Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time



Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading: Jeremiah 31:7-9; Response: Psalm 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6; Second Reading: Hebrew 5:1-6; Gospel: Mark 10:46-52

Jeremiah’s ministry as a prophet centered around Jerusalem, capital city of the Kingdom of Judah in what is today the nation of Israel. How were the oracles of Jeremiah preserved? In chapter 36 of his book, we read that the prophet received from the Lord a command to record on a scroll, “the words I have spoken to you until today . . . .” It was the year 605 B.C. The Lord states the purpose of recording the oracles. “Perhaps when the House of Judah hears of all the evil I have in mind for them, each one will turn from his evil way, and then I can forgive their misdeeds and their sin.” Jeremiah summoned his secretary Baruch, son of Neriah. The skill of writing was a specialty. Most could neither read nor write. Trained scribes did both. Baruch was a scribe and so wrote on a scroll what Jeremiah dictated. After the scroll was completed, Jeremiah sent Baruch to read it publicly in the temple. The oracles brought charges of treason against Jeremiah. The king sent an official to arrest the prophet and his secretary, “but the Lord had hidden them.” The king burned the scroll. Jeremiah dictated his oracles again as Baruch wrote them on another scroll.

Our first reading of today has the distinction of being part of a collection of oracles of joy — quite rare for Jeremiah. The oracle begins, “Shout for joy for Jacob . . . . Proclaim your praise and say, ‘The Lord has delivered his people, the remnant of Israel. I will bring them back from the land of the north . . ., from the ends of the earth.’” This oracle is not directed to inhabitants of Jerusalem or of the Kingdom of Judah. It is directed to the Ten Lost Tribes of the extinct Kingdom of Israel formerly in the north of the Holy Land. In 721 B.C., this kingdom fell to the Assyrians. Thus, the origin of the Lost Tribes of Israel. Many of the native Israelites were deported and settled elsewhere in the Assyrian Empire. Jeremiah envisions a return of the exiles or their descendants, a homecoming. Thus the tone of joy of the oracle. Since the first reading usually shares some theme with the gospel of the day, the best choice to connect the two readings is in the words, “I will gather them from the ends of the earth with the blind and the lame in their midst.” In the gospel, Jesus restores sight to a blind man.

Although the reading from Jeremiah is directed to the exiles of the northern kingdom, Psalm 126 is directed to exiles of the southern kingdom, which fell to the Babylonians in Jeremiah’s time, 587 B.C. A theme of sorrow in exile turning to joy in homecoming is common to the reading and the response psalm. Sorrow is expressed in these terms, “captives, sowing in tears, going forth weeping,” but joy in these words, “dreaming, laughter, joy, rejoicing, glad, bringing in the sheaves.” The people respond, “The Lord has done great things for us. We are filled with joy.”

The series of readings from the Letter to the Hebrews continues. Today’s excerpt is a comparison between high priests of the Old Testament and The High Priest of the New Testament. Both the former and the latter offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. There is a difference. The former were filled with human weakness, as sinful as the people they represented. So they offered many sacrifices not only for the sins of the people but also for their own sins. Our High Priest offers a “once and for all” sacrifice. The author notes than no high priest takes the honor upon himself but only at God’s calling. It was not Christ in his human nature who sought the glory of becoming high priest. He was chosen by God, as was expressed in Psalm 110:4, God speaking to his Son, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

Pious Jews who lived close enough to Jerusalem would go there for the three Pilgrimage Feasts — Passover in the Spring, Pentecost in the Summer, Tabernacles (Tents) in the Fall. In the gospel of this liturgy, Jesus, his disciples and a large crowd from Galilee were walking south to Jerusalem for Passover. The shortest route would have been through Samaria, but there was long-standing animosity between Jews and Samaritans. It was based on religious and racial prejudice. The safer route, the one Jesus and Company took, was to cross the Jordan from the west bank to the east bank, then head south. As they approached their goal, they would re-cross the Jordan to the west bank, pass through Jericho, then uphill to Jerusalem. As they were leaving Jericho, they encountered a blind man sitting by the roadside. He cried out, “Jesus, son (descendant) of David, have mercy on me.” The crowd tried to silence him, perhaps because the title “son of David” implied royalty and could arouse suspicion of rebellion against Roman occupation. The Romans did not look kindly on would-be kings. But the man kept on shouting.

Jesus said, “Call him.” They did. He threw aside the cloth beggars spread in front of themselves to receive alms. There was no safety net of social security. It was beg or starve. Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” The man answered, “Lord, that I may see.” Jesus replied, “Go your way. Your faith has saved you.” He was no longer blind and followed Jesus. Mark is known for disparaging Jesus’ chosen group of 12. Here he does it again. We saw in last Sunday’s gospel how Jesus had asked the same question of James and John engaged in their power-grab, “What do you want me to do for you?” They asked for something they did not need — power over others. The blind man asked for something he needed — to see. This is Mark’s way of showing the spiritual blindness of Jesus’s disciples, but the blind man was only physically blind. Both the disciples and the blind man recognized the kingship of Jesus but in different ways. They wanted a political king who would begin a violent revolution. The blind man saw a king who would bring healing. He got what he requested. They did not. The Letter of James 4:3 serves as comment, “You ask but you do not receive because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” Also in James 4:6, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”