30th Sunday in OT: “and he threw aside his cloak”

The gospel last Sunday presents us with yet another powerful encounter between Jesus and an individual. It is a very good example to show the way in which the gospel texts need to be read. A lot of information may not be realized at a surface level.

The first thing we need to do when we read the gospel is realize that we are not reading the newspaper. The gospels were composed almost two thousand years ago, in a different cultural context, with a peculiar way to convey information, with a radically different purpose than the simple reporting of an event. When we read the paper we read facts. Reading the gospel is much like reading a poem — there is a lot of theological information packed under the literal meaning of the words. Sunday’s gospel is a great example of this.

For instance, where the text reads that Bartimaeus was blind, we may want to wonder what kind of blindness we are talking about. We believe that Jesus had the power to bring sight back to the blind, but the text refers to a blindness that may go beyond the physical impediment. Bartimaeus does not see things the way Jesus sees them, and when he does, he follows him—becomes a follower, a disciple. The one who first was sitting “by the roadside” is now on the way. We often are blind in the sense that we do not see things the way we should, or we simply do not see things—because they make us uncomfortable, or we are not sensitive enough.

Where I find that sensitive reading of the text becomes very useful for us, and was the focus of the homily this week, is when we read that Bartimaeus springs up and throws “aside his cloak” to meet Jesus. Nobody would remember that detail decades later. The expression is there to make a point, and it should focus our attention. That cloak may represent many things. It could be a sign of Bartimaeus’ social standing, an indication of his belonging to a particular section of society, or, along with this, it may be a symbol of the things that this man had to throw away to free himself of all the ties that kept him from reaching his potential.

If that interpretation is correct, we are invited to explore what is our own cloak that we need to throw aside. What is there that is not part of my essence but that as a heavy mantle weighs me down. It may be an attachment to material possessions, for instance. Or some ideology or well ingrained value we hold that may not be in accord with Jesus’ values. Or something I do often, a habit; or the opposite, something I don’t do. It may be a trait in our personality, like temper, or impatience, or our very common tendency to worry, or to dwell constantly in the past.

The invitation this week is about thinking and praying about the cloak we need to throw aside. Perhaps make a list, pray about those items, and take one (or two) and work on them. What is your cloak like?

[Image credit to Kees de Kort]

Blog Pic, Bartimaeus

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time: No expectations

We jump-start the blog (again) with a reflection on the powerful set of readings from Mass this past weekend. The gospel is one we know well: James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approach Jesus. They are willing to do anything they are asked to do, but they also want to be seated at the left and the right of Jesus when he comes into his glory, his victory. The rest of the disciples become indignant with them, but only when Jesus answers to them, an indication that what James and John asked for was in everybody’s mind.

First, clearly, they have failed to understand the glory of Jesus. They fail to understand that the glory of Jesus is not the glory of the rulers of the gentiles. It is not a victory as we understand victory, now and then. It is not the victory of power, of authority. Jesus tells them about his fate, the Cross, the place where the baptism he has received will take him, the Cross that is the cup of the bitter wine he will have to drink.

Secondly, the disciples participate in a spiritual weakness that we all have experienced. Yes, we call ourselves Christians, disciples of the Lord… but we expect—more or less consciously—some kind of reward. It is not money, we know that, but still some kind of compensation: heaven, popularity, the favor of others, or even a clean conscience. It takes very mature Christians to realize that the reward of the call to service in Jesus’ name is the call itself. Nothing else. But there is an incredible happiness and freedom when we reach that stage: we will be happy to serve, regardless of the rewards, not expecting anything in exchange. Knowing that even the opposite of a reward may come our way when we serve. Realizing, again, that the gift itself is the call to serve.

In the first reading from Isaiah, a passage that Jesus had to know very well, we get a glimpse of what was Jesus’ spirituality: “If he gives his life as an offering for sin, he shall see his descendants in a long life, and the will of the LORD shall be accomplished through him. Because of his affliction he shall see the light… through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.”

Interested in learning more about scripture? Come to Sacred Heart this coming Friday, October 23, at 6 PM, as we start a Scripture Class on the Gospel of Luke—the gospel we will be reading at Mass during the upcoming Lectionary cycle. 

Blog Pic, James and John