Homilies,  Sunday,  Year B

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 2021

The mystic, Chardin wrote, “Seeing.  We might say that the whole of life is in that verb . . .  To see more is really to become more. Deeper vision is really deeper being. [1]    It is, however, no simple thing to see reality as it is.  And yet, seeing reality – as it is – is the most important part of becoming whole and holy.  It is the foundation stone. That is why as Christians we commit our whole life to the task. Seeing reality – as it is – is the means into truthfulness, and it is the truth which sets us free.

Often, however, we are afraid of the truth – the truth of ourselves and of others, the truth of God. It is easier not to see reality.  We impose on reality so much of what is not there. What we see is filtered through our own prejudices and needs.   At its worst extent, we see how painfully this is experienced in those who have suffered anorexia.  No matter how thin those who suffer with anorexia are they look in a mirror only to still see themselves fat. We might not distort reality to the same extent.  Yet, still, we can be sure that the way we see ourselves, the world, and indeed the way we see God, is coloured by so much of what is not there in reality.

Therefore, the gospels are full of the stories of Jesus’ cure of the blind. Jesus cures our blindness.  Jesus touches our eye that we might see more.  Indeed, one of the constant refrains of the gospel is the account of the way in which our encounter with Jesus awakens us.  The Spirit touches the ear and the eye that we may ‘hear more’ and ‘see more.’  One of my favourite poems is that by the American poet, e.e. cummings that goes simply

“I thank you God for this most amazing day:  for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes . . .

(now the ears of my ears awake and

now the eyes of my eyes are opened).” [2]

The Spirit comes into our life to rouse us from our slumber, to stir us from a life of somnolence, from a life of inertia, passivity, paralysis so that we might live more fully, more lovingly.  Therefore, sight and love in the Christian Tradition have been integrally linked by our great writers.  As one of the medieval theologians, Richard of St. Victor would say, “to love is to see.” 

This conjunction of heart and sight is underscored by the story of the cure of the blind man Bartimaeus.  Whilst he was in Bolivia some years ago Pope Francis gave a wonderful commentary on this story. He remarked that two things about this story jump out at us and make an impression. On the one hand, there is the cry of a beggar, and on the other, the different reactions of the disciples. It is as if the Evangelist wanted to show us the effect which Bartimaeus’ cry had on people’s lives, on the lives of Jesus’ followers. How did they react when faced with the suffering of that man on the side of the road, wallowing in his misery? [3]

Pope Francis identified three responses to the cry of the blind man, using the three phrases taken from the Gospel account itself: They passed by, they told him to be quiet, and they told him to take heart and get up.

They passed by. Passing by is the response of indifference, of avoiding other people’s problems because they do not affect us. We do not hear them; we do not recognize them. Here we have the temptation to see suffering as something natural, to take injustice for granted. We say to ourselves, “This is nothing unusual; this is the way things are.” It is the response born of a blind, closed heart, a heart which has lost the ability to be touched, and hence the possibility to change. A heart used to passing-by without letting itself be touched; a life which passes from one thing to the next, without ever sinking roots in the lives of the people around us.  The pope called this “the spirituality of zapping.” It is always on the move, but it has nothing to show for it. There are people who keep up with the latest news, the most recent best sellers, but they never manage to connect with others, to strike up a relationship, to get involved . . . To pass by, without hearing the pain of our people, without sinking roots in their lives and in their world, is like listening to the word of God without letting it take root and bear fruit in our hearts.

The second response when we see someone who is suffering is, they told him to be quiet. Keep quiet, don’t bother us, leave us alone. Unlike the first response, this one hears, acknowledges, and makes contact with the cry of another person. It recognizes that he or she is there but reacts simply by scolding. It is the attitude of some leaders of God’s people; they continually scold others, hurl reproaches at them, tell them to be quiet.  This is the drama of the isolated consciousness, of those who think that the life of Jesus is only for those deserve it. They seem to believe there is only room for the “worthy,” for the “better people,” and little by little they separate themselves from the others. They have made their identity a badge of superiority.  They hear, but they don’t listen. The need to show that they are different has closed their heart. Their need to tell themselves, “I am not like that person, like those people,” not only cuts them off from the cry of their people, from their tears, but most of all from their reasons for rejoicing.

But then lastly, we come upon the third response.  Unlike those who simply passed by, the Gospel says that Jesus stopped and asked what was happening. He stopped when someone cried out to him. Jesus singled him out from the nameless crowd and got involved in his life. And far from ordering him to keep quiet, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He didn’t have to show that he was different, somehow apart; he didn’t decide whether Bartimaeus was worthy or not before speaking to him. He simply asked him a question, looked at him and sought to come into his life, to share his lot. And by doing this he gradually restored the man’s lost dignity; he included him. Far from looking down on him, Jesus was moved to identify with the man’s problems and thus to show the transforming power of mercy.   There can be no compassion without stopping, hearing, and showing solidarity with the other. Compassion is not about zapping, it is not about silencing pain, it is about the logic of love. A logic, a way of thinking and feeling, which is not grounded in fear but in the freedom born of love and of desire to put the good of others before all else. A logic born of not being afraid to draw near to the pain of our people. Even if often this means no more than standing at their side and praying with them.

“Take heart; get up. The Master is calling you.”  Let us hear that these words are being said to us and let us not be afraid to say these words to one another.  Then because we have risked getting involved, we will truly see.


[1] Teilhard de Chardin, Phenomenon of Man, 33.

[2] Quoted in T.N. Hart, The Art of Christian Listening (N.Y.: Paulist, 1980), 29.

[3] The following is taken from Pope Francis, “Address to Clergy and Religious” in Bolivia 9 July 2015.

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