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Archbishop Follo: The Gift of the Gospel

With the invitation to ask for seeing by eyes of our heart and of our mind.

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XXX Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – October 28, 2018
Roman Rite
Jer 31.7 to 9; Ps 126; Heb 5, 1-6; Mk 10, 46-52
Ambrosian Rite
Acts 8.26 to 39; Ps 65; 1 Tim 2, 1-5; 16,14b Mk 16, 14b-20
First Sunday after the dedication of the Cathedral of Milan.
1) A jump in the light.
The Gospel is a gift, it is always the proclamation of a gift, it is the gift of being able to see, to be able to contemplate the passion of Christ and to be saved by it. This Sunday’s Gospel, which precedes the account of Christ’s passion, offers to our meditation the healing of a blind man who, even if he has a name, «Bartimaeus», represents each one of us crying out to Christ. In this blind beggar who cries out to Jesus, we can recognize our inability to see not so much from the physical point of view, but above all from the spiritual one. In him, we can recognize our inability to «see» God in our lives to the point of often feeling lost and in spiritual darkness.
However, if we beg for healing, Christ hears our cry. He heals us and saves us, and so we can follow him on the path of light that the miraculously healed eyes of the heart can see.
Along with sight and light, Bartimaeus had received Christ «to know God and man at the same time» (Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Gentiles, 11). It is obvious for him to follow Jesus «on the path» of passion, death and resurrection in Jerusalem. In this context, Bartimaeus represents the «creation that suffers and groans for the pains of childbirth» (Rom 8) and in its lament produces a cry of pain that rises to God for him to listen. The «knowing at the same time God and man» by Clement Alexandrian is to remind us that if it is of man to implore healing, the birth of the new man deified by the Spirit, and therefore to consider the earthly pilgrimage necessary for this purpose, it is of God, the closest of all our neighbors, to listen to the groan that comes from the human being, who, even though it is the most perfect of his creatures, needs grace to fulfill his destiny and walk on the streets of hope» (Pope Francis)
Today’s Gospel is prepared by the first reading taken from Jeremiah’s book of the consolation: these pages are pervaded by a profound hope. God announces to the prophet what seems impossible to the human heart: the people in exile can return to the mountains of Samaria. «Behold, I bring them back from the land of the north, and gather them at the end of the earth; among them are the blind and the lame, the pregnant woman and the woman in labor; they will come back here in great crowd «(Jer.31.8). It is God who acts in the first person, it is God who guides and who leads. To ensure that it is His work, God specifies that in this people of saved those who stand out are not the powerful and noble but rather the suffering, (the blind, the crippled), the weak and those who, in their simplicity, contain in themselves the future of the people: pregnant women and women in labor.
The Gospel passage then offers us the experience of the blind Bartimaeus who, when he «hears» Jesus, shouts to him «Son of David, Jesus, have mercy on me!», jumps up to Christ and, to throw himself into the light which he still does not have, also throws the little he has: his cloak. He went from blindness to sight, that great sight that is the faith in the man (Son of David) in Jesus Christ, Son of God the Savior
We can look at the sight of Bartimaeus as the model of a believer. Today, St. Mark’s Gospel does not want only to tell us a miracle but rather to talk to us about a journey of faith that comes from listening and, passing through the recognition of one’s own infirmity and the impossibility to cope alone, asks for mercy. There is more: the newly healed man responds to a call by impulsively leaving all his securities (the mantle) to meet the Lord and to follow him through the paths of missionary charity. Overwhelmed by the piety that he had implored, full of the love of God that had become next to him, Bartimaeus goes after Christ, who has healed and saved him from physical and spiritual darkness.
What were (and are today) the conditions for this miracle of light to happen? Prayer («Jesus, have mercy on me» – Mk 10, 47) and faith («Go, your faith has saved you» – Mk 10, 52), both are expressions of freedom: the freedom of the blind man who «feels» the presence of the Savior and senses that it is worthwhile to adhere to the Truth of the love of Christ who stops when he hears the cry of the blind Bartimaeus, and the freedom of Jesus that «frees» his emotion. The cry of mercy screamed by the blind man stops the walking Jesus who performs the implored miracle.
