Being the major city on the route between Lake Galilee to the north and Jerusalem to the west, Jericho was a center for merchants and travelers. With voluminous springs from an oasis, Jericho was also a resort city where people of wealth and power from Jerusalem and as far away as Egypt had palatial villas. As such, it afforded a decent income for Bartimaeus, the blind man in today’s gospel. Beggars would claim their spots, and Bartimaeus had a prize location near the western gate of the city where crowds would gather each morning to travel together for safety on the 17-mile journey to Jerusalem. Listening to their conversations, Bartimaeus had undoubtedly heard much talk about Jesus’ miracles. On hearing that Jesus was in the crowd one morning, Bartimaeus boldly shouted out to get his attention, not wanting to miss what could be his only opportunity for healing. His name in Hebrew means “son of value”. People commonly considered physical ailments like blindness to be a divine punishment for sins. As such, most people would not have seen much value in the blind beggar, but Jesus looked deeper than the physical appearance and saw value in Bartimaeus to which other people were blind.
Fr. Denny's Reflections
The first reading from Isaiah depicts a figure identified as the Suffering Servant who completes God’s will, not in spite of but by means of his suffering. This was a significant lesson for the many Jewish people who believed sufferings to be a punishment for having offended God. Christians consider the Suffering Servant to prefigure Jesus and his redemptive suffering.
In the gospel we find the brothers James and John try to bypass the other disciples to request positions of authority in the earthly kingdom they expected Jesus to establish. In Matthew’s gospel (20:20-21) it is their mother who takes her boys in tow and puts the question to Jesus. Their boldness may have resulted from considering themselves Jesus’ favorites as two of the three (along with Peter) selected to accompany Jesus on special occasions when the others were told to stay behind. Jesus doesn’t get upset with them, knowing that, once they truly understand the mission which will be entrusted to them, the good in them will win out over any selfish tendencies. Such is the hope for all of us that, whatever special favors we might request from God, we will in the end see even our sufferings in the light of faith in Jesus and offer them up along with his as part of the mission entrusted to us.
In today’s gospel Jesus tells a rich young man to go and sell everything he has, give the money to the poor, and then come back and follow him. Jesus never challenged Peter or the other disciples in this way. Peter kept his house, his boat and other possessions. Why did Jesus so challenge this man and nobody else? This text illustrates the difference between God’s general word for everyone to follow (i.e., to love God and love one’s neighbor) and God’s specific word for an individual. The riches and possessions on which the young man relied were, in his case, the primary obstacle in the way of his experiencing peace with God and within himself. It wasn’t the same for Peter, for whom the major obstacle may have been his impulsiveness responding to situations without sufficient reflection seeking counsel from the Holy Spirit. What objects, activities, or habits in your life constitute possible obstacles that impede you from experiencing total peace with God and within yourself?
The author of today’s first reading had prayed for the gift of prudence and received in addition the gift of wisdom. Prudence, being sensible as to the appropriate thing to do or say, is associated with wisdom, the ability to make good decisions. When prudence accompanies wisdom, a person can more clearly recognize and choose the will of God and, so doing, experience the peace with God and within oneself that the rich young man in the gospel was seeking.
In this weekend’s gospel some Pharisees ask Jesus whether it is permitted to divorce one’s wife, saying that “Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.” In actuality Moses, in Deuteronomy 24:1, was setting a limit on divorce, demanding justifiable reasons for a practice that was practiced in effect at the whim of a husband. Women had few legal rights and were considered property being transferred at the wedding from father to husband, the background for the father, without the mother, walking his daughter down the aisle and “giving her away” (an expression not used in Catholic weddings). Technically, a Jewish man was required to provide proof of something “indecent.” In Jesus’ time, rabbis differed in their interpretation of what qualified as “indecent,” some allowing almost anything including having lost her youthful beauty, prompting the question here to be expanded in Matthew 19:3, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason whatever?” In Malachi 2:15-16 we read: “You must safeguard life that is your own and not break faith with the wife of your youth. For I hate divorce, says the Lord the God of Israel.” Sometimes people only see what they want to see in God’s word and ignore the rest.
For Jesus, marriage is a commitment of permanence and mutuality reflecting our relationship of God with the church as his bride, an image St. Paul employed in his letter to the Ephesians (5:25) telling husbands to “love your wives as Christ loved the church.”
In last week’s gospel (Mark 9:30-37) the disciples, having argued over which of them was most importance, received a lesson in humility from Jesus. Such personal ambition and pride breaks down the unity to which we are called to the detriment of the mission entrusted to us. What about “team pride” however? In today’s gospel John the disciple has seen someone casting out spirits in Jesus’ name and tried to prevent him because he wasn’t a member of their group. We can picture the other disciples, in true team spirit, nodding their heads in unison. The desire for status and authority he and the other disciples each wanted for themselves becomes a desire for special status for the group at least, exclusive rights to the use of Jesus’ name and power. Similarly, in our first reading, Joshua complains to Moses that a couple men who weren’t part of the group were prophesying, “My Lord, stop them!” Moses, as Jesus with the disciples, was not supportive of their desire for exclusive authority but, rather, wishing everyone would be a prophetic voice, sharing the message of God with others.
In our day and age, we might consider our attitude toward other religions and Christian denominations and their members. Since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has promoted the ecumenical movement between denominations and our popes have met and shared prayer with leaders of non-Christian religions. “Team pride” is good as long as it does not translate into a desire for exclusivity or judgment of others.