A few weeks ago two friends and I made a trip to Ireland – to County Kerry, the land of St. Patrick and St. Brendan. When you make a trip to Ireland, you always hope for good weather, and we received what we asked for. Rain - EVERY day, with hints of sun. And when it shone, the sky was a brilliant steel blue and the land, as they say, forty shades of green. Kerry is a lovely county where we went hiking in Killarney National Park, and drove, on the wrong side of the road mind you, over the high Conor Pass down to the tip of the Dingle Peninsula to Slea Head, where for a time the rain came down so hard that you thought the car was under water. When the weather broke, we could see the beautiful Blasket islands two miles off shore. For all our trouble, we had lunch every day with a Guinness, a hot bowl of mushroom soup, and a nice piece of brown bread.
Yes – Ireland is extremely beautiful. Yet, beneath that beauty there is an underlying sadness that goes back to the time of the “great hunger”, more than 150 years ago, when blight moved over the land, leaving most of the potato crop, black, rotten, and leaves withered. Poor Irish speaking Catholic farmers and laborers were forced to become beggars on their own land, with nothing to eat, living life in torn and tattered clothes. A tragedy – some say a holocaust. Without the potato, their main source of food, and the appalling living conditions already exacerbated by English domination, the people were left with a choice - to stay and suffer, die, or emigrate. Emigration would be for many their only opportunity. Many would decide to leave – but it was high risk. The heartbreak of saying goodbye to a family you most likely would never see again, a 70pct chance of survival on a “coffin ship”, and arriving at a destination unlike any you had ever known – for sure an up-hill struggle. It would take courage AND a strong embrace of faith in God, as the Prophet Jeremiah said, “They departed in tears, but I will console them and guide them.”
Our Gospel reading today is about “opportunity” and a reversal of misfortune – about a man who lived in Jericho named Bartimaeus. Though he was physically blind – he saw better with his heart than those around him. He stands for all of us who suffer from spiritual blindness. He is a beggar who knows he needs the help of others to survive. Aren’t we all beggars? - For without God’s help, we can do nothing. Bartimaeus has staked out a place on the roadside that leads UP to Jerusalem - prime real estate. It’s almost Passover; many are walking this road on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He sits in his poverty, covered by his cloak, which he not only uses to keep warm, but to catch the coins tossed by the passersby. A crowd approaches his station. He hears a name mentioned. Can it be Him? Yes, it’s Jesus - the rabbi – the miracle worker. Bartimaeus will not miss THIS opportunity.
This is his moment of salvation. Voicing the same penitential rite that we all prayed a few minutes ago, he cries out “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” Out of their embarrassment, the crowd rebukes him and tells him to be quiet. How many voices today try to silence the Church in its mission to seek the Kingdom? Bartimaeus cries out all the more. “Son of David, have pity on me.” Jesus hears “him” and is heart is moved. St. Faustina Kowalska reminds us that God loves “all of us" no matter how great our sins. He wants us to “recognize that His mercy is greater than our sins, so that we will call upon Him with trust, receive His mercy, and let it flow through us to others. Like Bartimaeus, all will come to share His joy.” Jesus now tells his disciples to “call him.” Here we see that God uses you and me as His instruments, to draw ALL to Himself – this is our vocation as Christians. Bartimaeus throws off his cloak, jumps up, and in his nakedness, runs to Jesus. Unlike our first parents who hid in their nakedness, Bartamaeus moves without shame. We should never let our past shame keep us from seeking the mercy of God. Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you”? This is the same question that Jesus asked James and John in last week’s Gospel reading; only now the answer is different. Bartimaeus says, “I want to see.” He is asking for more than physical sight – he seeks God, the Light of the World, the Way, the Truth and the Life. We need to ask Jesus the same question every day, Lord, I want to see. Jesus’ says, “Go your way, your faith has saved you.” Bartimaeus asked for and received mercy, his physical sight restored, his spiritual sight strengthened. He is whole. Jesus also offered Bartimaeus a choice – not to go the way that Jesus chooses, no - the way Bartimaeus chooses. Bartimaeus chooses the Light. Now a disciple, he follows Jesus on the way to Jerusalem – on the way to the cross.
The Irish who chose to emigrate during those famine years, to America, to Canada, to Australia – they held steadfast to their faith and, like Bartimaeus, took hold of a God given opportunity. Bartimaeus also seized opportunity - to cry out to Jesus when the Son of God walked by his station. He publicly expressed his belief in who Jesus was and what he could do for him. Then, he accepted the grace of God that allowed him to see again. This opportunity is offered by God to all of us - to seek the Lord by faith in his word, being active member of the Body of Christ by prayer, Sacramental life in His Church, and being like HIM in our acts of love and kindness.
In the words of the Psalmist David; (Psalm 33)
See, the eyes of the Lord are upon those who fear him, Upon those who hope for his kindness, To deliver them from death, And preserve them in spite of Famine.
Deacon Brian J. Murphy