31 Ordinary: October 30/31, 2021
Last week, once the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, received his sight – Jesus told him to go his way, his faith had cured him.
But Bartimaeus chose not to go his own way – but to follow Jesus on HIS way – the way that led to Jerusalem: the city of passion, death, and resurrection.
Starting with today’s Gospel – Jesus is now in Jerusalem – and the last few weeks of his life are filled with confrontation and controversy – although the readings we have on Sundays as we finish out St. Mark’s Gospel – really don’t reflect all the turmoil Jesus faces in the Holy City.
We do get a taste of intended controversy in today’s Gospel when Jesus is in the entry court of the Jewish Temple--- when a scribe, someone who knew the 614 laws of Israel well – asks Jesus what he thinks is the greatest of all these commandments.
Now for each of these commandments, scribes and Pharisees would develop ways to interpret each of them. For example, there were 39 different categories of work that must be avoided just to properly observe the 3rd commandment --- to keep holy the Sabbath.
Despite the well intentioned efforts of the scribes and Pharisees to help people follow the law, law-abiding Jews, or those who tried to be – were crushed under the burden of laws and their interpretations. And Jesus knew this.
So instead of answering the scribe with just one particular law that was most important – Jesus answers by telling him what underlies all the laws – and what the observance of the laws should lead to: the love of God and love of neighbor.
The law was not to be kept for the sake of the law itself – although sadly that is how many Jews, especially the scribes and the Pharisees lived their lives – just keeping the law.
But Jesus is posing the bigger question of what good is the law and keeping it even to perfection – if it doesn’t lead us closer to God and one another.
And we might think right here, right now – ho hum ---- we’ve heard this all before. And just go on living our lives as we’ve always lived them.
Or we may think this is all pretty simple – and it is--- when we hear it in here ----------- but when we are told: Go, the Mass is ended ------------ and we have to leave this place and go out and live our lives according to this Gospel challenge – then things aren’t so simple any more.
Yes, when we go out and try to put these words of Jesus into practice – that’s when things get a little sticky –
When we try to choose to ease pain, instead of cause it.
Try our best to lift people up instead of put them down.
When we reach out a helping hand instead of withdrawing in fear.
When we strive for reconciliation instead of continuing conflict and division.
When we try our best to remember it’s not all about me but about us – as we strive to achieve the common good instead of just what’s good for me.
When we try to open our eyes to the needs of our brothers and sisters and strive to comfort those who labor and are burdened.
That’s when things get a little sticky – when things aren’t so simple anymore.
To even have a chance of trying to serve others after the example of Christ and at his command --- we must constantly develop our relationship with God, ask God for the grace, the help, that we all need – in order to be those living witnesses of truth and freedom, and of justice and peace.
It would do us good to remember the advice Bartimaeus gave us last week:
-to never listen to the crowd who often times try to talk us out of pursuing our hopes and dreams – such as making the kingdom of God more present by our words and actions.
-to remember that if we’re feeling lonely or afraid, thinking that no one cares about us or even sees us – especially the difference we are trying to make in the world – to know that Jesus is aware of us – and eager to have personal contact with us in the silence of our hearts.
And in the silence of our hearts, in prayer – to ask Jesus for what we need, not for what we want.
And what we need is the grace to do our best to continue the mission of Jesus Christ: by loving God and loving our neighbor.
And then also we might want to remember this piece of advice which C.S. Lewis gives in his book, Mere Christianity: “Do not waste your time bothering whether you LOVE your neighbor – just act as if you do. As soon as you do this, we find one of the great secrets of life. When you are behaving as if you loved someone – you will presently come to love them. If you do a good deed for someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking them less.”
Or a Jesus might have put if: always let love overcome hatred. And then, we will not be far from the kingdom of God.
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