Let us put the Gospel scene before the eyes of the heart. Bartimaeus, a poor and blind man, is curled up on the side of the road, ashamed of begging for a living. He is sitting, he has stopped in the same way as do those who give in because of the waves of life. Then, one day, suddenly,  into the village where this beggar asked for charity comes Jesus, who is charity made flesh. This blind man hears the noise of the people surrounding the Messiah, feels a healing presence and senses that he can resume the journey of life in the light.  Bartimaeus hurries (literally makes a leap) to Jesus and begs him shouting: «Have mercy on me!» (The invocation «Lord have pity» – «Kyrie Eleison» of the Mass finds its origin here). Some scold him and tell him to stay calm, but he shouts and prays even louder: «Son of David, have mercy on me!»
He does not ask for something, he asks the mercy of God over his life. Let us also hasten to Christ and, like the blind man, implore «Be merciful to me, Son of David, and open the eyes of my soul, that I may see the Light of the world who are you, my God, (see Jn 8:12) so that I may become the son of the divine light (see Jn 12:36). O clement, sends the Comforter on me so that he himself teaches me (see Jn 14:26) what concerns you and what is yours, God of the universe. Dwell in me, as you said so that I become worthy to dwell in you (see Jn 15, 4). «(Ethics by Simeon the New Theologian (949 AD – 1022 AD).
Let’s run to Jesus and we will get the sight of the heart and of the mind.  Let us draw near and, after obtaining sight from Christ, we will also be irradiated by the splendor of his light. The closer we get to the Messiah, putting us closer to the brightness of his light, the more beautifully and splendidly will radiate his splendor, as revealed by God himself through the prophet” Draw near unto me and I will draw near to you, says the Lord” (Zech 1, 3), and again” I am a God who is close and not a distant God” (Jer 23, 23).
Not all come to Him in the same way, but each one goes to Him according to his or her abilities and capabilities (see Mt 25, 15).
The important thing is to go to Him as we can. For him, this is enough to save us.  Let’s make ours the prayer of the Psalm «Restore us, let your face shine, and we shall be saved» (Ps 80, 20).
The important thing is to be on the road where Jesus of Nazareth passes. It is the way of love that leads to Jerusalem, where the Paschal passion and resurrection, toward which the Redeemer goes for us, will take place. It is the way of his return to the house of the Father and of his exodus which is also ours: the only way of reconciliation that leads to Heaven, «Earth» of justice, love, peace, and light. God is light and the creator of light. We humans are children of light, made to see the light. We do not see because we are blinded by our sins and by our lack of faith. If we are realistic, we must beg and then the Lord Jesus, who begs our faith and our love, heals us and makes us part of the Kingdom of Heaven, which “is not a matter of food and drink, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit; whoever serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by others. Let us pursue what leads to peace and to building up one another”. (Rom 14: 17-19).

  • A loving question and a request for compassion.

Bartimaeus, like each one of us, needs to be loved and is fortunate to receive by Jesus a loving question. Not “what do you want to do?» asks Jesus, but: «What do you want me to do?” It’s a question that comes from the heart of Christ and shows his compassion.
If one day we should hear these same words spoken to us, what would we ask the Lord? Personally, I would put to Christ the same question of Bartimaeus «Lord, have mercy on me», then I would add this second prayer «Come, Lord Jesus», and I would continue «Come, Lord, in your great goodness, dwell in me for faith and enlighten my blindness. Stay with me and defend my weakness. If you are with me, who can deceive me? If you are with me, I can everything in you, who give me strength. If you are for me, who can be against me? You are born into the world, Jesus, to live in me, with me and for me, to take sides by me, to be my Savior. Thank you, Lord Jesus. «(Saint Bernard of Clairvaux).
