Thirtieth Sunday Of Ordinary Time, Year B
THIRTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR B
Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6; Hebrews 5:1-6; MARK 10:46-52
The prophet Jeremiah’s ministry in and around Jerusalem in the Kingdom of Judah lasted from 627-587. Today’s first reading is part of an oracle of joy directed not at the people of the King-dom of Judah in the south, but at the return of the descendants of exiles to the Kingdom of Israel in the north. This kingdom had fallen to the superpower Assyria in 721, almost a century before Jeremiah’s ministry began. The fall of its capital city Samaria in 721 was the occasion for the exile of the 10 northern tribes which had originally constituted the Kingdom of Israel in 922 B.C. Those exiles became known as “the lost tribes of Israel.” A band of descendants of these exiles either actually and historically returned to the land of their ancestors, or Jeremiah envisions such a return. Such is the background to this Sunday’s first reading.
The oracle begins, “Shout with joy for Jacob…. Proclaim your praise, and say, ‘The Lord has delivered his people, the remnant of Israel. Behold I will bring them back from the land of the north.’” The prophet refers to “Jacob,” which is a synonym for the long defunct Kingdom of Israel. A characteristic of Hebrew poetry is to repeat by a second name what has just been proclaimed by a first name. Therefore the prophet refers to a “remnant of Israel.” The oracle continues, “I (the Lord) will gather them from the ends of the world….” The exiles of 721 B.C. had been widely scattered throughout the ancient Near East. (There was a theory proposed by some in American colonial times that the natives of North America were descendants of the lost tribes of Israel. Unlikely!) The next statement of the oracle reveals why this oracle was chosen for today’s first reading, “…with the blind and the lame in the midst.” In today’s gospel Jesus restores sight to a blind man. Seems like a tenuous connection with the gospel, but no other reason is obvious for the selection of this ancient oracle for the first reading. The first reading and the gospel reading generally share a theme on Ordinary Sundays.
The Responsorial Psalm (126) continues the theme of a return from exile, but this return from exile is a return to the Kingdom of Judah in the south, with Jerusalem as its capital city. This exile occurred in waves to Babylon (today Iraq) beginning in 598-7 B.C., followed by a second wave and major exile when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonian army in 587 B.C. A third wave of exile took place in 582 B.C. In 539 B.C., Cyrus the Great, King of Persia, ended the Babylonian Empire. It was Cyrus’ policy to let exiled people return to their homeland, to rebuild the temples to their gods, so that those gods would bless him. The exiles of the former Kingdom of Judah were among those returnees. Therefore the Psalmist chants, “When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion….” The hill called Mt. Zion is the location of Jerusalem and the temple. The Psalm is filled with the joy of homecoming.
The second reading continues the series from the Letter to the Hebrews. After the author encouraged the vacillating receivers of the Letter to approach Jesus, their high priest for help in perseverance in Christianity, he adds a sidebar about high priests and the ultimate high priest, Jesus Christ. He compares the limitations of the Old Testament high priests with the perfection of the New Testament high priest. The former offered sacrifices not only for the sins of the people, but for his own sins also, and did so over and over again. Not so with Jesus, our high priest. The author does not complete the comparison in our first reading. Only later, and repeatedly, he will speak of the sacrifice of Jesus, a sinless high priest, offered “once and for all.”
In last Sunday’s gospel, in response to Jesus’ third Passion prediction about what was to happen to him in Jerusalem, James and John attempted a power grab. The 10 other apostles were just as clueless because they too wanted the first places in what they presumed would be Jesus’ earthly kingdom in Jerusalem. Mark’s gospel is known for depicting Jesus’ disciples in negative ways. Mark sees an opportunity to contrast the clueless disciples, who had been with Jesus for a year, with a blind man encountered after the attempted power grab. Mark envisions Jesus and his disciples journeying south along the east bank of the Jordan River to Jerusalem for Passover. They forded the Jordan and passed through the city of Jericho. They encountered a blind man, who cries out, “Jesus, Son of (descendant of) David, have pity on me.” He also, like the disciples, recognizes Jesus as a king, but not a king who exercises his kingship by setting up an earthly kingdom. This king exercises power by healing human limitations.
Mark identifies the blind man as Bartimaeus. There was no social safety net for the handicapped. Begging was the alternative to starving. When Jesus calls him, the blind man’s faith springs into action. When we read that he “threw aside his cloak,” it is the cloth Bartimaeus had spread in front of him to receive the coins of passersby. Jesus’ appealing “bedside manner” is evident. “What do you want me to do for you?” The man answers, “Master, I want to see.” His faith was displayed not only in his obedience to Jesus’ call, but also in throwing aside the symbol of his dependence on alms. He would need it no longer. Jesus rewards his faith, “Go your way. Your faith has saved you.” That Mark intends a contrast between the Zebedee brothers and Bartimaeus is clear from the question Jesus had asked them and the blind beggar, “What do you want me to do for you?” They asked for what they did not need – power. Bartimaeus asked for something he needed – to see. A recent reading from the Letter of James 4:3 serves as a comment on the Zebedees, “You ask but do not receive because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” James 4:6 serves as comment on Bartimaeus, “God gives grace to the humble.”