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Homily: 30th Sunday in ordinary time

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We hear this Sunday the story of Jesus healing the blind man Bartimaeus. On the surface this seems to be just an extraordinary story that attests to the divinity of Christ. But the Bible gives us so many stories of Jesus opening the eyes of those who are blind, there must be more – and there is. To see the deeper meaning of this Gospel will require us to have our eyes opened in a whole new way. What does that look like? Check it out…

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Homily: 30th Sunday in ordinary time

  1. 1. 24 October 2021 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time Princeton,NJ 1 Deacon Jim Knipper Often when I look at any particular biblical story, knowing that all the stories were verbally passed on for decades before finally being chosen and recorded by the Gospel writers… I ask myself, “Why did this specific story make the final list?” And if you were to ask that question this morning about the blind man receiving sight, we could easily say that this gospel is an extraordinary story that attests to the divinity of Christ. But the Bible gives us so many stories of Jesus opening the eyes of those who are blind. Matter of fact each Gospel writer has at least one if not more stories of the restoration of sight. So, what is the reason for all these accounts of Jesus opening the eyes of those who cannot see? While this particular passage appears in Matthew and Luke – only Mark’s account, which we just heard, provides us the name of the one who is healed: Bartimaeus – son of Timaeus. Most scholars feel that Mark concocted the name whose Aramaic root means “unclean.” Thus the name really means: “son of my impure ones.” For it seems that Mark is speaking out against the general bigotry of those who are poor…those who are disabled, those who are different from us. So, look again at this Gospel with new eyes: Jesus has just travelled through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem and is surrounded by his disciples and a growing crowd. Sitting alongside the road, stuck behind the mass of people, was the blind man Bartimaeus. He has heard so much about Jesus and so wants to meet him that he begins to call out to him saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” Note, this blind man is not just calling him Jesus – he is calling him Son of David – The Messiah – The Christ – The Savior. This is pretty radical for a poor, blind beggar on the side of the road. He continues his plea, louder and louder so to be heard over the din of the crowd. But his cries for Jesus are annoying those around him, even the disciples. So, they try to hush him up – most likely rebuking his theology as well as his cries. After all, why would Jesus bother with a poor, filthy, blind man? But Bartimaeus shouts even louder. So Jesus hearing the cry of the poor tells the crowd to bring the blind man to him. So those who hushed him are now called to help him. And with that, Bartimaeus leaves behind everything he owns: his mat and his tunic. Thus, he stands before the Christ naked in every way. Can you picture this scene of the hushed crowd? And Christ simply asks him, "What do you want?" And Bartimaeus responds; “I want to see.” Jesus tells him: “Go, your faith has saved you.” And with that Bartimaeus begins to see as a result of his faith in Christ. Once cured, he abandons all that he has and journeys with Christ onto Jerusalem. This story is much more than just a story about the healing of a blind man. For it is a story that calls for us to open our eyes to be like Christ and to bring forth God’s life changing message of the liberation for the oppressed and the inclusion of the marginalized. Which leads me to a story I have told before, but worth repeating. In his book, Fully Alive – Discovering What Matters Most, Tim Shriver, CEO of Special Olympics tells the following story: It was July 1995 and the old, dilapidated Yale Bowl was the venue for the Special Olympic World Games. For the first time in its history the president of the United States was to attend the opening ceremony. The Secret Service has already determined that the old stadium was too porous to ensure protection of the president on the field. So, it was decided that President Clinton would arrive and be taken to the very top of the Yale Bowl, where a secure perimeter could be established and that he would preside from there.
  2. 2. 24 October 2021 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time Princeton,NJ 2 Deacon Jim Knipper Tim recounts, “For most of them, the experience of parading into that stadium must have seemed surreal. Coming as they did from institutions and isolated classrooms and lonely corners of despair in villages and towns around the world, most of them would never have been applauded for anything before. They were society’s outcasts. Over and over, in countless languages they each would have heard “retard,” defective,” “sick,” and maybe worst of all, “in-valid.” Success experiences were nonexistent.” But this crowd roared as they entered the stadium, the president was in attendance and the Yale Bowl came to life. Prior to the event, the athletes were each given one of those disposal cameras to carry with them into the Opening Ceremonies so they could capture the moment. And as the ceremony was in full swing a professional photographer saw a group of athletes, dressed in African garb, all with their disposable cameras raised up to take pictures of the president. But he quickly realized that they were holding their cameras backwards. The lenses were flushed against their noses as they looked through the viewfinders. He concluded that they must have never used these cameras before. So as Clinton was giving his welcoming address the photographer cut through the crowds and made his way to the athletes to help them before they wasted all their pictures. Assuming that they did not know English he motioned to them that in order to get a picture of Clinton that they needed to flip the camera around. In response to his advice, one athlete, in perfect English, thanked the photographer and said, “But may I show you something? If you turn the camera around and hold your eye up to the viewfinder and look backward, it works as a telescope and thus you can better see the president. So, thanks for helping us – but backwards and it still works.” Can you imagine the face of the photographer as he looked into the eyes of this young athlete who just opened his eyes in a new way by telling him that the camera works in reverse? The eyesight of this man was changed forever. The lens to which he sees the world was modified to where he no longer saw a dis-abled person, but rather one who is very cap-able in a way he did not see. Labels - that we all commonly attached to those different from us - were removed and this photographer saw with new and un-assuming eyes. This story is a reminder for all of us that the true sense of Church and Gospel is not necessarily gained through the intellectual understanding of theoretical teachings, encyclicals and doctrines – rather it is a call for active participation by all of us who are hushing and ignoring the poor, the blind, and those different from us – and for us to just open our eyes! For as broken as we all are, despite the mistakes that we make, and even as blinded as we can be - Christ is always, always by our side asking, "What do you want?" For Jesus was always eating with wrong people, at the wrong time, on the wrong day with non-Jews, and sinners, and outcasts and ignoring all the purity codes that his religion required at that time.  Rather, Christ was focused on building an inclusive community wherever he went.  But that requires conversion and transformation that are driven by seeing in a new way…requiring us to review our priorities...to recognize our own biases…to let go of our addictive preoccupations and instead make decisions that bring us closer to God by living the Gospel to and for each other. So now do you see why so many stories of sight being restored have been included in the canon of the Bible? It is not just about miracle stories, rather it is a reminder of our need to open our eyes every day – for we need to see with eyes of belonging, not shunning…eyes of connection, not separation…eyes of inclusion and not segregation - where we give a wider view from which to view all things. In doing so we, too, can be like Bartimaeus and have the faith and courage to see, to speak, to believe, to trust and to love this Son of David, this Jesus the Christ…this Christ who wants us all to see things as they are, not as we are – for until we do, we will never be able to see what we do not see.

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