Let us identify ourselves with Bartimaeus and so we will be able to look at the eyes of Christ who looks at us with love and compassion. If we ask the Lord to increase our faith, we can see with the eyes of faith and be filled with the compassion of Christ.
Do not forget, though, that to see God it takes pure heart and pure eyes. You cannot expect to see God if you are impure. How is it possible to be cleansed? Invoking forgiveness and contemplating with confidence the merciful goodness of the Lord. Our purification, our confidence, and our justice are in the faith that leads us to contemplate the greatness of the Lord merciful[1], compassionate and welcoming.
In fact, the passage of today’s Gospel[2], before narrating the miracle, tells us that Jesus welcomes the blind beggar. Like everyone else, the first thing that this man needs is to be welcomed. But Christ does even more, he surprises him filling him with the love that heals eyes and heart.  He covers this man with light and with the light of faith. Bartimaeus recognizes in Jesus Christ, the incarnated God. With this miracle, the effective love of God invades his life to sustain him in every moment with His Presence. With our sight healed by the Redeemer, let focus our eyes on Him and ask Him the strength to lean only on Him, relying nothing on ourselves «For with the Lord is the source of life. In his light, we see light «(see Ps 36/37, 10).
In this light, we must not stop begging Christ. Like the blind man, let’s abandon that piece of road where we sit begging for life and let us become beggars of Christ and, therefore, disciples of Life. With the miracle of sight, Bartimaeus is gripped in a new and surprising relationship that attracts and entices him. The no-longer-blind man follows Christ with his heart and his eyes turned to him, origin (alpha) and fulfillment (omega) of everything: family, work, friendships. Now he knows Whom to beg; he will follow Him on a path of faith and light that will last for a lifetime to learn to go «straight ahead».
3) The road.
The road of the blind man is our road, and Christ goes on it always, to the very end. He came for the blind, for each one of us and, until there is a blind man, he will be on the road. He is the Way. Faith enables the healed blind man, like each of us, to walk on it. Faith is a journey of enlightenment: it starts from the humility of recognizing ourselves in need of salvation and arrives at the personal encounter with Christ, who calls us to follow the path of love which coincides with the way of the Cross.
The way par excellence to follow the Redeemer on this path is consecrated virginity. With their consecration, the Virgins go with a firm step on the path of love because, with the total, spiritual and physical offering of themselves, they follow Christ on the path of the Cross, which is the road of sacrifice.  They consecrate to Christ even their body to be pure souls to His full service. Thanks to their virginal and devoted love they adore the Body of Christ that is on the altar or in the tabernacle “caring for his members that are the poor» (St. Gregory the Great). These brides of Christ do not speak of love: they love, testifying that it is possible to imitate Christ who gave his life with a love deep, suffering, gentle, and «tender, namely, attentive to the totality of our being» (Saint John Paul II).
Patristic Reading
Golden Chain
on Mk 10,46-52
Jerome: The name of the city agrees with the approaching Passion of our Lord; for it is said, «And they came to Jericho.» Jericho means moon or anathema; but the failing of the flesh of Christ is the preparation of the heavenly Jerusalem.
It goes on: «And as He went out of Jericho with His disciples, and a great number of people, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the wayside begging.»
Bede: Matthew says, that there were two blind men sitting by the wayside, who cried to the Lord, and received their sight; but Luke relates that one blind man was enlightened by Him, with a like order of circumstances, as He was going into Jericho; where no one, at least no wise man, will suppose that the Evangelists wrote things contrary to one another, but that one wrote more fully, what another has left out.
We must, therefore, understand that one of them was the more important, which appears from this circumstance, that (p. 215) Mark has related his name and the name of his father.
Augustine, de Con. Evan., ii, 65: It is for this reason that Mark wished to relate his case alone because his receiving his sight had gained for the miracle a fame, illustrious in proportion to the extent of the knowledge of his affliction. But although Luke relates a miracle done entirely in the same way, nevertheless we must understand that a similar miracle was wrought on another blind man, and a similar method of the same miracle.
