25 October 2015

Have pity on me!

30th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

Take a moment and ask yourself: why am I here? Is it duty? Habit? Did your husband/wife drag you off the couch? Did mom and dad demand that you come here tonight? Maybe you aren't sure why you're here. Well, you're here for the fellowship; for a time and place away from the secular world, for a chance to visit with God in prayer; to make a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; to hear the Word proclaimed and preached; to offer Christ on his altar. Like Bartimaeus, we are all here, waiting on a roadside for the Son of David to pass. We are blind, crippled, proud, cold-hearted, angry, anxious, lost in sin. But we’re here. We are the disciples on the road. And we are Bartimaeus, shouting to the Lord for his gifts! We are here to receive courage and strength and mercy. We are here because we heard the call, “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.” And now we hear him say to Bartimaeus and to us, “What do you want me to do for you?” Stop right now and answer that question – in the silence of your heart and mind – answer the question: what do you want, what do you need Christ to do for you?

So, here we are. Standing in a crowd on the road that leads out of Jericho. Someone says that Jesus and a big group of his disciples are headed this way. We want to see this guy b/c we've heard about his miracles and his brawls with the Pharisees. Maybe he'll exorcise a demon or turn some water into wine! The shouting is getting louder and folks are starting to push into road. Somebody yells out, “It's Jesus of Nazareth!” Then Bartimaeus, the blind beggar who's always hanging around, jumps up and start wailing, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” We try to shut him up b/c he's always ranting on about one thing or another. Jesus hears him and says to one of his guys, “Call him.” The disciple goes over to the crazy old coot and says, “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.” Bartimaeus jumps up and runs over, and Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Maybe you're thinking: I wish he'd ask me that question! A sack of gold coins would be nice. A long vacation. A better-looking spouse. What does Bartimaeus say? “Master, I want to see.” Well, for a blind man, sight is a treasure. Jesus answers him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”

So, here we are. Sitting here in Our Lady of the Rosary Church. Two and many more are gathered together in Christ's name, and he is with us. He's here in the Blessed Sacrament. He's here in his priest and his people. And he asks us the same question he asks Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?” In the silence of your heart and mind: what do you say to him? Before you settle on your answer, let's pay a little more attention to what Jesus says in response to Bartimaeus' request. Bartimaeus wants his blindness healed. Jesus says to him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Notice: he didn't say, “Your faith has healed you,” or “Your faith has restored your sight.” He says, “Your faith has saved you.” Bartimaeus receives more from Christ than his sight; he receives salvation, wholeness, a complete repair of his broken relationship with the Father. In that one declaration, Bartimaeus is made righteous before God and brought into the holy family as an adopted son, a brother to Christ, and heir to the Kingdom. He could not see what he was made to be in Christ, but he believed and called out to Jesus in faith. He receives God's freely offered gift of mercy to sinners. And now, he sees clearly and follows Christ along the Way.

What do you want, what do you need Christ to do for you? Before you settle on your answer, let's pay a little more attention to another part of Jesus' response to Bartimaeus' request. When Bartimaeus asks Jesus to heal his blindness, Jesus says to him, “. . .your faith has saved you.” Notice: he doesn't say, “Your begging has saved you,” or “Your persistence has saved you.” He says, “Your faith has saved you.” Setting aside for a moment the fact that Jesus is the Son of God, how does he know that this blind man he's never met has faith? Bartimaeus confesses his faith in Christ when he shouts, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” Naming Jesus “the Son of David” is his confession of faith. Every Jew knows that the Messiah will be the son of David, and asking Jesus for his compassion is a sign of trust. Bartimaeus believes that Jesus is the Christ, and he acts on this belief, uniting his heart and mind into single public confession that saves him and heals his blindness. In thanksgiving for the gift of sight and salvation, Bartimaeus “followed [Christ] on the way,” not only tagging along with the other disciples but also following his teachings and living as Christ for others.

A blind man is saved by his faith in Christ. Others are healed of their disabilities, their diseases, and their demons. All by faith in Christ Jesus. By faith we are saved, brought into righteousness with God, and made holy. This “faith-stuff” is pretty powerful, uh? But what is it exactly? We use the word all the time. We're urged to have faith. Share faith. Rely on faith. Defend the faith. Keep the faith. And we seem to know what we're talking about. We've all heard the famous definition of “faith” from the Letter to the Hebrews: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Augustine says that "faith is a virtue whereby we believe what we do not see.” Dionysius says that "faith is the solid foundation of the believer, establishing him in the truth, and showing forth the truth in him.” St Thomas Aquinas assures us that all of these definitions are true, and then adds his own: “to believe is an act of the intellect assenting to the truth at the command of the will” (ST II-II 4.5). My heart (will) commands my mind (intellect) to give its assent to the truth. This is the human act we call “to believe.” Faith, then, is the virtue (the good habit) of willing myself to believe the truth, especially the truth of the Good News that God freely grants His mercy to all sinners. This habit of trusting God's mercy forms the foundation upon which is built everything that I am and everything that I will become.

If you will to be healed; if you will to be whole; if you will to be made righteous; if you will to see and hear and speak the Good News, then you must also will to believe in the truth that Jesus, the Son of David, is the long-promised Messiah, the Christ. And you must will to act on this belief and confess it whenever possible. What do you want, what do you need Christ to do for you? If your faith is weak or shallow, if your faith is lukewarm or fleeting, ask Christ and receive from him the courage and the strength to stand up, to stand firm, and to stand out as a beloved child of the Father: a child washed pure of sin and death; a child graced in mercy, blessed by hope, and gifted with every good gift given under Christ. The Psalmist has us sing, “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy!” The Lord has done great things for us. And when we give Him thanks and praise for our lives, our family, our friends; for our salvation through His Christ, and for our faith, we are filled with joy. So, take courage; get up, Jesus is calling us to join him along the Way, on the way back to his Father's house, to His joy and to His peace.

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