My friends, it would seem that this Sunday’s readings are offering a two-sided message for us to ponder. “Ministry”—doing it, that is, is one side of the message, and doing it with “mercy” seems to be the other side.
Jeremiah begins today as he speaks simply, Yahweh’s message to the Israelites, gathering them from all places— “I guided them in my mercy,” leading them to streams of water. The writer to the Hebrews lets us know that their “high priest” will deal with them, “patiently” and this is because the high priest too is, “beset by weakness.” And this my friends is why we can turn to our brother Jesus in our weakness as he knows what it is to live a human life.
In the gospel today from Mark, we hear the beautiful story of Bartimaeus who is physically blind and of how Jesus, our human brother deals with him—with mercy and patience. And the psalmist reminds us, “God has done great things for us!”
As you all know, because I have told you many times before, the wisdom of those who choose our Sunday readings, intend that we will not just read the messages contained within and think, “that’s good for them,” but go that next step and apply the wisdom to our own lives as well.
I will begin our application by going to the poignant story of the blind beggar, Bartimaeus. What does he say? “I want to see,” and we can imagine that in his need, he stresses this fact— “God, I just want to see!” Jesus’ response is to deal with him mercifully.
The patience of which I spoke was used with regard to his apostles who attempt to keep Bartimaeus quiet. Jesus needs to keep telling this lot to focus on what is most important—listening and then doing what they can to help.
With regard to us then—could Bartimaeus’ prayer be ours as well? “God, I just want to see,” remembering of course, that there are several ways of being blind: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I know for sure, in my own life, when I am trying to seek a balance between being firm and being loving, that I pray, “O God, help me to see the piece that I am perhaps missing.”
I mentioned in an earlier homily that I have been reading, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. I just finished it this past week and when all is said and done; I find that what struck me most in his story of working with his mostly black, brothers and sisters, some as young as 14 years of age, on death row, was the apparent, “lack of mercy” that he saw in judges, prosecutors, and the general public, apart from family members in the cases he tried as a lawyer, and especially when the defendants were black.
Rather than the democratic standard of, “innocent until proven guilty”—the opposite was often true for black defendants—the assumption going in of, “guilty as charged,” –often with little work expended by the defense, to prove innocence. It is perhaps a good lesson for us all as we check our assumptions, thoughts, and feelings where others are concerned—especially when we disagree with them.
An assumption/question coming from Scripture where our brother Jesus was concerned might be instructive as we ponder how we look at others— “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” We can simply fill in the town, tribe, family name. It would seem that “mercy” is quite close to “love” –the virtue that we as Jesus’ followers must always apply in dealing with our world.
So, we have laid out “the how,” we should minister (with mercy) as Jesus’ followers in our world; let’s now turn to the actual “ministry” that each of us is called to in our world. I think sometimes, people feel that “ministry” is about what the priest or pastor does in a parish and has little to do with me, thank you very much, and that would be wrong if we thought that. I give you myself as a prime example.
For many years, I prayed that I/we would find a place, a community, where all would be included, all valued and was often disappointed as I looked, until one day, (and you all know my story) God basically said, “Kathy, why don’t you form that community?”
Each of us friends, is called to do our part. Mine has been to pastor here at All Are One Catholic church—some of you have been called to speak truth to power through letters to the editor and to bishops and have done so with courage. Others have spoken out to friends and family members about the rightness of women serving at the altars of our churches and others do it through their personal witness here in attending Mass presided over by an illicit, albeit valid woman priest.
So friends, don’t take lightly what each of you does here—not everyone has the courage that you have. You can therefore, humbly and I do underscore that, “humbly,” pat yourself on the back and add a prayer that we, as a community, can always, humbly witness to the powers-that-be, that it is right for us to be here, whether we are ever recognized officially or not.
The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that being able to minister to others—something we do within this community through our concern for each other, as well as outreach in our larger community of Winona through Home Delivered Meals, monthly meals to the Catholic Worker house and financial gifts to local, national, and international organizations established to assist those in need is a gift we have received from God, not for ourselves, but for others. In other words, God has opened our hearts to give in all the ways that we do, so that we truly can continue our brother Jesus’ work upon the earth. All ministers, official and unofficial must always remember this! Each and all have been gifted for service, not for us, but for others.
In conclusion my friends, let’s return a final time to our brother, Bartimaeus to learn what we can from him. It is good to remember that he got the attention of Jesus and others because he was, “making a ruckus”—something we recall the apostles wanted to put a halt to. Sometimes, in order to jump start some action, “a ruckus” may be needed.
In Bartimaeus’ time, most physical afflictions were seen as punishment for one’s sins. Into the midst of that reality, Bartimaeus still implores, “God, I just want to see!” Would that more of us were willing to make a ruckus when there just seems to be something wrong!
On every Thursday morning here in Winona, except for maybe Thanksgiving, the “postcard writers” –true ministers in every way, spend two hours, “making a ruckus” as they write our Congress people asking them to act on behalf of all the people they purport to serve.
John Lewis, former Congress person, now gone home to God, “made a ruckus” throughout his many years in Congress—only he called it, “making good trouble.”
What would our world be like if we each could sincerely pray Bartimaeus’ prayer, “God, I just want to see” so that I am not blind to the real ways of suffering in my world.
How would it be if the bishops around our country, meeting in November would decide to become real listeners of women, of youth and young adults, of the LGBTQ community, of all the down-trodden and ask each group the question our brother Jesus asked Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” And then, do it!
All of this “stuff” is not easy to do, granted, but we weren’t promised, “easy” when we signed on. At our baptisms, others said, “yes” for us; at our confirmations, we said, “yes” for ourselves—yes to following in Jesus’ footsteps—that should mean something to each of us! We shouldn’t be proud of an epitaph that reads, “He/She got through life pretty much unscathed.”
In that light then, my friends, I’d like to close with the following lines from The Talmud, the body of Jewish civil and ceremonial law—something our brother Jesus would have been very familiar with. I have shared these words before, but thought they bared repeating:
Do not be daunted, by the enormity of the world’s grief.
Do just[ice] now.
Love mercy, now.
Walk humbly, now
You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. Amen? Amen!