In today’s readings the work of redemption, which is ultimately a work of reconciliation with God and with others, is described as a new Exodus where no one should be left behind.
In today’s First Reading Jeremiah describes the gathering of the scattered Israelites in exile as a sort of new Exodus, a new pilgrimage, where even the weak, sick, and helpless will not be left behind. Yet not everyone makes it. The language of this reading refers to the exiles Israel underwent, always involving exile to the “north” of the Promised Land. Jeremiah is addressing the Babylonian exile in particular.
The Israelites were exiled due to their sins, just as sin alienates us from God and from others. Not everyone returns from exile, only a “remnant,” and that’s not due to the journey being too hard. The Lord makes a point of saying that even those who’d have difficulty making such a journey—mothers with their children, the pregnant, blind, or lame—will be able to make the journey. They’d have a smooth journey and abundant water, not like the harsh conditions of the first Exodus from Egypt.
Those who don’t come are those who didn’t want to. They let an opportunity pass them by. He also describes the remnant returning as an immense throng. The faithful remnant of Israel was the seed from which the new People of God, the Church, began. This prophecy does not just refer to the return of the Israelites from the Babylonian exile; it also looks forward to the Church assembling and heading in pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
In today’s Second Reading the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that the Lord, our High Priest, in becoming man took up the human condition in order to make it easier for us to identify with him in his humanity and turn to him as our priest. In assuming human nature through his Incarnation Our Lord knew first hand the “weakness” of living in a fallen world. The Church, like her High Priest, has striven to imitate this “outreach” of Christ’s humanity to the world so that it can regain the sense of what is truly means to be human. The Heavenly Father called the Son to become our High Priest so that he could mediate between us and God. In his human nature Our Lord has bridged the gap between us and the Father left by sin. We gather around human because he restores our humanity to its full potential.
In today’s Gospel we see the prophecy of Jeremiah taking shape. Our Lord starting to gather together everyone, heal them, and lead them. Yet there is still some blindness, some weakness and ignorance, to overcome. Crowds are starting to follow Our Lord, and in Biblical symbolism moving away from Jericho is often considered as moving away from sin, especially when heading from there to Jerusalem. In the midst of all the excitement we find poor and blind Bartimaeus, who is stuck. He ekes out an existence begging and knows with his blindness that going anywhere on his own is difficult if not impossible. He hears the commotion and doesn’t know it is Jesus of Nazareth passing by, but when he does, he starts to beg Our Lord for mercy. He may be physically blind, but spiritually he is seeing things more clearly than those who are following Our Lord.
The people in the crowd try to silence him, probably thinking he’s giving the same old line he uses for begging from others. They are spiritually blind to what’s necessary: no one who wants to come should be left behind. Jeremiah in today’s First Reading said the blind would not be left behind, and Our Lord is fulfilling that prophecy and curing the crowds from a spiritual blindness toward another’s needs. Jesus restores Bartimaeus’ sight and Bartimaeus joins the pilgrimage too: the Lord leads him to a more joyous life.
If we get lost on the way to the Promised Land, Heaven, it’s not Our Lord’s fault: he always gives us a chance to come along, whether we recognize it or not. Bartimaeus did, the crowd didn’t. It’s very salutary in prayer to go over those things, reasons excuses that prevent us from following Our Lord and imagine on the day of our Judgement whether they would hold water. No matter how many opportunities we’ve squandered, Our Lord as long as we live on this earth always gives us another chance. Take it.
Readings: Jeremiah 31:7–9; Psalm 126:1–6; Hebrews 5:1–6; Mark 10:46–52. See also 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.