(Ordinary Time – Cycle B)
The journey in the desert becomes the footpath toward liberty, thanks to the paternal protection of God that saves his people. Yahweh, that brought Israel from the slavery of Egypt, takes her from exile now to carry her back to the land. The blind Bartimaeus, that before begged living off the expenses of others, meets Jesus and now follows him enthusiastically along the road. The meeting with God is always the beginning of a journey that brings one life.
The first reading (Jer 31,7-9) is taken from the so-called “book of consolation” of Jeremiah, that covers the chapters 30-31 and whose fundamental theme is hope in the midst of suffering and desolation. The original addressees of this section of the book were the Israelites of the north, enslaved by the Assyrians in the year 721 BC. Years later, the same chapters were directed also to the kingdom of the south, to Judah, when in 586 BC, after the fall of Jerusalem, the people were led into exile by the Babylonians. This reutilization of the same prophetic material in diverse epochs is a good example of the vitality and the dynamism of the Word of God, that is always actual to illuminate the new happenings in the history of the people.
In the text the return of the “Remnant of Israel” is announced, the return to the land that centuries before God had given to his people. The return is accompanied by cries of joy and of praise, thus, “the Lord has saved his people” (v. 7). It is the same Lord who undertakes, as a good and caring pastor, gathering the exiles from the northern country (Babylonia) and of all the confines of the earth (v. 8). This treats of a people poor, sick, weak, and wounded in body and en soul. God begins anew the history beginning with the smallest and indigent: “all of them: the blind and the lame, women with child, women in labor.” In the eyes of Yahweh, nevertheless, these that return make up “a great assembly” (in Hebrew: qahal gadôl). The Hebrew word qahal means in the book of Exodus a great assembly of the people, that after being liberated from slavery, journeyed in the desert unto the promised land to worship God and complete his commands. After the exile, a new qahal, formed by the poorest of the poor, led by God “by a smooth path where they will not stumble” (v. 9), begins anew the history of Israel. It is with them that the Lord constitutes his family, of which he is the Father. The paternal image of v. 9, in effect, recalls the relationship that unites Israel to God: “For I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born son” (cf. Ex 4,22).
The second reading (Hebrews 5,1-6) presents Christ as High Priest, close and in solidarity with humanity, which he has to liberate from sin. The accent of the text is placed on the humanity of Christ Priest, “that has been put to the test in exactly the same way as ourselves, apart from sin” (Heb 4,15). As all Priest, also Jesus was constituted by God to realize the ministry “to act on their behalf (human beings)” (Heb 5,1). God raised Jesus and gave him the glory of the new and eternal high priesthood for the salvation of humanity (Heb 5,5-6).
The gospel (Mark 10,46-52) presents us with the last scene of the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem, before entering the holy city (cf. Mk 11,1). In contrast with the figure of Jesus, presented in movement while leaving Jericho accompanied by his disciples and a great crowd, appears a “blind beggar…sitting at the side of the road” (v. 46). The description cannot be more dramatic: a man that depends on others to be able to subsist (“beggar” ), diminished en his physical capacities (“blind” ) and totally passive and immobile (“seated”; in Greek: ekatheto, a verbal form that denotes an action that has been realized for quite awhile).
The blind man, “when he heard (in Greek: akoúsas, literally “having heard”) that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout and say: ‘Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me.’” Before his cries, “Jesus stopped” (v. 49a). There are various details that are worth bringing out: (1) The meeting is paradigmatic. The blind man represents the suffering man, fallen, that still has not begun to follow Jesus on his journey; Jesus is the “Son of David,” the saving Messiah sent by God. (2) The blind man comes into contact with Jesus through his capacity of listening and of his insistence in crying out. The listening represents in the New Testament the first step of the life of faith, in such a way that Paul affirms: “And how can they believe in him if they have never heard of him?” (Rm 10,14); the cry is an expression of faith that becomes prayer and petition for help: “Yahweh, God of my salvation, when I cry out to you in the night, may my prayer reach your presence, hear my cry for help” (Ps 88,2). (3) Jesus stops for the first time on his journey toward Jerusalem. He is the Messiah that goes out to meet his destiny of the cross and of death, with an absolute decision of which nothing can stop him, “going before his disciples” (Mk 10,32). Only there is something that stops Jesus on his journey: a suffering man that invokes him from his pain.
Though the blind man has cried out insistently and Jesus has stopped, Mark wants to make clear that all encounters with the Lord are gratuitous and that it is he who takes the initiative calling man and woman (v. 49: “Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him here’”). The same people that before reprimanded the blind man, now urge him to draw close to Jesus. It is if Mark would want to say that the word of the Lord changes even the external situations to favor the meeting of man and woman with God.
The blind man gets up rapidly and directs himself to Jesus. Mark notes a significant detail: “throwing off his cloak” (v. 50). The cloak, in the Mosaic Law, was a symbolic object that represented all that a poor man possessed. In Ex 22,25, in effect: “If you take someone’s cloak in pledge, you will return it to him at sunset. It is all the covering he has; it is the cloak he wraps his body in…” In the depths, this blind man is taking up the journey of all Christian discipleship. After listening to Jesus, he welcomes him as saving Messiah invoking his salvation. He leaves everything that he possesses (the cloak) and draws close to him. The blind man of Jericho was capable of leaving everything for Jesus, differing from the rich man that he had met along the way, and that drew apart from Jesus full of sadness, “because he had much” (Mk 10,22). The question that Jesus poses to the blind man: “What do you want me to do for you?” (v. 51) recalls that other question that he made to the sons of Zebedee: “What is it you want me to do for you?” (Mk 10,36). While James and John, ask two thrones of glory, demonstrating that they have not understood anything of the journey of the Master, the blind man asks: “Master, let me see again” (v. 51a). Instantly he recovered his sight, while Jesus assured him that it was his faith that saved him (v. 51b). Blindness, is not only a real sickness, but it is also a symbol of the absence of light. Therefore, the healing of blindness, becomes a sign of the integral salvation of the person.
The blind Bartimaeus is a model of the disciple that abandons everything to follow Jesus and that is liberated from blindness that impedes him from following behind the Master on his journey. The text, in effect, ends saying that this healed man “followed him along the road.” “To follow Jesus” is the expression that the New Testament designates for Christian discipleship. This man healed of his blindness incarnates the journey of conversion of all men and women that aspire to follow Jesus. Through listening and confident cries, he experiences the saving presence of Jesus that liberates him from blindness and gives him the capacity of coming to be a disciple. Man and woman, for their part, open themselves up to grace and abandon everything to follow the Master.
The community of Jesus, it is the qahal gadôl, the great assembly, not made up of the strong, powerful and self-sufficient, but the poor, the blind, the lame and weak persons (first reading). The community of Jesus, is the qahal gadôl, the great assembly, formed by men and women that experience Jesus as close and solidary Priest, through which they obtain pardon and the grace of a new life (second reading). The community of Jesus, is the qahal gadôl, the great assembly formed by those, that as the blind Bartimaeus, have found him, have been saved from their blindness and have begun to follow Jesus on the journey of life (gospel).