Bishop Richard J. Sklba
Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126:1-6; Hebrews 5:1-6; Mark 10:46-52
THE HEALING MINISTRY OF JESUS IN TODAY'S WORLD
(N.B.: This is not a model homily, but rather ingredients / elements for developing a specific homily on the Church's ministry of healing as rooted in the Scripture readings for the weekend of Oct. 28, 2012. Not everything need be included! The best homily has a single point. The rest is background for the preacher. As further assistance to members of the community, a parish might choose to print the brief final principles in the week's Sunday bulletin)
We gather for our Eucharistic prayer at the end of October, amid the signs of creation at the end of its harvest cycle. The fields around us testify that the growth of the summer has run its course. Creation now returns through its natural death to the earth from which it came in preparation for new birth next spring.
Illness and the Church's need to care for the sick today.
As background for hearing the story of the way Jesus cured Bartimaeus, we might begin by recounting stories about the need for healing in our world: e.g., sight impairment afflicts large numbers of people everywhere; we meet people carefully navigating street curbing with red striped canes; we frequently hear reports of new scientific breakthroughs in laser treatments; missionary groups collect used eyeglasses for poorer parts of our world; each community has its own story of blindness; human blindness is only one of the many forms of human weakness and infirmity in need of God's healing as mediated by the care offered by believers.
Deeper symbolic meanings.
In the Gospels we learn of the differing approaches between that of John the Baptist and that of Jesus. John called soldiers and tax collectors to justice and announced the fiery judgment of God's kingdom (Luke 3:7-14), but Jesus heralded a kingdom of healing for the sick and spoke of the world's transformation as a sign of his authenticity as one sent from God (Luke 7:18-23). John saw the kingdom as primarily one of justice and judgment, but Jesus stressed the opportunity / need for inner reconciliation and healing as prior elements of our conversion before the final judgment of the world.
In this passage we hear the charming story of Jesus and Bartimaeus, the blind beggar on the road to Jericho. Diseases of the eye were a constant experience in the Ancient Near East. Primitive medicine was very limited and often ascribed disease to evil spirits. Because of modern medicine, we in the West take our sight for granted. Corrective laser surgery, implanted lenses and prescriptions make good eye sight common. When is the last time you had your eyes examined? Remember that even today relatively few members of the human race have that luxury.
The major healings described in the Gospels represent both physical and spiritual realities. Jesus cures the lame because "walking" in the world of the Bible was a metaphor for one's entire moral life of travel on God's path (without limping due to sin). Jesus cures the blind because "sight' was also a metaphor for faith which enables disciples to see God's fuller and better reality. Jesus raises the dead because that gesture presented an anticipation of the Resurrection which is given to those who believe in him. Each of these in some way signals what God does, and God's Church is called to do in every age.
This Gospel, therefore, provides an opportunity to reflect on our need for God's healing at all levels and also our dependency on the divine gift of faith. The passage also can offer guidance for the way the entire community is called to care for the sick, even those in extremis, as they face physical limitations and perhaps even prepare for their respective final "journey to the stars" of eternity.
Some finer points in the passage.
This passage provides several possible "launching pads," each of which might offer a starting point for a homily on the Church's healing ministry and the Church's teachings about our care for God's sick. Four homily possibilities are offered here. The homilist is encouraged to choose the one which best fits the specific community.
First, note that there are two healings. Bartimaeus is healed of his blindness (v.52). One can't help but note, however, that the crowd itself is also healed from a stance of rebuking Bartimaeus and attempting to silence his cries for help (v.48) to one of encouraging the poor beggar to come closer to the Master who summons him (v.49). Thus, the passage is also a story of community growth in understanding their mission of evangelization and care for the sick. The entire community of believers needs to learn how to best help comfort and care for the sick. A theme: when God walks by, everyone is healed!
