• Jer 31:7-9
• Ps 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
• Heb 5:1-6
• Mk 10:46-52
“In the beginning,” states Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, “God made human nature one and decreed that all His children, scattered as they were, would finally be gathered together as one” (par. 13). God’s plan of salvation involves being liberated from sin and death. It also involves being liberated from that place to this place, of being moved from one state in life to a radically new one.
The prophet Jeremiah, writing during the Assyrian exile, which began around 740 B.C., pointed toward a time when the faithful return to the Promised Land and the Temple. “Behold, I will bring them back from the land of the north,” the Lord declared through the suffering prophet, “I will gather them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst…” This is one of many Old Testament passages describing such a gathering. Today’s Psalm expresses the hopeful expectation of exodus from exile, “when the Lord brought back the captives of Zion.”
Israel’s history was deeply shaped by captivity, exile and exodus. The Exodus from Egypt was a formative event for the Jewish people. Most first-century Jews believed that the Messiah, the “anointed one,” would gather together the scattered people of God. Those who heard Jesus announcing the Kingdom of God heard the promise of a renewed Davidic kingdom marked by political and cultural autonomy.
But, as Lumen Gentium explains, the focus of the Messiah’s regathering was not national boundaries and political power. “It was for this purpose that God sent His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, that he might be teacher, king and priest of all, the head of the new and universal people of the sons of God” (par. 13). Jesus, the heir of David, would conquer sin and death. Jesus, the high priest, would sacrifice himself for the sake of the world. The entire world was in exile in the realm of sin, and the Messiah—who was also a new Moses—would lead the people of God in an exodus from the darkness of spiritual slavery into the light of salvation.
Jesus, in announcing the Kingdom of God, notes Bishop Robert Barron in The Priority of Christ (Brazos Press, 2007), “was not calling attention to general, timeless spiritual truths, nor was he urging people to make a decision for God; he was telling his listeners that Yahweh was actively gathering the people of Israel and, indirectly, all people into a new salvific order, and he was insisting that his hearers conform themselves to the new state of affairs.” The son of David was gathering the lost, the wounded, the lame, and the blind, and he continues to gather them into the Church, which is “God’s reaction to the chaos provoked by sin” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 761).
The encounter between Jesus and the blind man, heard in today’s Gospel, is a microcosm of this gathering. It took place on the cusp of the Passover, as Jesus made his way with the crowds going to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover—the feast marking the Exodus. The blind man, Bartimaeus, knew the identity of the Jesus and twice called upon him, “Son of David, have pity on me.” How did he know Jesus was the Messiah? How did a blind mind see the truth so clearly? How could a beggar possess such rich knowledge? And, conversely, how did so many people with sight remain blind? Why did the wealthy and the powerful so often reject the riches of Christ?
Jesus simply said, “Call him.” His disciples then called Bartimaeus, and he threw off his cloak—which represented his old life (cf. Rom. 13:12; Eph 4:22)—and came to Jesus. “Master,” he said, “I want to see.” Jesus healed him and told him to “go your way.” And Bartimaeus followed the Messiah on his way to Jerusalem, the Cross, and the Resurrection, the road of gathering, exodus, and salvation.
(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the October 25, 2009, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)
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