30th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Preached October 28, 2018; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
In today’s Gospel the blind beggar Bartimaeus begs Jesus for his sight, receives vision, and follows him upon the way to Jerusalem. Jesus tells Bartimaeus, Your faith has saved you. Built upon that faith, however, Bartimaeus is also characterized by hope. Hope leads him to call upon Jesus for help and hope leads him to follow Jesus upon the way to Jerusalem.
Today, I want to focus on hope. We all need hope, without hope life becomes a burden. In today’s world hope is greatly lacking. Hope is lacking because vision is lacking, not the vision of present facts, but the vision of faith, true vision, vision rooted in truth.
There are indeed many visionaries in the world today, and many people who follow after visionaries. There are gurus of science, gurus of technology, gurus of psychology, diet, gurus of physical training, gurus of yoga, gurus of life coaching. Finally, though, their visions are false and unable to sustain hope.
Vision does not come from human beings; vision does not come from scientific facts; vision does not come from any old religion; vision comes from God through his word that he has made known to his Church.
In the meantime in the Church, which should be showing the world a true vision of hope, faith seems to be lacking, vision seems to be lacking, truth seems to be forgotten, and in place of hope we have ‘optimism’.
It is as though today we live in a place called ‘Laodicea’.
Towards the beginning of the Book of Revelation there is a series of seven letters to seven Churches in Asia Minor. The seven Churches represent the whole Church in every time and place. The letters are messages from Jesus, who has risen from the dead and lives in the glory of God, but still walks in the midst of his Church. The seventh Church is the Church in Laodicea, to which Jesus sends this message: The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the source of God’s creation, says this: ‘I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot, nor cold, I will vomit you from my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’ (that is the modern spirit of pride and progress in science and technology; that is the spirit of self-sufficiency that thinks that we can do without God) and yet you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich, and white garments (the garment of grace that was given to us in our baptism) to put on so that your shameful nakedness might not be exposed, and buy ointment to smear on your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and chastise. Be zealous, therefore, and repent. (Rev 3:14-19)
Today we are a people lacking in zeal; we are afraid of zeal; after all, if we become zealous we might become ‘fundamentalists’, we might become ‘fanatics’. To our modern secular culture, that has infected all of us, the greatest of evils is to be a religious zealot, a fundamentalist, a fanatic.
So instead we choose blindness and in our blindness we falsify the reality of hope and embrace a cheap and fleeting imitation of joy.
Zeal is not the problem; misdirected zeal is the problem. Zeal needs to be guided by true vision. Christian zeal is zeal for Jesus Christ and for the salvation of souls. Christian zeal is not directed toward worldly conquest, but towards the conquest of self. Christian zeal is not directed against other people, but against sin. Christian zeal is directed to following Christ on the way of the Cross, the path of true hope.
In today’s Gospel the blind man, Bartimaeus, asks Jesus, Lord, that I may see. Then, having received his sight, he follows Jesus upon the way, the way to Jerusalem, the way to the Cross, but finally the way to eternal life and heaven. Bartimaeus knew he was blind, so he could ask to see.
Instead of choosing blindness and false hope, we need to recognize our blindness and ask the Lord for true vision. That will restore us to hope.
True Christian hope is the source of true Christian joy. Both are deeply realistic.
St. Paul writes, In hope we are saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait in patient endurance. (Rm 8:24-25) This tells us that hope is a difficult virtue, which is fully aware of the present evils in which we are placed, evils that demand patient endurance on our part if we are to overcome them. This tells us that hope, founded in reality, in experience, and in the word of God, gives us the strength and courage to face even the most desperate circumstances.
Yet, precisely because it is hope, it is not just grim endurance of evil, but a source of great joy, joy that derives from the truth of our faith and the solidity of God’s promise. This is why St. Paul can urge us to rejoice in hope and persevere in prayer. (Rm 12:12) Prayer is the great expression of hope.
Christian hope is a source of joy both because we have full confidence that God will bring his promise to fulfillment and because we have already received the ‘down-payment’, so to speak, on that promise. The ‘down-payment’ has a name; indeed, the ‘down-payment’ is a person, the third person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit, whose work in us is the life of grace that overflows in love. So St. Paul also writes, Hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Rm 5:5)
Still, hope is focused not on this world, but on eternal life, heaven. Hope reminds us that in this life we still live in exile, as it were, away from our true homeland, which is heaven, the land of the resurrection, the complete fulfillment of God’s promise.
Hope gives us strength, amazing strength. Hope gives us the ability to face squarely the dire situation in both the world and in the Church of our time and not be shaken. Hope gives us the strength to face the most difficult and painful situations in our own personal lives and keep going forward
Hope gives us the strength to face scandal after scandal in the Church and repeated waves of violence, corruption, and craziness in the world and say, “God has a plan. I just need to do the part that has been assigned to me.” In our personal life when we feel like the people of Israel penned up against the Red Sea with the chariots of the Egyptians bearing down on them and no way of escape, we are able to turn with confidence to God, knowing that he has a way to deliver us.
We have this confidence because we know that God exists. We have this confidence because we are familiar with his mighty works in the history of his people. We have this confidence because we have many times experienced his presence and action in our own lives. We have this confidence because we have his promise and it is sure.
At the same time hope purifies our desires, which leads to a purer joy, to joy in God himself. Our hope is not to win a million dollars in the lottery, though we have often found God providing our daily bread in ways we would never have foreseen; our hope is not for a miraculous cure, though God gives us the strength and health of body we need to do his will and even works miracles as signs of his goodness and care; rather our hope is to be united to God himself, to live in God, to see him face to face, to enjoy the eternal embrace of the Holy Trinity.
Nevertheless, because of the ‘down-payment’ we have already receiving we do see realizations of hope even in this life. During this life we hope for an increase of faith, hope, and charity; in this life hope is fulfilled when we turn to God in repentance and receive his mercy and the forgiveness of our sins; in this life hope is fulfilled with every little victory over temptation; in this life hope is fulfilled when, rooted in faith, hope, and charity, people begin to work together and help each other; when mutual understanding is achieved; when conflict is overcome; when injuries are pardoned and the pardon is received; when trust is built up; when people improve their lives, not by getting bigger houses and bigger bank accounts, but by getting bigger hearts. Still, in this life, all these things are fragile and tentative, the first glimmers of dawn that announce the coming day, little foreshadowings of the unimaginable and inconceivable good that waits for us in the heart of God.
In the meantime, through the very hardships of life we learn, little by little, that the things we lose were not the things that bring true happiness, while in the suffering itself we discover that we have drawn nearer to God and that finally, in him, all that we think we lost, all that is truly good will be restored to us one-hundredfold and purified of all weakness and without any mixture of sorrow, and evil.
What about Laodicea? Is there any hope left? Jesus finishes his words to Laodicea saying, Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him and he with me. (Rev 3:20) We open the door for Jesus when we receive the Holy Eucharist with faith, repentance, and zeal. Jesus continues: I will give the victor the right to sit with me on my throne, as I myself first won the victory and sit with my Father on his throne. (Rev 3:21) This is eternal life in heaven, union with the Most Holy Trinity. This is our hope.
Filled with hope we can already join with the prophet and shout for joy … because the Lord has delivered his people!