It goes on: «And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy upon me.»
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: The blind man calls the Lord, the Son of David, hearing the way in which the passing multitude praised Him, and feeling sure that the expectation of the prophets was fulfilled.
There follows: «And many charged him that he should hold his peace.»
Origen, in Matt. tom. xvi, 13 (ed. note: these preceding words of Origen are necessary to make up the sense: «Next observe, that on the blind man’s crying out, Thou Son of David, have mercy upon me, it was they who went before that charged him that he should hold his peace.» see Lc 18,39): As if he said, Those who were foremost in believing rebuked him when he cried, «Thou Son of David,» that he might hold his peace, and cease to call Him by a contemptible name, when he ought to say, Son of God, have pity upon me. He, however, did not cease; wherefore it goes on: «But he cried the more a great deal, Thou Son of David, have mercy upon me;» and the Lord heard his cry; wherefore there follows: «And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called.»
But observe, that the blind man, of whom Luke speaks, is inferior to this one; for neither did Jesus call him, nor order him to be called, but He commanded him to be brought to Him, as though unable to come by himself; but this blind man by the command of our Lord is called to Him.
Wherefore it goes on: «And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise, He calleth thee;» but he casting away his garment, comes to Him. It goes on: «And he casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus.»
Perchance, the garment of the blind man means the veil of blindness and poverty, with which he was surrounded, which he cast away and came to Jesus; and the Lord questions him, as he is approaching.
Wherefore there follows: «And Jesus answered and said unto him, What will thou that I (p. 216) should do unto thee.»
Bede: Could He who was able to restore sight be ignorant of what the blind man wanted? His reason then for asking is that prayer may be made to Him; He puts the question, to stir up the blind man’s heart to pray.
Chrys., Hom. in Matt., 56: Or He asks, lest men should think that what He granted the man was not what he wanted. For it was His practice to make the good disposition of those who were to be cured known to all men and then to apply the remedy, in order to stir up others to emulation and to shew that he who was to be cured was worthy to obtain the grace.
It goes on: «The blind man said unto Him, Lord, that I may receive my sight.»
Bede: For the blind man looks down upon every gift except light, because, whatever a blind man may possess, without light he cannot see what he possesses.
Pseudo-Jerome: But Jesus, considering his ready will, rewards him with the fulfillment of his desire.
Origen: Again, it is more worthy to say Rabboni, or, as it is in other places, Master, than to say Son of David; wherefore He gave him health, not on his saying, Son of David, but when he said Rabboni.
Wherefore there follows: «And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him in the way.»
Theophylact: The mind of the blind man is grateful, for when he was made whole, he did not leave Jesus, but followed Him.
Bede: In a mystical sense, however, Jericho, which means the moon, points out the waning of our fleeting race. The Lord restored sight to the blind man, when drawing near to Jericho, because coming in the flesh and drawing near to His Passion, He brought many to the faith; for it was not in the first years of His Incarnation, but in the few years before He suffered, that He shewed the mystery of the Word to the world.
Pseudo-Jerome: But the blindness in part, brought upon the Jews (Rm 11,25), will, in the end, be enlightened when He sends unto them the Prophet Elias.
Bede: Now in that on approaching Jericho, He restored sight to one man, and on quitting it to two, He intimated, that before His Passion He preached only to one nation, the Jews, but after His Resurrection and Ascension, through His Apostles He opened the mysteries both of His Divinity and His Humanity to Jews and Gentiles. (p. 217) Mark indeed, in writing that one received his sight, refers to the saving of the Gentiles, that the figure might agree with the salvation of those, whom he instructed in the faith; but Matthew, who wrote his Gospel to the faithful among the Jews, because it was also to reach the knowledge of the Gentiles, fitly says that two received their sight, that He might teach us that the grace of faith belonged to each people.
