Christ, yes or no?

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 14, 2018

Saint Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS

Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126:1-6; Hebrews 5:1-6; Mark 10:46-52

I think we all know someone who has that one story that they tell over and over again. Usually the person is older, or sometimes they are just someone who has a really good story that they really like to tell. As a priest, I get asked at least once a week, “Fr. Mike, what is your vocation story? What is the story of how you decided to become a priest?” This is a story that I have shared so many times in so many places that I don’t even need to think about it. I’ve got it down. There are certain jokes I make every time, and certain little details I never omit. The strange thing, though, is that each and every time I tell the story, I relive it. It sounds weird, but this event is such an integral part to my life—I mean, after all, it gave a definitive direction to my life—it is such an integral part, that each and every time I tell this story I relive the event. I relive my thoughts and fears; the same emotions swell-up again; I relive it.

This story that we hear in our Gospel today is one which we can tend to tune-out. Literally, once we hear the words, “a blind man,” we just fill in the rest. We think, “OK, here’s another blind man, and if I have to guess, Jesus is probably going to heal him.” And then that’s what happens and then we sit down, unimpressed. But you see, we’ve been trained to hear these stories and events in the life of Jesus as “miracle stories.” When really, it is not about the miracle at all! As I’ve said before and I’ll say again, Jesus did not come to dazzle us with miracles! At its core, this is a story about faith; it is the story of the event that gave definitive direction to the life of the man called Bartimaeus.

And that’s the first thing we miss: his name is Bartimaeus. What are the names of the other people that ask Jesus for a miracle in the Gospel of Mark? All of the sick and the blind that Jesus helps, what are their names? Exactly! Usually we just hear, “a leper approached Jesus,” with no name to identify him (c.f., Mark 1:40. N.b., Jairus in Mark 5 is the only other one named). But this story, the retelling of this event is different! Why does Mark remember his name? We don’t know for sure, but if we wanted to make an educated guess, we could say that it is because Bartimaeus’ story was well known; perhaps because Bartimaeus told it so many times as he went around telling people about his encounter with Jesus from Nazareth. And so, when Mark wrote his Gospel, it’s almost as if he were saying, “You’ve all heard the story of Bartimaeus and the day he met Jesus, but let me tell you again.” This is the story that gave a new and definitive direction to the life of that man Bartimaeus; it is the story of how he encountered the Lord and began to follow him, to be his disciple.

Again, this is not a story about a miraculous healing! At its core, this is a story about faith. It is the story about the event that definitively changed this man’s life, that redirected his life, that caused a conversion in him, that is, that caused him to direct his life in a new and completely different direction. Life could no longer be the same! Of course, he didn’t have to follow Jesus. But he could no longer remain indifferent; he had to choose: Christ, yes or no? Do you see how it is not about the miracle, but about faith?

And what’s more, for Bartimaeus, this event is not just something in the past. No, each and every time he told his story, that he recounted the event that proposed a new direction for his life—each time he relives the event, he is really affected by the event again. In other words, that event, that encounter with Jesus Christ is something that continues to be present to him, it continues to change and shape his life. Again, it doesn’t force him to change, but it does continue to propose that question: Christ, yes or no? Look, the miracle is not the point of the story, it is about faith.

What we struggle with most often is our faith: do we really believe all of this, or do we just show-up because other people do, or because that’s what we’ve always done? And this is dangerous, because for true, genuine and authentic faith, we can’t just point to a tradition or family custom or some teaching of the Church. No, we need to be able to point to something that happened to us, to an event, to “the presence of something that proposed a change, something new” in our life (Giussani).

For some of us, and if I may say, perhaps for most of us, we need to take the time to recognize this event in our life. The temptation is to just show up, to do this because it is what we have always done. But I challenge you, take this to prayer! Enter into prayer and ask, “Where did I encounter Jesus Christ in my life? What was the event?” And this isn’t always going to be some huge miracle, or some moment when the Lord literally appeared to you! Again, it’s not about the miracle. No, the event can be as simple as a conversation with a friend, or the family you were raised in, or how the Lord has gently been at work throughout your life.

For instance, many of you continue to tell me stories about Fr. Richard Stuchlik. You tell me how he welcomed you to this parish, or how he baptized you and gave you first communion, or how he helped you in a difficult time. And when you have shared these stories, I see you reliving the event, reliving the thoughts and emotions. For some of you, Fr. Richard was the event, Fr. Richard was the one that the Lord used to give a new and definitive direction to your life.

Our temptation is to just keep showing-up here without ever recognizing that the Lord has indeed entered into our life in a completely free and unexpected way. In fact, he has come in such a free and unexpected way that we missed it! So we need to listen, we need to prayerfully look at our lives and see where the Lord has encountered us, what those events are—because by the very fact that you’re sitting here, he has!

Here in the mass, each and every mass, we remember and re-propose that completely unforeseen and unforeseeable event that definitely reshaped, not only our lives, but the entire world and all of reality: God becoming man, suffering and dying for us, rising from the dead. Here at the mass, the event of Jesus Christ is present once again. Here on this altar, Jesus Christ is present and continues to give himself to you.Jesus Christ is something that continues to be present and continues to change and shape our lives. He doesn’t force us to change or to follow him, but his presence here continues to propose the question: Christ, yes or no?

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