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Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Homily for 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, CSSp

Jeremiah 31:7-9, Hebrews 5:1-6, Mark 10:46-52

- on the Gospel - Self-Realisation in Christ

There is an old African fable about how the duck learnt to swim. Duck and Hen lived together in a house by the seaside. Their food was the rotten fish that the fishermen threw away. Everyday they saw Heron swimming up and down the sea, catching and eating fresh fish. This made Duck desire so much to have some fresh fish. But Hen said to Duck, "Why do you desire what you can't have? The Heron is a sea-bird. Her body is light. We are land-birds and land-birds do not swim. If you enter the sea with this your heavy body you will sink like a stone and that will be the end of you." Duck believed Hen. So they went on eating their rotten fish. But this did not stop Duck's hunger and inborn desire for fresh fish.

One very hot and humid day, Duck could eat nothing at all because the rotten fish smelled so bad. She just went and sat by herself, quietly looking at the sea. In a moment Heron came sailing by and saw Duck in such a pitiable condition. Heron asked what the matter was and Duck told him everything: how she always longed to swim and eat fresh fish but, unfortunately, the Creator had made her a heavy land-bird. It was then that Heron explained to Duck that sometime in the past, even he himself was not a swimmer, but that he was forced by hunger to jump into the sea and then he discovered he could swim. Heron invited Duck to jump into the sea and give it a try but Duck was afraid. With more encouragement from Heron, Duck overcame her fears and stepped into the sea. To her surprise Duck saw that she was not sinking; she was floating. With time Duck learnt to swim well and catch and eat as much fresh fish as she wanted.

You see, Duck was not just a land-bird. She was equally a sea-bird. But as long as she believed that she was only a land-bird, she remained on the land and suffered want and privation. So the story is really about how the duck came to discover and realise her God-given identity and potential as a swimmer. It is about how the flower bud blossoms into the beautiful flower that it is destined to be. Similarly the story of Bartimaeus in today's gospel is about how a nobody begging by the roadside came to realise his God-given dignity as a human being and child of God; how he blossomed.

Mark's story of the healing of blind Bartimaeus has aroused the curiosity of bible scholars because this is about the only place in the Synoptic Gospels where the name of a person who was healed by Jesus is given. Mark mentions the name not only once but twice: "Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus," first in Aramaic, then in Greek. This very unusual emphasis on the name is a clue that the name is important for the reader to understand the point Mark is trying to make in the story.

In the ancient Semitic world, a name was not just a label to identify a person. A name expressed the personality or destiny of a person. So what does Bartimaeus mean? Literally, it comes from the Aramaic and means "son/person of defilement (tame')." This could, therefore, be a nickname given to him because he was a blind beggar. Popular theology among the Hebrews held blindness to be a punishment from God for sin or defilement (John 9:34). But the Greek version of the name could also be understood as "son/person of honour" (timÉ). This would indicate the man's inner nature and destiny. By giving us the name Bartimaeus with its double meaning, Mark could be telling us that here is a man who is supposed to be a man of honour and dignity (timÉ) living in a state of dishonour and shame (tame'). What Jesus did for him, therefore, was not simply restoring his physical sight but, over and above that, restoring his God-given human dignity. We can liken it to what the Heron did for the Duck, enlightening and empowering someone to realize their God-given potentials and dignity.

Like Duck by the seaside or like Bartimaeus by the wayside, are we sometimes bored, feeling that there must be more to life than we are getting at the moment? Do we sometimes feel like we are born to be swimmers and yet here we are idly walking and eating rotten fish by the seaside? Do we sometimes feel, like Bartimaeus, that we should be following Jesus in his enthusiastic campaign to save the world and yet we find ourselves all day long doing nothing but the same boring routine of trying to find food? The good news is that Jesus is passing by. He can heal and take away whatever weakness or handicap that holds us down. Do not pay heed to friends who, like the Hen, will say that you are daydreaming. Bartimaeus did not heed those who tried to dissuade him. Jesus is here to heal the blindness that has immobilized us, to empower and transform us from passive bystanders to his active and enthusiastic followers in the otherwise boring journey of life.

- on the Epistle - Dealing Gently with Sinners

There is a story of a kid who won four goldfish at the annual school carnival. The following day, his dad went out shopping for an aquarium. The prices ranged from $70 to $100. Finally he spotted a discarded tank, complete with gravel and filter, for only $10. He bought it at once, took it home and spent hours washing and cleaning it up until it looked like new. By evening, the four little fish were swimming in their new home. The following day, they found that one of the fish was dead. Too bad, but three remained. A day later, a second one was dead. By nightfall the third died. The man called in an expert. It didn't take long to discover the problem: He had washed the tank with soap, something one must never do. In spite of his good intentions, his unenlightened efforts had destroyed the very lives he sought to protect.

Sometimes, we Christians, are like this man. In our zeal to clean up the lives of others, we use "killer soaps" -- criticism and condemnation, anger and exclusion. We think we are teaching them a lesson, but our harsh, self-righteous treatment demoralises rather than encourages the weak brother or sister. In today's second reading from Hebrews, we are reminded that, as sharers in the universal priesthood of believers, we should minister God to one another, and that we should do so in gentleness, as Jesus did.

The teaching of the New Testament, and particularly the Letter to the Hebrews, on priesthood is quite intricate. Traditional theology has formulated it in one paradoxical saying, "All are priests, some are priests, only one is a priest." Together with the doctrine that Christ is the sole and unique priest of the new covenant (Hebrews 5:5-6), there is also the belief that some of the faithful are chosen to be priests ministering to the people of God (Hebrews 5:1-4), and indeed that all believers share in the priestly ministry. The doctrine of the universal priesthood of all believers is spelt out in the well-known passage from the First Letter of Peter.
But you are a chosen race, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, a people to be a personal possession to sing the praises of God who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

Many people do not understand what it means that we are all priests or how to go about fulfilling their role in the common priesthood of all believers. That we are priests means that we are called to lead people to God and to bring God to people. A priest is someone chosen to represent other human beings in their dealings with God (Hebrews 5:1). A priest is a go-between, an intermediary, between God and human beings. Ministerial priests fulfil this role by offering sacrifices for sins. That is clear. But how do believers in general fulfil their roles as sharers in the common priesthood of all the faithful? It is by interceding for people before God's throne of mercy and by ministering God to people.

One person who lived the common priesthood of all believers to the full is St Francis of Assisi. The Peace Prayer attributed to him shows us what it means for every believer to be a priest.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love; / when there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith; / where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light; / and where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that I may not so much seek / to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand, / to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive, / it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

How do we go about living out this priestly lifestyle. Hebrews tells us one essential disposition of character that we must possess. It is gentleness. A priest "is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness" (Hebrews 5:2). Recent events in the church in many parts of the world have left us in no doubt that priests are subject to weakness. This disgrace can be turned into grace if we learn from this to deal more gently with the ignorant and wayward. As priests, we should be holding up to sinners an invitation to God's mercy and not a threat of God's impending judgment.

Today, there are many believers who are on a crusade to cleanse the church. They are bent on removing the weeds from the wheat. When we do that, we are playing God (Matthew 13:30). Our work as priests of God is essentially to reconcile people with God and the best and most effective way we can do that is not by being harsh but by being gentle to sinners. Le this be our prayer today, "Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto thine."

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