Therefore, as the Lord was departing with His disciples and a great multitude from Jericho, the blind man was sitting, begging by the way-side; that is, when the Lord ascended into heaven, and many of the faithful followed Him, yea when all the elect from the beginning of the world entered together with Him the gate of heaven (ed. note: This refers to the opinion that by the descent of our Lord into hell, the Patriarchs were freed from the Limbus Patrum, where they had been confined, and were carried by Him into a place of happiness; see authorities quoted in Pearson on the Creed, Art. 5), presently the Gentile people began to have hope of its own illumination; for it now sits begging by the wayside, because it has not entered upon and reached the path of truth.
Pseudo-Jerome: The people of the Jews also, because it kept the Scriptures and did not fulfill them, begs and starves by the wayside; but he cries out, «Son of David, have mercy upon me,» because the Jewish people are enlightened by the merits of the Prophets. Many rebuked him that he may hold his peace, that is, sins and devils restrain the cry of the poor; and he cried the more because when the battle waxes great, hands are to be lifted up with crying to the Rock of help, that is, Jesus of Nazareth.
Bede: Again, the people of the Gentiles, having heard of the fame of the name of Christ, sought to be made a partaker of Him, but many spoke against Him, first the Jews, then also the Gentiles, lest the world which was to be enlightened should call upon Christ. The fury of those who attacked Him, however, could not deprive of salvation those who were fore-ordained to life. And He heard the blind man’s cry as He was passing, but stood when He restored his sight, because by His Humanity He pitied him, who by the power of His Divinity has driven away the darkness from our mind; for in that Jesus was born and suffered for our sakes, He as it were passed by, because this action is temporal; but when God is said to stand, it means, that, (p. 218) Himself without change, He sets in order all changeable things. But the Lord calls the blind man, who cries to Him, when He sends the word of faith to the people of the Gentiles by preachers; and they call on the blind man to be of good cheer and to rise, and bid him come to the Lord, when by preaching to the simple, they bid them have hope of salvation, and rise from the sloth of vice, and gird themselves for a life of virtue.
Again, he throws away his garment and leaps, who, throwing aside the bonds of the world, with unencumbered pace hastens to the Giver of eternal light.
Pseudo-Jerome: Again, the Jewish people comes leaping, stripped of the old man, as a hart (red stag, male deer) leaping on the mountains, that is, laying aside sloth, it meditates on Patriarchs, Prophets, and Apostles on high, and raises itself to heights of holiness. How consistent also is the order of salvation. First, we heard by the Prophets, then we cry aloud by faith, next we are called by Apostles, we rise up by penitence, we are stripped of our old garment by baptism, and of our choice, we are questioned. Again, the blind man when asked requires, that he may see the will of the Lord.
Bede: Therefore let us also imitate him, let us not seek for riches, earthly goods, or honors from the Lord, but for that Light, which we alone with the Angels can see, the way to which is faith; wherefore also Christ answers to the blind man, «Thy faith hath saved thee.» But he sees and follows who works what his understanding tells him is good; for he follows Jesus, who understands and executes what is good, who imitates Him, who had no wish to prosper in this world, and bore reproach and derision. And because we have fallen from inward joy, by delight in the things of the body, He shews us what bitter feelings the return thither will cost us.
Theophylact: Further, it says that he followed the Lord in the way, that is, in this life, because, after it, all are excluded who follow Him not here, by working His commandments.
Pseudo-Jerome: Or, this is the way of which He said, «I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.» This is the narrow way, which leads to the heights of Jerusalem, and Bethany, to the mount of Olives, which is the mount of light and consolation.
[1] See William of Saint-Thierry (1085-1148 AD) “The contemplation of God“ 1-2;Sc 61
[2] “As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging . On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, «Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.» And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.  But he kept calling out all the more «Son of David, have pity on me.» Jesus stopped and said, «Call him.» So they called the blind man, saying to him, «Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.» He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.  Jesus said to him in reply, «What do you want me to do for you?»  The blind man replied to him, «Master, I want to see.»  Jesus told him, «Go your way; your faith has saved you.»  Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way” (Mk 10, 46-52)

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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