Oct. 27, 2018

THIRTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2018

THE PRIEST AND THE PRAYER OF BARTIMAEUS

Readings: 1st- Jer. 31:7-9; 2nd- Heb. 5:1-6; Gospel- Mk. 10:46-52

We’re continuing our series on prayers this week. In the gospel (Mk. 10:46-52), Bartimaeus offers us a great example of prayer. Before we look at Bartimaeus’ prayer approach, let us take a quick glance at the high priest narrative as presented by the Letter to the Hebrews. 

The Jewish tradition placed strong emphasis on the priesthood. Right from the Old Testament, the role of the priest was emphasized. The high priest was a member of his community, chosen from the community to perform special role, to serve God on behalf of the people. The priest is therefore part of the community that prays. He occupies a middle-ground and intercedes for the people before God. But the priest is human, “he is taken from among men and made their representative before God” (Heb. 5:1).

One major function of the priest is to offer sacrifices for the expiation of sins. Because the priest is human, he carries in his body the weaknesses of every other human being. For this reason, the priest is to offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of his sins as well as those of the people. Priests are called to recognize the need to seek God’s help to overcome their weakness.

The Hebrew writer highlights important dynamics of the priestly calling. “No one takes the honor upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was” (Heb. 5:4). Aaron is specifically called to the priestly office, different from the role of Moses in the Old Testament. God said to Moses, "From among the Israelites, summon your brother Aaron and his sons to be priests in my service: Aaron and Aaron's sons Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar." (Ex. 28:1) Aaron performed sacrifices on behalf of the Israelites while Moses provided the leadership. At one point, Moses approached Aaron with the request, “Come near to the altar and offer your sin offering and your burnt offering, that you may make atonement for yourself and for the people; then make the offering for the people, that you may make atonement for them, just as the LORD has commanded." (Lev. 9:7)

Christ is the high priest of the New Testament. He offers himself as the definitive sacrifice. Last Sunday’s reading reminded us that, “We have a great high priest, Jesus, the Son of God” (Heb. 4:14-15). Christ is the eternal high priest offers his body and blood for our salvation. He establishes the ministry of the priesthood at the Last Supper and invites priests to celebrate the mystery of his saving love for the people; “Do this in memory of me.” No one takes the honor of being priest on himself, not even the pope. Rather, the priesthood is a vocation. It is not just a career and not like any other job. The priesthood is no business. The priest offers himself as sacrifice. Then he represents the people before God and prays on their behalf.   

Christ the eternal high priest, encounters Bartimaeus in the gospel. He brings compassion and justice into the priesthood. Christ accepts the blind man despite the reaction of the crowd. He brings him out of the periphery and makes him a disciple. Christ put forward to Bartimaeus the same question he asked James and John, the sons of Zebedee, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mk. 10:36-37). Jesus teaches the crowd that justice doesn’t depend on the reaction of the majority. He defends the dignity of Bartimaeus and his human right as a child of God and a member of the society. Jesus represents answered prayers.

 

The gospel of Mark tells us that Bartimaeus is a blind man who sits by the roadside begging. He hears that Jesus is passing his way. He cries out, shouting loudly, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” The physically able, strong and privileged try to shut him down. They rebuke him and command that he be silent. Bartimaeus wouldn’t listen to the voices that do not represent Jesus. He refuses to be distracted. He keeps calling out the more to Jesus, “Son of David, have pity on me.” The voice of the blind man is eventually heard by Jesus who invites the crowd to bring Bartimaeus to him. Bartimaeus throws away his cloak, breaks bonds with his inhibition, and springs up to Jesus. When asked what might be needs, he is very assertive and direct with his answer, “Master, I want to see” (Mk. 10:52).

What is the one factor in Bartimaeus’ action that we can emulate in our prayer life? The answer is that there will always be obstacles on our journey to reach God. The road to assessing God is not an easy one. Look at these: the crowds try to shut Bartimaeus down. Those who are enjoying the privilege of sight want to prevent him from reaching out to Jesus. They prefer him being a beggar. They scold him for daring to profess his faith and express his needs. They demand him to keep quiet. They intimidate him. But this blind man teaches us courage in the face of faith-opposition. This crowd in your case could be your family members that don’t do religion, who wouldn’t want you to express your faith. They intimidate you from praying. They’re unsettled when you mention the name Jesus in the house. They are uncomfortable that you even go to church. As a result, you become like someone at the periphery. Your voice seems so lonely and you feel powerless among your people. They simply want to stop you.

Bartimaeus is a great encouragement for you. Once Jesus encounters him, everything changes. “What do you want me to do for you?” is the great question. In a deeper sense, it demonstrates God’s concern for his people. God listens even in the midst of the turbulence and distractions. In the ensuing noise and opposition to our faith, God listens. His words are, “I am the Lord that healeth thee” (Ex. 15:26). And that question comes directly to you, “What do you want me to do for you?” God wants to respond to your appeals and to your cry. Keep calling! Faith does not give in to distractions, challenges, and oppositions. Those cannot deter you. Go ahead and call on God. Faith is that inner vision of the ability of God to answer. It provides insight to God’s goodness and steadfastness. Remember what Christ told his disciples when he taught them perseverance in prayer, “"I tell you, if the man does not get up and give it to him for friendship's sake, persistence will make him get up and give his friend all he wants. 'So, I say to you: Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; everyone who searches finds; everyone who knocks will have the door opened" (Lk. 11:8-10).