30th Sunday Ordinary Time Mk 10:46-52
As our year of Mark draws to a close, we hear the simple story of Jesus and the blind beggar. Many times in the Gospel we hear of Jesus healing people, but rarely are they named. In today’s Gospel, we know precisely who the blind beggar is – that guy, right there, Bartimaeus. You know him, he’s the son of Timaeus. What moved Bartimaeus to call out to Jesus on that spring day in Jericho? Who knows? But call out he does, and he’s annoying about it. People keep telling him to pipe down, but he keeps at it: “Son of David, have pity on me!” Finally, from amid the sizable crowd, Jesus hears him and stops. “Bring him over.” Now the crowd decides to help out (illustrating how fickle the world is) and they tell Bartimaeus to hop to it, Jesus is calling. He comes to Jesus and what does Jesus say? “What do you want me to do for you?” Really? Jesus, isn’t it obvious?
I was in the prison a few weeks ago for our Bible study session. We had 18 guys, about typical, and during the course of the evening, one of the guys, Michael, mentioned that his health had taken a bad turn. He was getting some medical attention, which is good, but we could tell that he was a little worried. Then another guy, John, told us that he too was having some health issues, but it was okay, he was coping just fine. Now it’s not unusual for the guys in prison to suffer from a variety of ailments. Many of them had some serious drug addictions before entry, and prison is not exactly the best place to recuperate. In addition, with the poor diet and minimal care, fairly routine medical issues can blossom into full-blown problems. It happens. Anyway, at the end of the evening, I asked the two guys who had the medical complaints if they would like to be prayed over. Michael says yes enthusiastically. But the other guy, John, says no.
Our friend Bartimaeus doesn’t hesitate in answering Jesus, does he? Master, I want to see. And Jesus heals him immediately. But note how Jesus heals him. He doesn’t spit on the ground and make paste, nor does he lay hands on Bartimaeus, nor does he groan out loud to His Father in heaven. His words are almost dismissive. Go your way; your faith has saved you. Apparently, Bartimaeus has so much faith that Jesus’ actions are minimal! All Jesus needs to do is initial the memo, enter the password, provide a thumb print – it’s done. Bartimaeus can see!
So back at the prison, we all gather around Michael and lay hands on him. We pray for his healing, calling upon the power of the Holy Spirit, and he’s visibly moved. He sheds a tear, thanks us, and goes on his way. I turn to another inmate, Barry, and ask him why John didn’t want to be prayed over. Barry smiles ruefully. “Oh, that’s easy,” he says. “If you pray over John, you’ll give him hope. And hope is a very dangerous thing to have here in prison. Hope can kill you.” Barry went on to explain that the most dangerous time for an inmate is when he is up for parole. Despite his efforts, he can’t help but hope for release, and more often than not, parole is not granted. Why not? Because the parole board contacts the crime victims and asks for their opinion. Not surprisingly, many victims cannot forgive that long ago crime, no matter what. It’s understandable, yes sad, but understandable. May you never be put in such a position. But the reality is that inmate suicides spike after negative parole hearings. Hope can kill you.
I used to think that faith and hope were totally different virtues. I’m not so sure anymore. We’ve been reading from the letter to the Hebrews these past few weeks, and there’s a wonderful phrase at the beginning of Chapter 11. Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. Note the tight relationship between faith and hope. You could almost retranslate this to say that faith is the expectation of your highest hopes. Bartimaeus’ highest hope was to see. And his expectation was so strong that he was willing to make a fool out of himself and scream Jesus’ name out loud again and again, despite the shushing of the crowd. Jesus is practically a bystander to the resultant healing. Faith is hope on steroids.
So what are you hoping for? Healing from a long illness? A new job? A reconciled relationship? A baby? Perhaps you want to be married. Perhaps you’d like to retire soon but are worried about money. Perhaps you’d like your children to come back to the Church. Perhaps you simply want to get through the school year. How do these hopes become faith?
- Pray to God about your hopes. Are these hopes reasonable? Better yet, are they good for you and others in an objective way?
- Do you feel like you’re fighting God to see these hopes realized? God might indeed have a better plan in mind. Can you accept that?
- Is your hope being met in small ways already? Are there little indications that God is already on the job?
- And don’t forget love. As St. Paul tells us, in the end, faith, hope and love will remain, but the greatest of these is love. If your hope is expressed through the lens of love, I can think of no better recipe for great faith, for love never fails.
So here’s an example. You’re hoping that your child finds God in their life. So is this hope good for you and for your child? I think it qualifies, yes! Do you feel like you’re fighting God to see this hope realized? Maybe you’re insisting that your child come to God the same way you did. Can you let God do the hard work here and not try to force it? Are you beginning to see signs that your child is recognizing God in their life? It may be very subtle, like a plant poking up through the soil, but there it is. And finally, are you loving your child through it all? Through the bad choices and missteps and face plants? This is how expectations grow and that little hope becomes more and more confident until you can say, “I believe that my child will know God!”
Last week, I was back in the prison and I ran across Barry. He had a grin on his face. I said, “Barry, what’s up? You seem quite chipper.” He said, “I was given a parole hearing date today.” “But I thought you were a lifer,” I said. He smiled sardonically and said, “I’m 68 years old. They don’t want to take care of me anymore. I’m getting expensive.” “Well, Barry,” I said, “I’ll certainly pray for you.” He nodded. “Yeah,” he said, “please do. I’m starting to hope.”
Never. Lose. Hope.
© Deacon Peter Hodsdon St. James Parish, Solana Beach