Last week we heard James and John making a very human request of Jesus. If you think back to all the gospel stories you have heard, you know these chosen disciples failed to understood the mission of Jesus and the kingdom he was establishing. In addition, they did not understand his challenging statements and his willingness to reach out to the marganilized from society. In the story of the multiplication of the loaves they were shocked when Jesus said feed them yourselves. Impossible they said and yet they learned nothing is impossible with God. In other stories, they often attempted to keep people from Jesus, How many times do you remember them saying to someone seeking him, don’t bother the master.
They tried to silence the Canaanite woman who sought his healing for her daughter. The fact is we should not be surprised when we see the same kind of misunderstanding on those who are today’s descendants of the disciples. How many do we send away because we don’t have time, they are interrupting or some other justification to ignore pleas for help.
Paul in today’s epistle reminds us that all men called to serve God are beset with weaknesses. Since Paul says every high priest is beset with weaknesses It would be easy for us to only think of our priests and deacons. With all the most recent news and press coverage about the Philadelphia scandal those weaknesses are prominent in the minds of many.
I do not want to minimize the horror and damage those revelations have unmasked. Our hearts go out to the victims and we applaud the strong statements coming from our diocese. We can see how correct Paul is in his statement and we pray never to see this happen again.
We trust this issue will be dealt with in a manner we never hear about a history of abuse again. Since Jesus told us to not look at the speck in our brothers eye while we have a plank in our own eye so we need to look at ourselves rather than at the universal church.
Bartimaeus in today’s gospel is more than a story it is a real event that happens in our parishes today. We often fail to respond to the cries of someone in need. We tell them they need an appointment or we are not available, they are not parishioners we simply ignore them. Let us not disturb our plans or schedule for we need to focus on the mission ahead as we leave cries of the needy behind. I have witnessed this happening in our pour parishes week after week.
We have people in need but at the same time we have our own needs and the demands of our parish. We need to reduce our debt or raise our income. We need to minister to the needs of the sick and homebound. After all we have a schedule all established for the week with meetings, phone calls and parish groups needing our attention as well as staff needs.
So, our answer to someone who cries out for attention is to shut down the intrusion on our schedule by ignoring it or putting it off. Is this the mission of being sent to free the captives, heal the brokenhearted, to set prisoners free? Is this giving a drink, visiting the sick, clothing the naked Jesus talked about.
If we look at what Jesus was doing with the disciples we have to admit every word, every action, every event was a moment of teaching them how to be servants of all. That teaching involves dying to self, overcoming our natural weaknesses that cause us to retreat from the demands of building the kingdom.
Do you ever recall from the scriptures a story when Jesus said no to anyone who reached out to him? The most notable was the Canaanite woman, another person the disciples tried to silence, when she reminded him even the dogs feed on the scraps which falls from the masters table Jesus praises her faith. Again, another lesson in how Jesus shows the disciples their weakness of prejudging a person’s worthiness of receiving God’s grace.
Here is the issue – we are called to be ministers of God’s grace.
The readings today can easily have us talking about all the failures of us the ordained who are called to minister within our parishes. However as justified as those criticisms may be the Word of God is directed at all of us who call ourselves Christians. What we all need to see in ourselves is that weakness resides in all of us. We must admit we are like the disciples who look at those in need and we decide who is worthy enough for our attention to minister God’s mercy.
Those who volunteer in our parishes are faithful Catholics. They are serving our parishes and believe they are responding to the call to do corporal and spiritual works of mercy. They are seen in church, attending the spiritual programs and are a visible presence on the parish grounds. These are the faithful ones following the demands of the law and of society. Yet, they are the modern day Pharisees judging the worth of others seeking God’s grace.
Don’t bother the master is the response to Bartimaeus and we do often decide what justifies why we must ignore a need of others as we go about our lives. We can easily shut someone up by discouraging them to avoid spiritual growth opportunities because we find their faith or how they practice their beliefs unsuitable and beneath us.
The Charismatic Renewal certainly was judged that way by many in the 70’s and 80’s. Today programs like Alpha which is energizing the faith of thousands of Catholics is shut down by parishes who state the program is not Catholic enough. Those attitudes were directed at people within our church. We are just as critical of those outside our church who fail to meet a standard of worth in the opinion of today’s Pharisees.
What would have happened to the Canaanite woman or the Samaritan woman if Jesus had decided they were not Jewish enough for him to touch? What would have happened to the woman with the hemorrhage or the lepers who violated Jewish law by going to Jesus?
There is no doubt many of my brother deacon’s or priests could improve their ability to respond to the needs of those we are called to serve. There is no doubt that I cringe every time me or a brother deacon is referred to as Holy Deacon because I know my own sinfulness and how far short I fall from being the servant God desires me to be.
However, I also cringe every time I hear a parishioner voicing their outrage that someone they judged as unworthy to receive God’s grace is seen attempting to get the attention of those of us who are called to serve.
We all need to be more like Bartimaeus crying for God’s mercy to touch us instead of being in the crowd believing God is there to serve our needs not theirs. We are all beset with human weaknesses which can only become strengths by the transforming touch of Jesus.
Lord that we might see the plank in our own eye.