30TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: FAITH IS A NEW WAY OF SEEING

Every day we are bombarded by visual and moving images—photos, bumper stickers, posters, billboards, newspapers and magazines not to mention youtube videos, facebook memes, and ads. Increasingly our culture has become a visual culture where “image is everything.” Yet, despite the thousands of images and videos we see daily in this hypervisual digital world, many times, we fail to see the true, good and beautiful. We continue to look but we do not see.

Seeing implies more than just physical eyesight. Many cultures use physical sight as a metaphor for understanding. We do that spontaneously when we suddenly catch on to an explanation and say, “Oh, now I see,” or even, paradoxically, “I see what you’re saying.”

Thus, even if we have eyes with 20/20 vision, we long to learn how to see. Ironically, the best persons who can teach us how to learn to truly see are the blind. I remember when I was assigned in Legaspi many years ago, we had a blind masseur whom we call often especially after coming from the missions for a much relaxing massage.  His name is Bert. Bert does not just give us a relaxing massage; while doing massage on us, he talks about a lot of people we commonly knew. It was amazing how despite his blindness he had a profound understanding of the character of people.

This calls to mind the life of Helen Keller, a famous American blind writer.  Helen Keller, who went blind and deaf at nineteenth months old, once narrated:

‘One day I asked a friend of mine who had just returned from a long walk in the forest what she had seen. She replied, “Nothing in particular.”

How was this possible? I asked myself, when I, who cannot hear or see, find hundreds of things to interest me through mere touch. I feel the delicate shape and design of a leaf.

I pass my hands lovingly over the rough bark of a pine tree. Occasionally, I place my hand quietly on a small tree, and if I’m lucky, feel the happy quiver of a bird in full song.

The greatest calamity that can befall people, is not that they should be born blind, but that they should have eyes, yet fail to see.’

Helen_Keller.jpg

This important truth is also demonstrated in the Gospel of today’s 30th Sunday of ordinary time. In the gospel, it was the blind Bartimaeus who saw Jesus for who he truly was. This beggar sitting beside the road shows immediately that he “sees” at least as much as Peter when he addresses Jesus with a Messianic title: “Son of David, have pity on me.”

To understand more fully the significance of this encounter between Jesus and the blind Bartimaeus we need to rewind a bit in the gospel of Mark. For two chapters prior to this account, Mark has been presenting Jesus on the road with his disciples. On the way, on three separate occasions, Jesus speaks of his approaching passion, death, and resurrection. Each time one or more of the disciples show some gross failure to comprehend what he has just said. And each time, Jesus takes them aside to teach that following him entails losing one’s life to find it, carrying a cross, becoming the servant of all. This is also sounded in the conversation in the boat, when Jesus asks, “Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?” (Mk 8:18).  In other words, Mark presents us with a picture of the disciples as spiritually blind. They do not really see who Jesus is and what he is about.

In the gospel account today, the disciples who were traveling with Jesus look upon Bartimaeus as an interruption of their missionary journey. Jesus, on the other hand, sees Bartimaeus as the point of the journey. Bartimaeus was a manifestation of why Jesus came: to bring “sight” not only to Bartimaeus but to all.

All four gospels in the New Testament use sight as a symbol for Christian faith. Believing is the deepest kind of “seeing.” The early Church called baptism enlightenment. It is not incidental that the first word out of Jesus’ mouth in the Synoptic Gospels is the word “metanoia” which means a new way of thinking. Faith is believing which inaugurates a new way of seeing and thinking.

Thus, the way the evangelists treat Jesus’ healings from physical blindness are not simply narrations of cures as marvels of the past. In their narratives, the evangelists present these healing from blindness as images of a healing process that happens through interaction between the risen Christ and any Christian.

Jesus, Son of David, have pity on us, as you did blind Bartimaeus. Give us faith as you did
blind Bartimaeus.

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23RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: BE OPENED

be-open

In the Baclaran shrine, from among the thousands of thanksgiving letters we received, health and recovery from sickness top the list of specified blessings that the devotees received from God through the prayers of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

Many of the devotees who come to Baclaran are suffering from various kinds of sickness not just physical but also emotional, mental and spiritual. In the novena every Wednesday, many of the devotees pray for healing and recovery from their illness. In the novena, there is a special Prayer for the Sick where devotees pray for healing for themselves and their loved ones.

In 2016, the Prayer for the Sick went through a major revision. The former prayer seemed to romanticize sickness by projecting an image of the sick who have nothing more they can do about their sickness except to embrace it. God’s compassion and strong desire for the healing of the sick is not much evident. Thus, the prayer was revised to express a more redemptive kind of healing not only for the sick person, but also for the whole family of the sick.

The theme of the readings for today’s 23rd Sunday in ordinary time is about God’s healing.  Salvation from God is not just salvation from our sins but also healing and recovery from sickness. Salvation comes from the Latin word, salūs which means to be well and healthy. God’s healing, however, is holistic; it is not just physical but also emotional, mental and spiritual.

In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah describes the vision of the coming of God’s kingdom as opening the eyes of the blind, clearing the ears of the deaf, and even brightening up the environment.

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.
Streams will burst forth in the desert,
and rivers in the steppe.
The burning sands will become pools,
and the thirsty ground, springs of water.

The responsorial psalm, Psalm 146, is a psalm of praise for the healing power of God, especially for his opening of the eyes of the blind.

The second reading from the Letter of James, focuses not on the physical but spiritual blindness. James warns against taking people according to their physical appearance. The example James gives is that of giving a well-dressed visitor special treatment while neglecting a poorly dressed person, forgetting the beatitude about the poor. That, he implies, is a symptom of spiritual blindness.

For if a man with gold rings and fine clothes
comes into your assembly,
and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in,
and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes
and say, “Sit here, please, ”
while you say to the poor one, “Stand there, ” or “Sit at my feet, ”
have you not made distinctions among yourselves
and become judges with evil designs?

Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters.
Did not God choose those who are poor in the world
to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom
that he promised to those who love him?

In the Gospel, Mark presents Jesus as the kind of savior prophesied by Isaiah. Jesus did a miracle of healing: a man who was deaf and impaired in speech becomes able to hear and to speak plainly. What Isaiah communicates as vision through poetry, Jesus communicates through action in the here and now. We tend to think of salvation in terms of heaven and the hereafter. Jesus’ action open us to salvation as an event that is here and now.

And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment
and begged him to lay his hand on him.
He took him off by himself away from the crowd.
He put his finger into the man’s ears
and, spitting, touched his tongue;
then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him,
“Ephphatha!”— that is, “Be opened!” —
And immediately the man’s ears were opened,
his speech impediment was removed,
and he spoke plainly.

Jesus command to the deaf-mute man, Aramaic, ephphatha “Be opened” is more than a just a matter of physical healing. It is also a spiritual healing: God’s superabundant life breaking open our closed human condition. What Jesus commands with respect to the deaf-mute man before, he commands with respect to us today. In the gospel, Jesus commands us, “Be opened!” If we listened well and hard, we too are healed: our ears are opened to hear the Good News and our tongues are loosened to proclaim it.

What sickness and disability do we need to be healed and liberated from? Let us ask Jesus to loosen our tongues, open our deaf ears and touch our blind eyes so we may truly hear, see and speak of the truth and peace of the Word who is Jesus.