God hears our lamentations

Jesus had not just won the fascination of His audience and disciples, but also the respect of the people for the way He pitted himself against Jewish Orthodoxy.

Oct 22, 2021

                        Reflecting on our Sunday Readings with Fr Surain Durai Raj

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Jeremiah 31:7-9;
Hebrews 5:1-6; Gospel: Mark 10:46-52

Jesus was approaching Jerusalem. He was only 15 miles away from the Holy City. Our Gospel today places His location at the city of Jericho. It was also the time of the Passover, when many pilgrims would be heading to Jerusalem. William Barclay, a popular biblical commentator gives us a sort of visual description of the scene at Jericho. He says that since the main road to Jerusalem passed right through Jericho, at this time of the year it became busy with travellers and pilgrims making their way through it.

One can perhaps recognise how similar this scene is to our own little towns that become swarmed with travellers when festive seasons arrive in our country. Every Jew over the age of 12 who lived within 15 miles of Jerusalem had to attend the Passover. Those who were unable to do so would line the streets to bid Godspeed and a fair journey to the pilgrims who were passing by. Jericho was probably also the place where many of the temple priests and Levites stayed during their time of service in the Temple. The huge complex that is the temple required staff and sacred ministers to perform the services for those who came there.

There were around 20,000 priests and as many Levites required for the many services the temple offered. This large number of Temple Priests and Levites was divided into 26 groups for better efficiency. The length and breadth of this is that these ministers served according to allotted lots (remember Zachariah’s turn of temple duty) and, while not on duty, Jericho would have seemed a nice place to live, to be close to the Temple. But at Passover, they were all called to duty and would be required back at the Temple.

These details are given to paint a picture of the view of Jericho that day. The pilgrims were commuting; the temple ministers were getting ready to go up. The city was busy catering to the passing pilgrims and the mood was festive. Into this crowded space was passing a young Rabbi who had won the admiration of His listeners wherever He taught. They had recognised the authority behind His teaching, the mercy of God that cut through the demands of Jewish law and the insistence on a changed life because the Kingdom of God was already here.

Jesus had not just won the fascination of His audience and disciples, but also the respect of the people for the way He pitted himself against Jewish Orthodoxy. News that He was passing by would have woken the town up, with people buzzing with excitement and the political analysts among them speculating on His intentions in going to Jerusalem.

Naturally then, as Jesus passed through Jericho, a crowd gathered, mingled with the pilgrims and ministers who were also going up. The noise of the passing crowd had attracted a blind beggar named Bartimaeus. Perhaps his first inquiries were unheeded, and the crowds did not take notice of an insignificant person such as him. But he was determined to catch the attention of Jesus. He probably realised that Jesus could do something for him. Sitting quietly all this time, being all ears, he could have caught news of the good things that Jesus had done for others round about. He shouts loud, above the noise of the passing crowd, to call Jesus to attention. When Jesus stops and addresses him, he is immediate in his request to see again. He had left his cloak and space behind him, now only focussed on Jesus. Jesus heals him and, regaining his sight, he follows Jesus along the way.

Notice the crowd in the Gospel today. When Bartimaeus screamed to catch the attention of Jesus, they told him to keep quiet. They resented the disturbance, and they did not want lamentations ringing through the streets because it was somebody else’s pain, not theirs. So they told him to keep quiet. There was no permission to speak or to find a language for suffering.

The crowd represents the school of thought that is content to leave the afflicted to suffer in silence, no doubt believing that there is a perfectly good religious reason as to why the person is being permitted to suffer. But the cry of blind Bartimaeus was not just an uproar from the depths of life, but a prayer, “Son of David, have pity on me.”

Fr Denis McBride, a regular homilist, says that without the capacity to communicate his suffering, the blind man would continue to inhabit his world of darkness. He knew that if there was going to be a change, he had to communicate his situation to Jesus. The crowd only responded when Jesus called him up. Until then, they were indifferent to his suffering. What fuels the crowd was euphoria, not compassion – classic mob behaviour.

The healing in the Gospel today takes place as a result of the prayer of lamentation. This prayer expressed the pain and faith of Bartimaeus. He believed that God would pay attention. Disregarding the crowd, he kept his attention on Jesus and was healed. So many people are in the shoes of Bartimaeus in trying to find a language for their sufferings.

A lamentation is not just uncontrolled sobbing but a cry from ‘out of the depths’ if others will hear them. Crying out to God is about breaking from passivity and silence in the faith that God will pay attention. Their language for suffering carries faith that is mingled with pain, despair, and helplessness, but also tinged with hope. God does hear them as Jesus did in the Gospel today. Will we do the same as Jesus did for others?

--Fr Surain Durai Raj is a clergy of the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur. He is currently doing his post-graduate studies in Philosophy.

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