I want to thank the community here at St. John’s for welcoming us Franciscans to visit and speak at your parish from time to time. We are all very excited about the progress Brother Jude is making with the hermitage project. We are happy for him as he prepares to enter this next stage in his life and rejuvenate the legacy of our departed brother, Father Leo Joseph. We are especially grateful for the support you all have lent to us throughout the entire process. Thank you.
My name is Brother James Nathaniel and I am a brother with the Society of St. Francis. I live in San Francisco with Brother Jude and 8 other brothers—soon to be 9. We are apart of the worldwide family of Franciscan brothers and sisters who take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. We do this in imitation of our Father Francis who responded to the Gospel as he saw it applied to his life. As Franciscans, we live to serve people like Bartimaeus and all those whom society would find easier to just leave on the side of the road, begging for alms. We live to do the very thing St. Francis never said, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.” We live to more completely integrate the Gospel’s timeless message in our 21st century lives and to show how wonderful a life lived not for ourselves but for other can be.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks blind Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” What a question! Why would the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Creator of All, the One in whom total omniscience rests, ask of this blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Has our Lord somehow given up His eternal knowledge of the universe to somehow play the Idiot in this encounter in Jericho?
“Of course the blind man wants to see,” we may say to ourselves. “He’s blind! If he wants to be normal, he needs to be able to see!”
Ahh. When we remember that all of us have been born with traits and features that may fall out of the range of what is normal, who are we then to start assuming what other people need in order to be the very thing that we are not?
It’s why God asks the question, “What do you want me to do for you, Bartimaeus?”
It is as if implicit in this question posed by Jesus is the idea, “You are perfect as you are. I created you this way just as I have created all things. Nothing of my creation is despised by me. And neither are you. No matter what people may say about you, you are created in my image and loved by me forever.”
Now, I don’t want to fall in the trap of preaching the Gospel of Mr. Rodgers and start quoting from his show more than the Bible. Too much of that seems done in our churches today and the Gospel of Niceness if not one of which the saints of old gave their lives. But, that aside, there is some kernels of truth in the messages we encountered as children watching public television.
If we believe that God created everything and saw it good, then why do we fail to acknowledge that goodness inherent within ourselves? Why do we seek to hurt ourselves and others by somehow forgetting that in our friends, families, and neighbors, is the presence and image of God reflected back to us?
I’m not a Buddhist and haven’t studied a great deal about the beliefs and practices of Buddhism, but I’ve been living in San Francisco for a little over a year now so I think I can bring something to the table. But, this concept of separateness—this disassociation between ourselves and other people and the rest of God’s creation—is something the Buddhists really stress is just not so.
And not be be outdone by the Buddhists, our Lord says of the lack of separation between us and others in God’s creation:
...’For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’...Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Matthew 25: 34-40
So, why does Jesus ask Bartimaeus what he wants?
Because to Jesus, there is nothing wrong with Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus is as perfectly created as you and I are today.
Whatever our faults (and there are many) nothing, nothing in us can stain the permanent beauty of our essential humanity. Remember what is says in the famous 8th Chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans?
Paul writes, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8: 38-39
When we put something else in the place of God, when we reject how beautiful God’s creation is and how beautiful worship and adoration is due to God for all His benefits, we inflict a spiritual blindness upon ourselves. When we put things like fame, fortune, sex, and power in the place due only for God, we’ll no longer be looking to God and those to whom God speaks to us as our moral compass. We’ll never escape our own limited reality. We’ll never be anything more than one who ignores others, or one who looks to themselves only for guidance, whose eyes gaze inward, searching for truth. If they were to turn their gaze in front of them, they would see that there stands the Lord, asking the question, “What do you want me to do for you?”
When we live for Christ, we no longer choose to live for ourselves. This takes time and much patience with ourselves. Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Exhortation, Rejoice and be glad reminds us about how the little gestures in our life make us grow in holiness. He tells the story of a woman who, through her small actions wants to become more like the Lord. Pope Francis writes:
“A woman goes shopping, she meets a neighbor and they begin to speak, and the gossip starts. But she says in her heart: ‘No, I will not speak badly of anyone.’ This is a step forward in holiness. Later, at home, one of her children wants to talk to her about his hopes and dreams, and even though she is tired, she sits down and listens with patience and love. That is another sacrifice that brings holiness. Later she experiences some anxiety, but recalling the love of the Virgin Mary, she takes her rosary and prays with faith. Yet another path of holiness. Later still, she goes out onto the street, encounters a poor person and stops to say a kind word to him. One more step.” Gaudete et Exsultate, 167
For it is St. Paul who reminds us in his speech to the Athenians that “From one ancestor [God] made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us.” Acts 17: 26-27
God is never more than a prayer away. God readily hears our cries and wants us to talk to Him. What it is the author in Hebrews today says concerning Jesus?
[Jesus] is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Hebrews 7: 23-25
When we receive Christ, when we feed on him in our hearts by faith, with thanksgiving, we simply don’t have enough time to concern ourselves with the cares and concerns of the world.
When we start following Christ, people will begin to see in us a change.
People will see us embarking on a journey to partake in a Savior who promised to “give [us] life in all its fullness” (BCP, p. 851)
Before beginning his work with the poor and downtrodden, St. Francis received a message from God, hearing God say to him:
“O Francis, if you want to know my will, you must hate and despise all that which hitherto your body has loved and desired to possess. Once you begin to do this, all that formally seemed sweet and pleasant to you will become bitter and unbearable; and instead, the things that formally made you shudder will bring you great sweetness and content.” Legend of the Three Companions
Like Bartimaeus, let us take heart and get up, Jesus is calling us.
Like Bartimaeus, let us practice a faith that puts our trust in the Jesus alone.
Like Bartimaeus, let us cry out to Jesus continually for mercy, mercy that no idol, or philosophy, or social movement, or spouse, or friend can ever provide.
Like Bartimaeus, let us receive the words of Jesus and follow him in the Way—the Way that leads to Eternal Life—and turn our backs to ways that lead to Eternal Death.
It is Jesus alone who calls us as adopted children of God. To be made heirs of God’s kingdom. It is Jesus who hears us when the waters have come up to us, or when the noise of the crowd tries to silence us and deafens our cry.
It is in Christ alone where our hope is found. It is He who is life, our strength, our song. He is our cornerstone and our solid ground. For from life’s first cry to final breath, it is Jesus who commands our destinies.
Like Bartimaeus, let us get up, and arise. It is Christ who bids us come to Him.
St. John's Parish
October 28, 2018
First Reading: Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm: Psalm 126
Second Reading: Hebrews 7:23-28
Gospel: Mark 10:46-52