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October 28, 2018 - Discipleship Begins with the Experience of God's Mercy

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

Right after I was ordained in 1994, India’s corporate sector was introduced to a very influential and effective thinker, Stephen Covey. Many of us as priests also read his very popular book, The7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This book sold more than 20 million copies in fourty languages. In 1996, Dr. Covey was recognized as one of Time magazine's 25 Most Influential Americans and in 2002, Forbes named The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People one of the 10 most influential management books ever written.Stephen Covey died last July  but continues to influence the management world. I for one was a Stephen Covey’s fan. One reason for this was that he gave new insights into my own following of Jesus. Here is one statement that influenced my discipleship: “There is no involvement without commitment.” For example, my priesthood require both commitment and involvement. What would my priesthood look like it I was not committed? What would the celebration of this Eucharist look like if I was not involved?  Whether it is marriage, friendship, work or sports or the following of Christ, there is no involvement without commitment and there is not commitment without involvement. 

The story of the Bartimaeus - the blind man in today’s Gospel reading- on the periphery looks like a simple case of healing. However, we are tempted to go a little deeper in trying to get the hidden messages behind this miracle. The miracle is actually a story of involvement and commitment – story of Christian discipleship. 

I would like to offer three insights that might help us in our own involvement and commitment to Christ.  

  1. The young man with riches and Bartimaeus. Mark includes many stories in his gospel, all meant to make the reader come to grips with what it means to follow Jesus. And he provides contrasting stories to make his point. I want to contrast blind Bartimeaus’ story with the story we read two weekends back, that of young man who finally refused follow Jesus. The young man was rich and had many possessions whereas Bartimeaus was a blind beggar. The young man sought to follow Jesus (he came to Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life,) whereas Bartimaeus initially merely wanted to see. But the main point that Mark is trying to make is that these two men followed two different paths when it came to following Jesus. The young man had set a limit on his willingness to follow Jesus. When Jesus asked him to discard what was most precious for him, his face fell and he went away sad. This man had come so close to salvation and yet he went away so far. Bartimaeus, on the other hand, let go of his most precious possession, his cloak, leapt up and followed Jesus on the way. In the final analysis it was Bartimaeus to whom Jesus said, “Your faith has saved you.” He not only had his sight back, but he had the most prized possession - Jesus and salvation.  
  1. The question of identity. Mark does not easily name the people in the stories that he tells. The blind man in Chapter 8:22-29, for example, does not have a name and neither does the young man with riches. In this context, it is strange that a blind beggar in today’s gospel has a name. His name is Bartimaeus. Why does Mark name him? To answer the question we must go back to Mk 8:29-32, where Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Jesus did not ask this question because he was having an identity crisis, but rather, the disciples’ answer would give the disciples theiridentity. In other words, when somebody chooses to follow Jesus in a serious way, their identity emerges not from who they are but who Jesus is for them. So Mark gives Bartimaeus a name because by his giving up everything and following Jesus, he had not only found sight and salvation, but he has found himself in and with Christ. For Mark, this is the meaning of salvation.  
  1. "Involvement is commitment and commitment is involvement." Finally, we come to the point where we understand the purpose of Mark writing his gospel. He wants to bring the readers to understand who Jesus is, who they are, what it means to follow Jesus and finally make a decision about it. At the end of the gospel the readers cannot just keep the story of Jesus down and go about life. They are compelled to either throw their weight behind Jesus or to walk away from him. When it comes to Mark there no sitting on the fence. Either you are going to get involved because you are committed or you are going to be committed because you are involved. Bartimaeus is the one who shows us what it means to be committed and involved. Mark in inviting us to seek to follow Christ by putting no limits, no obstacles but rather by throwing our entire weight behind him. 

Today in this Eucharist, we have both the invitation from Jesus to follow him “on the way” and the opportunity to get involved. May God help us, and Mary, the first and our model disciple pray for us. Amen.

- Fr. Satish Joseph