30 OT (B) Reprinted from Oct. 28/29, 2006
The threshold of conversion happens in many different experiences of life:
Grieving the loss of a loved one until the good news of resurrection lessens the pain;
Having a profound insight into the meaning of one's life, especially the meaning of suffering and struggle in one's life;
Going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly to seek God's mercy for a pattern of sin;
Making a decision, with the help of God, to change a habit or pattern of sin with immediacy;
Today's story of Bartimaeus, coupled with another story in Mark's gospel, explains, at least in part, the process of conversion.
As my examples indicate, conversion, or spiritual transformation, for some of us involves a process of coming to see in a new way. At other times, the coming to see in a new way can be an abrupt, sudden experience. For Bartimaeus in this week's gospel, his coming to see life in and through Jesus happens through a momentary encounter with Jesus. In Chapter 8 of Mark, another blind man is given his sight by Jesus, but that sight only comes gradually. So it is in each of our journeys of faith. At times, spiritual transformation takes awhile. At other times, that transformation, or coming to see in a new way, happens quickly. Both experiences are valid and true, and all of us have both kinds of experiences.
"Coming to see in a new way" is frequently used in all four of the gospels to explain what faith is. Faith is a lot of things. It is a relationship with God. It is an intellectual appropriation of certain credal elements. But faith is also epistemological. It is a way of knowing and seeing the world around us. This new coming to see that is faith does involve insight, new values, a changed philosophy of life, a whole new lifestyle involving thoughts, feelings and behavior. Jesus called this new sight "life in the Reign of God." Whenever we have conversion events or processes, whenever spiritual transformation is occurring in us, we are coming to see in a new way.
Bartimaeus exemplifies a value that is very important for disciples of Jesus Christ; that value is persistence. I suggest that we understand persistence in two ways. Persistence speaks to me of living a life of discipline when it comes to conversion and spirituality. In other words, on the journey of faith, we are not just reactive or waiting for things to happen to us willy-nilly. Rather, we intentionally pay attention to the movement of God in our lives. And as we sense that God movement or hear God's call and will, we intentionally change, act, allow ourselves to be transformed in response to God. This spiritual discipline is a kind of vigilance, attending to God in our lives, and attending to the quality of our lives in the face of God.
Persistence admits of another connotation. Bartimaeus wanted something; he wanted his sight. And so, he persistently cries out to Jesus, "Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!" People try to silence him, but he cries the louder, "Have pity on me! Have pity on me!" When we perceive something as our daily bread, something that we genuinely need or want, with faith and integrity, we ought to go to our God with persistence. It is okay to pray for what we want as long as we understand what we want as holy, good, and congruent with God's will.
We are told that Bartimaeus' persistent prayer makes Jesus stop. And so it is with God and us. When we are persistent in asking for our daily bread, God stops for us. Though God might not give us exactly what we ask for, we are assured, in the teachings of Jesus in the gospel of Luke, that God always gives the Holy Spirit to those who pray. Whenever we pray, we are touched by or filled with grace and Spirit. This grace and Spirit empower us to face all the challenges of our lives. Let us be persistent in terms of discipline for the spiritual journey, and persistent in honesty in our prayer. God stops and attends to us when we pray, the gospel teaches us.
When Bartimaeus receives sight, we are told he follows Jesus on "the way." "The way" is codified language. It meant something to the early Christians. "The way" was a life of discipleship; and this life of discipleship, this "way," ultimately, for Jesus and for all disciples, led and leads to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a symbolic spot referring to where Jesus Christ was put to death, buried, and then rose again, transformed and glorified.
The ultimate goal of the new sight we receive, either quickly or in a process sort of way, is to understand better and to embrace the Paschal Mystery, that what life is all about is the mystery of living, dying, and rising, over and over again, with Jesus, until finally our bodies stop and we enter into a new dimension of being that we call eternal life. New sight, new sight on "the way" is always a gradual embracing, with conviction and hope, of the mystery of life, death, and resurrection. That mystery is going on in each of our lives in different ways. We bring that mystery to this table every time we offer the Eucharist. We become one with each other, and one with Jesus, in the mystery of living, dying and rising.
Let us be glad today, that as Jeremiah prophesized, God always walks with us, through joys and difficulties, ultimately leading us to new or eternal life. Let us thank Jesus for that which the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of today, that by dying on the cross and rising for us, He has revealed to us the meaning of life, which is life, death, and Resurrection.