There is a line in today’s passage from the Letter to the Hebrews that may help us to see what this Sunday’s readings are all about. The sacred writer says: “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.” Those of us who study the Scriptures recognize that this passage is a typical explication of something called “low Christology.” In a nutshell, low Christology maintains that Jesus was not the primary actor. Rather Jesus was acted upon. So for instance, low Christology would say, “Jesus was raised from the dead,” while a proponent of high Christology would say, “Jesus rose from the dead.” Now you can ask, “What difference does it make. Either way, Jesus died and then was seen as a living person by the disciples.” Well, the difference lies in how we view any kind of accomplishment by anyone whatsoever. Many of us tend to think along the lines of Frank Sinatra who loved to sing, “I did it my way.” However, I think the Scriptures for today are asking us to reexamine that attitude.
The Gospel story that we hear today puts some very important words in the mouth of a blind beggar. He becomes aware that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by so he shouts out, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me." Throughout the Gospels, many different titles are ascribed to Jesus. The title by which he is hailed today carries all sorts of innuendo and meaning. As the prophet Jeremiah preaches today, God will lead the children of Israel back from the north to the Promised Land – back to Judah and the holy city of Jerusalem where the Temple of Solomon once stood. This promise carries with it the expectation that God would also restore the dynasty of King David. By calling Jesus “Son of David,” this blind beggar is telling the world that he believes that Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise we heard from the prophet Jeremiah today. The fact that he is blind matches Jeremiah’s oracle which proposes that those returning from exile will include the blind and the lame, as well as the mothers and those with child.
In according this title to Jesus, the blind beggar has honored Jesus. In this society where honor is primary, Jesus responds by calling for the petitioner. When asked what it is that he wishes Jesus to do for him, he simply states, “I want to see.” Every incidence of blindness in the four Gospels speaks of more than physical blindness. The beggar’s plea is also a cry for understanding, for the ability to fathom the mystery of this man who preaches the presence of God’s reign.
The setting of this story is also highly significant. Jericho lies at the lowest place on the earth – 800 feet below sea level. It lies at the base of Mt. Zion on which Jerusalem was built more than 2,500 feet above sea level. The climb from Jericho to Jerusalem is, consequently, tremendously strenuous. Yet the Gospel tells us that after Jesus restores the blind beggar’s sight, he follows Jesus on the way, the way to Jerusalem. Though we never hear of this man again, we cannot disregard the fact that this man has chosen to follow Jesus at the most perilous moment of his ministry. He is literally walking toward his death, and Bartimaeus follows him.
We can heap praise upon the brave Bartimaeus, but let us remember that line from the Letter to the Hebrews. It was not Christ who glorified himself. God has chosen Jesus as high priest. Bartimaeus has not glorified himself. Jesus has opened his eyes and his heart to understand the mystery of discipleship. The children of Israel did not glorify themselves in their return to Jerusalem. It was God who led them out of slavery and restored them to Jerusalem.
Just as Bartimaeus’ faith was a gift, so too our faith. God’s grace has moved us to believe in Jesus. Like the blind beggar, we acknowledge our need to see and follow Jesus. We may not completely understand what Jesus asks of us, but we place ourselves in his hands and rely upon God’s grace to help us come to understanding. We have been placed within a supportive community which believes that Jesus continues to remain in our midst, continues to heal and guide us, and continues to be the mediator of God’s love. All of this is God’s doing and God’s gift to us.
The Eucharist which we celebrate is the pledge of God’s love. It is this act of worship that unites us as a church, and moves us to become more Christ-like, more compassionate, more focused on peace and justice in our world. Yet even this, our act of thanksgiving, is a gift from God. We do not glorify ourselves. God has blessed us and loved us into existence.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator