THE FIRST THE BEST: A HOMILY ON THE 30TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR B
By Fr. Henry Ifeanyichukwu Nwokoro, CSsR, Olode
What is the best thing that has ever happened to you?
Thus says the Lord: “Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, ‘The Lord has saved his people, the remnant of Israel.’ Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her who is in travail, together; a great company, they shall return here. With weeping they shall come, and with consolation I will lead them back, I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straght path in which they shall not stumble; for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born.”: God is telling the Israelites to rejoice, that He is about to bring them salvation. When they returned from exile, they were very happy, but their happiness was not complete. First, most of them did not return from the exile. Only a few of them returned. Also, the land they returned to was in ruins. The temble was in ruins and nothing was really the same. As much as they were happy, so much were they sad. It is hard for anyone of them to see how God is going to console them. Jeremiah prophesies that God will be father to Israel and Ephraim will be his first born. Ephraim becomes a type of Christ, the first born of the father, the messiah who is to come and not only save the people but bring them consolation.
Every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is bound to offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not take this honour upon himself, but he is called by God, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; as he says also in another place, “You are a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”: When the people returned from exile, not only was the temple in ruins, there were very few priests left to offer sacrifice in the temple. They feared the death of the Levitical priesthood. What they failed to see that with God, for whatever we loose, He can give us something far greater. There was something about the Levitical priesthood that was not quite right, but there was nothing anybody could do about it. The priests offered sacrifices on behalf of the people for their sins, but they were also sinners, so they also offered sacrifice for their own sins. This was not a perfect situation, but something that worked because there was no better way available.
But God can do far more than we ever think is possible. He, therefore gives us Jesus as the eternal high priest. Only Jesus could offer a sacrifice that is pure. First he is sinless. If he is sinful, then He would need someone else to offer a sacrifice on His behalf. However, if he was not one of us, then he could not represent us. One cannot do something on behalf of a group to which he did not belong. That is why it is neccessary that Jesus is one of us, taken from among us. The Levitical priesthood was a good thing, but it was not the best thing. Something worse than it is having no priesthood at all, but something far greater is the priesthood of Jesus Christ which is according to the order of Melchizedek.
The priests of today share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. That is why at every mass, the priest is Jesus, the altar is Jesus and the bread and wine offered is Jesus. The priest we see is only a representative of Jesus the high priest. We need the eye of faith to see this.
At that time: As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great multitude, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” and they rebuked him, telling him to be silent; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; rise, he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Master, let me receive my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way: In order to understand this gospel better we need to make a contrast between this one and that of last Sunday. Last sunday, Jesus asks the two disciples the question ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ to which they answered by looking for high positions. Today Jesus asks the same question to a blind man and his response was to be able to see. The irony of these two stories is that the two disciples who could see physically were not able to see the true nature of Jesus and their request did not show that they really knew what Jesus was all about. The blind begger of today recognised Jesus as son of David, which is the promised messiah who will unite all the tribes of Israel, the one who will save the people and console them for all their troubles. The disciples who claimed to see, were trying to shut him up. Bartimeus showed that he could see when after Jesus had cured him of his physical blindness, Jesus told him to go on his way, and he refused. Rather, he chose to go on Jesus’ way. He followed Jesus. In order words, he had judged for himself that following Jesus is a greater achievement than any other thing he could achieve by going his own way. This is the last mirracle of Jesus before his crucifiction and it is not only the eyes of Bartimeus that Jesus is opening, but that of the disciples, that of you and I. Many of us think we can see, but we are very blind. Our blindness or sight is shown by how we answer the question that Jesus is asking us ‘What do you want me to do for you?’