going and growing.
More than fifty years ago, a man of the people, Angelo Roncalli, now Saint John XXIII, pope, brother and friend to all, was about getting things going— in his words, “Opening some windows,” letting some fresh air into our Church, long stagnating, falling short of the message and work of Jesus—he was truly about Jesus’ work—that of loving, simply loving. Today, another man of God, by the name of Francis is attempting to once again let fresh air into the Church. He “gets it”—the idea of loving and extending mercy and moving away from the trappings of power so long associated with the hierarchy in Rome. It is the hope of many women that his love and mercy will extend to us as well; that he might make the connections to the poverty of women and their children in this world really starting at his doorstep by his inability to see and treat them as equals.
It is the needs of people, where we find them that the readings are really speaking about and calling us to today. Jesus told the people of his time that “the reign of God” is here now, among you. He also talked about the “harvest” and I think we can get our minds and hearts around that notion when talking about the great gathering of all of God’s people at the end of time. Jesus’ teachings and parables are filled with this kind of terminology because it was language that the people understood.
Fifty years ago when our brother John was about opening windows to let fresh air into our Church and to basically get us back to the message of Jesus, language that was not understandable or readily used in the world (Latin) was dropped from the liturgy—the idea being, we want the Scriptures—God’s Word to be more intelligible—we want God to be better understood, closer to us. What a wonderful idea!
But, for whatever reason, Church fathers tend to want to push God further away, keep HIM (their word, not mine) more mysterious, so that they, I believe, can have control over what we believe. This has been the struggle these 50 years since our brother, John, left us and it would seem one that continues today as we have watched the Synod on the Family march through its paces. There is just the smallest bit of hope this morning in the news in their final document that communion for the divorced and remarried may able to happen on a case by case basis.
These many-times, entrenched Church fathers really missed the Spirit-led joy of the Second Vatican Council that called for more and greater participation of the laity in Church matters. An issue that Vatican II didn’t address because it wasn’t yet time was gender equality, but now it is time! Church fathers’ blatant sexism at this Synod was only too apparent as 18 men from religious orders were invited, none of them bishops, and each was given a vote. Of the religious women invited, not one was given a vote! It is time!
Gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender rights were not dealt with at Vatican II—it was not yet time—but it is time now! Not allowing all the voices at the table gives us a “poor” Church, one where the Spirit of God cannot fully be heard or acted upon and until and unless this happens, it strikes a death knell for our beloved Church.
The Scriptures today are very clear. Jeremiah speaks of a time when all people will be gathered together—not just the rich and the famous, but the blind and the lame, the pregnant women and children—all the outcasts of society—we might add those of the “wrong” gender or sexual orientation. The reading from Hebrews speaks of Jesus as the high priest and the gospel reading shares the wonderful story of Bartimaeus who is cured of his blindness. Even in that much of a review, we see the intention of the Spirit to include all under the high priest Jesus who in fact did include all.
Jeremiah is talking about a future time when all will be one, gathered and welcomed. Jesus is indeed named as high priest, but this distinction, came as a result of his giving of himself for the many, for us—in his life, his death, his resurrection—all of it. Bartimaeus receives his sight from Jesus’ intervention; but as Jesus said, it was Bartimaeus’ faith that saved him.
I think this is an important piece for each of us to remember—Jesus isn’t just running around performing stunts to amaze—he is very much engaging people, meeting them in their need and responding accordingly. I believe too, what Jesus, our brother and loving God is calling forth in each of us, beginning with Bartimaeus today, is the fruits of the cure—the transformation in our lives. The scripture says that Bartimaeus immediately began to follow Jesus along the road. We can assume that it meant that he would become more like the one he followed.
As we know, Jesus’ words and actions always carried a deeper message than what appeared on the surface. Here today, Bartimaeus is the depiction of someone who cannot physically see. From the story, we realize that he has spiritual sight through his faith in someone greater than himself. The question comes to each of us as well—what are the areas in our lives where we are blinded to a larger truth?
I think we are all blinded at times as we rush around tending to the cares of life—so much so that we miss the beauty of our ever-changing earth, especially here in the Midwest with our delightful change of the seasons. And most importantly perhaps, how often are we blinded to the beauty and joy that family and friends and others—friends yet to be, do and can bring into our lives? We were astounded again by the wonder and goodness of our family to keep things going during our sojourn to Alaska—those who came and picked our garden, saving some for our return, many family people, especially our son Isaac and his wife, Lauren who disrupted their lives every weekend leaving their Minneapolis home to come and mow the Redig Family Farm’s extensive lawns, along with Dick Dahl and all of you for keeping things going here at the parish.
How often do we take our families and friends for granted when all is going well? I, as you have had times in life that make us realize how fragile we are—how fragile life is, and of how there are no guarantees. So, I personally want to take my life more seriously, being more mindful and take my responsibility to share life with all whom God puts in my path, realizing that if I choose to see, to truly see, I can assist others who themselves , simply want to see—in whatever way that might be! We are called friends by our brother Jesus to the table, to life, to participation, to the sight that includes all, leaves no one behind. Let us turn our backs on those who would thwart the work of Vatican II saying that we need to go back. Our response should be to say, yes, let’s go all the way back then to the time and words of Jesus. We must keep pushing forward, doing the work of the kindom, opening windows, planting the seeds that others may have to harvest as did Good Pope John—listening, truly listening to the Spirit that calls each of us to life and to love in the here and now. And, let the people say—AMEN!