Sunday Sermon for October 24, 2021, the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Readings: Jer 31:7-9; Heb 5:1-6; Mk 10:46-52

In the first reading today the Lord tells the people of Israel who had been in exile to shout for joy, exult at the head of the nations, and proclaim praise.  Why?  Because the Lord has delivered His people and brings them back from exile to their own land.

I think we can all see why this would be cause for great joy and rejoicing.  Imagine what it would be like to suffer the day-to-day life of an exile for seventy years in a foreign land, then suddenly, by an act of the Lord Himself, to be freed from captivity and brought back to your own homeland.

One would think it impossible not to recognize that this deliverance was a divine intervention.  One would think the people’s gratitude would be limitless.  One would think God would be made and remain the top priority in the lives of the people who were set free by this miracle.  Unfortunately, we know this did not happen.

This is a pattern that is well established among the Israelites.  Many times God sent judges and prophets to call the people back to Himself.  Sometimes they would abandon their errant ways and return to the Lord, but only for a short time.  It did not take long and they returned to living like the pagans who surrounded them.

This, of course, is not a problem only for the Jewish people; it is a human problem.  Not only have we seen this pattern reoccur in the Church but, even now, it is happening in a way that is far worse than previously.  In Israel there was always a faithful remnant who did not stray from the Lord.  Jesus told us the same would happen in the Church.  But why does it happen at all and why does God allow it?

I think we can find the answer to these questions in the Gospel today.  We hear the story of Bartimaeus, the blind man, who calls out to our Lord from the side of the road.  When Jesus asks Bartimaeus what he wants Him to do for him, Bartimaeus replies, “Master, I want to see.”  Our Lord tells Bartimaeus to go his way; that his faith had saved him.  We are told that Bartimaeus immediately received his sight and followed Jesus.

Notice the immense respect God has for our free will.  Jesus did not command Bartimaeus to follow Him; He didn’t even ask Bartimaeus to follow Him.  Jesus simply told Bartimaeus to go his way and healed him; there were no strings attached.  Bartimaeus was free to go as he wished.  Thankfully, Bartimaeus did what the people of Israel were told to do in the first reading: he rejoiced, he was grateful, and he praised the Lord.  He then made Jesus his priority and followed Him. 

Making Jesus the priority was the healed man’s choice.  As we said above, one would think this would just happen because of the immense gratitude for being healed, but we know many people who have been blessed by the Lord in an extraordinary way, but follow Him for only a very short time.  It seems that there is always something that takes precedence over God.

For most of us, this should not come as a surprise because something similar may have happened in our own lives.  St. Paul tells us we have a High Priest, the Lord Jesus Who offered Himself as the sacrifice to take away our sins.  We have been delivered, saved, redeemed, forgiven, and chosen.  How much does this mean to us?  Shouldn’t we be so grateful to God that He would be the top priority in our lives? 

Clearly, if you are reading this, God is a priority in your life, but is He the top priority?  Have we allowed other things to have a greater influence in our lives than they should?  Shouldn’t we be rejoicing and praising God for His goodness to us?  Perhaps as we ask ourselves these kinds of questions, the struggles of the Israelites will become more understandable.

As always, the “problem” is how we use our free will.  If God would just take it away, we would not offend Him anymore.  But if God took away our free will, Heaven would mean nothing to us because we did not choose it or suffer to get there.  Therefore, we need to see our freedom as a great gift and use it in the best way.

The best way to exercise our freedom is to live as children of God, praising Him, thanking Him, rejoicing in Him, exulting Him, and following Him.  Being saved by Jesus, we are free to go our way.  True freedom is not found in going our own way; true freedom is found in following Jesus, Who is the Way.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.

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