Deacon Cornell’s Homily


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


October 24-25, 2009 Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Open my eyes Lord; help me to see your face. Open my eyes Lord; help me to see. (Open My Eyes, Jesse Manibusan)

Today’s Gospel story of blind Bartimaeus uses the very common biblical device of using physical blindness as a metaphor for deeper spiritual blindness. And the author of Mark’s Gospel highlights his point by doing what any skillful presenter does: he uses contrast. This story appears immediately following and is paired with the story we heard last week of John and James asking Jesus for positions of honor in his coming kingdom. The stories share a similar framework. Both stories start out with someone asking Jesus for something: Bartimaeus for his sight and John and James for the positions of honor. Both stories continue with Jesus asking the person if they really want what they are asking for. In both stories, the person requesting the favor responds that they do indeed want what they are asking for.

Now this is where you might think the contrast comes in but it doesn’t. In both stories Jesus neither grants or denies the request. In both cases he simply points out that their faith will allow them to obtain what they seek: Bartimaeus is able to see, and John and James do indeed drink from the cup that Jesus drinks from, and are baptized with the baptism that Jesus is, and obviously from the fact that we call them St. John and St. James, they have positions of honor in the kingdom of God.

So what is the contrast? It is in blindness. Bartimaeus knows that he is blind and he understands what he is asking for when he asks to have sight. The apostles, on the other hand, do not know that they are blind. They don’t really know what they asking for. All of the Gospels and especially Mark paint the disciples as blind to who Jesus is. Despite spending several years following him, see the miracles, listening to the teaching, getting special private teaching from Jesus, they just don't get it. The original ending of Mark's Gospel has all the apostles scattered in fear after the crucixion. But for all their blindness, the apostles are not portrayed as being blind because of some moral failure. Their blindness comes from their cultural conditioning. For generations the Jews of Jesus' time were conditioned to expect a Messaiah who would be a military and political leader. They were conditioned to see God's kingdom in terms of material things, especially power. They were conditioned to understand God as completely other, so different and awesome that even seeng God would make a human cease to exist. So it is no wonder they could not see Jesus as Messaiah, certainly not God become human.

Bartimaeus, on the other hand, was on the margins of that society; and that brokeness enables him to cast off some of the cultural conditioning. In the story that is strongly symbolized by Bartimaeus leaving his cloak behind. For Bartimaeus, his cloak represents all his worldly goods. His problem is the source of his solution. It enables him to see what the apostles cannot.

The blindness of the apostles comes from how we "see" things as human beings. Everything we save in our memory is filtered through our conditioning on the way in and on the way out. That is how humans work and it is a good thing. We tend to think that “seeing is believing” but that is not the case.

[CAT-THE visual aids from Gilbert’s book]  [] []

If you have any doubts about how deeply our preconceived notions and cultural conditioning shape the way we see the world, I would recommend you read Daniel Gilbert's book Stumbling on Happiness. From physical perception experiments like the one we just did, to behavioral data that is very conclusive, to the newly acquired ability to actually map what is going on in the brain, we can see that this is how humans are built. It is a good news, bad news story. The bad news is that if we have the wrong conditioning, we can misjudge a lot of reality but the good news is that with some considerable effort we can change our conditioning.

We have a lot of bad conditioning from our culture that we have to overcome. We have had it pounded into our minds that religion is for fools, that religion has no place in the public forum, that to be a good Catholic means going to church occasionally and keeping some of the commandments, that all authority is bad, and that there are no absolutes when it comes to morality. Until we strip those away we can never see what it means to love our enemies, or to be servants not the served, or to be baptized with same baptism as Jesus, or to drink from the same cup.

Like Bartimaeus, we can only regain our sight through faith. For the truth is not that seeing is believing but rather believing is seeing.

I would invite you to try something. Close your eyes and focus all your attention on what you would ask God for if you could ask for any one thing for yourself.  Now do the same for the one thing you would ask for this community.  Okay open your eyes. In a few minutes, as we gather around the table for communion, let us approach the body and blood of Christ not as James and John and the other apostles did, but as Bartimaeus. Let us leave behind our cloak of cultural conditioning so that in communion, as a community we bring to Jesus these deepest desires, our most fervent wishes for ourselves and our community, and ask him to grant it. Let our Amen to receiving the Body or Precious Blood be our response to Jesus asking if we really want that. Then as Bartimaeus did, let us follow Jesus with our whole heart.

Sing it with me:
Open my eyes Lord; help me to see your face. Open my eyes Lord; help me to see. (Open My Eyes, Jesse Manibusan)

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