Secondly, the Greek version of the beggar's request has a subtle but important nuance. In the Greek text Bartimaeus actually asked, not merely '"to see," but to "look up / anablepsein"(v.52), namely to see the bigger picture, not to be confined to worrying about stumbling over stones or uneven ground … perhaps even to see the hand of God at work in his malady. Suffering itself can also be redemptive because it reminds us of our ultimate dependence on others, and because it helps establish true priorities in our lives. Some things (and people) are more important than others. Illness enables us to understand that truth. The beggar's desire for physical sight includes a hint of desire for the larger vision of faith as well. A theme: God can cure all human limitation and gives us the ability to "see" God's world by faith!
Thirdly, Bartimaeus tosses aside his cloak (v.50), usually spread out to catch alms and therefore he also rises to new dependence upon God alone! The beggar's new faith leads to a fresh sense of total confidence in God! This confidence is a sign of true discipleship. There is a price to be paid for healing, namely one must now take action and reshape one's life around which is newly seen! A theme: God only cures us fully if we are willing to cast aside our false dependency!
Fourth, Bartimaeus' new faith leads to a life of active following Jesus on "the way" (v.52) as Christianity was initially called in the first century AD (Acts 9:2). Those who see must also become members of a community of disciples who follow the teachings of Jesus and apply them to the new questions of each age. All must become healers and helpers! A theme: God's healing opens new paths into community.
Community care for the sick and medical moral ethics.
As disciples, or perhaps better as "apprentices" of Jesus, the Christian community is called to care for the sick as he did. That comfort and care includes the finest modern medicine, pastoral presence for those in physical weakness, ministering to them with the Sacrament of the Sick and offering the best of the Church's time tested moral teachings.
Many of the world religions teach people how to live with compassion and integrity; only Christianity teaches how to live and how to die in conformity with the Paschal mystery of Jesus. Our faith reminds us that our physical health is a great gift which we must cherish, but it also teaches that physical well being is neither the only nor the supreme value. We are called to the fullness of life beyond physical death.
As people live longer due to better nourishment, more healthy living conditions in western society and advanced health care for many (but not all) of our neighbors, we find ourselves caring for the weak and infirm members of our families in new ways.
The story of Bartimaeus as one individual also reminds us that not everyone was / is healed physically. By God's providence and design, everyone eventually moves through her / his suffering into conformity with the death and rising of Jesus. Because the passage is about a healed community, we can speak about the duty and the privilege of fellow believers to bring faith to those who have entered that final journey which each of us must walk. To see someone we love dearly suffer is not easy; for that reason we do everything we can to provide medical care and comfort wherever possible. We also bring our faith to their suffering and to our own concerns so that the larger context is present for the questions of society's health care and the Church's ministry to the ailing.
There are some traditional principles which can aid our decisions and help us as believers to make the difficult choices which are sometimes required when caring for and comforting the sick.
- We are called to care for each other, even when that care can become burdensome. There are times, however, when providing the best care possible will suggest moving our ailing relatives to health care facilities which can better meet the needs of the sick by trained personnel. In terminal situations we are always required by charity to respect the life and dignity of the individual.
- There are also occasions therefore when we must balance the potential benefits of further treatment for the patient with the financial burdens and the physical comfort of the patient. Such considerations are an essential part of our loving care for the sick.
- We can never chose any action which has as its direct purpose the shortening of life, but we can provide comfort or treatment which may alleviate pain, even though it may also have as an unintended consequence a shorter life span. For believers, there is a bigger picture than physical life alone.
- For believers in the Resurrection, prolonging physical life alone is not our highest value. Causing needless pain and discomfort for someone in the final stages of life on this earth, merely to sustain them, may not be true charity. We are called to allow God to be the Lord of life for everyone.
Conclusions. Jesus healed the blindness of Bartimaeus. He calls us as members of the Church to continue his healing ministry in our day. We invite those who care for the chronically ill in life threatening situations to discuss all these matters with their pastor or chaplain. We encourage their families to do the same. God wants us to be saved and to come to the fullness of life (John 10:10).