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Living With Your Eyes Open

October 30, 2012

A reflection for the 30th Sunday, Ordinary Time, Year B. The readings are Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126; Hebrews 5:1-6 and Mark 10:46-52

I’m blind. Really, I am. I don’t mean it metaphorically. I am blind. I wear contact lenses. I’ve been wearing glasses since I’m seven. When I was little I used to love this cartoon, Mr. Magoo – remember him? He was always bumping into things. And I’ve always been moved by stories of blind people – and especially stories of Jesus healing people who are blind.

Last Sunday, October 26, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI canonised seven saints. And among them was our very own Kateri Tekakwitha, the very first North American Native woman to be recognised as a Saint. When Kateri was about 5 years old, her village suffered from a small pox epidemic. Her father, her mother and her little brother, along with hundreds of people from her village died. Kateri also had the disease, but she didn’t die. But smallpox leaves you with scars – deep scars that look like craters – and Kateri’s face was left disfigured by the smallpox scars. And her eyes were left weakened – she had poor eyesight. She couldn’t be outside in the bright sun. She used to wear a blanket over her head to shield her eyes from the sun. She would grope around with her arms in front of her so she didn’t bump into things.

When I first learned about Kateri, I was told that Tekakwitha means “she who rearranges things.” But this summer, while making the documentary on St. Kateri, some Mohawk people told me that Tekakwitha actually means, “she who bumps into things.” I guess she would rearrange things so that she wouldn’t bump into them.
And this woman, who had very bad eyesight, who bumped into things, still was able to see much more clearly than most of us. Even before she knew much about Christianity, she knew that this was the life for her and that the ways of her people were not for her. She was able to see clearly that marriage was not for her and that a life of penance and purity was for her. She was able to see clearly and understand the meaning of the Cross and the Eucharist, perhaps much better than most of us ever will. And we, who have 20/20 vision, as the ones who are groping in the darkness, grasping for hope in the darkness – groping in the darkness for company, for nourishment, looking for direction and meaning.

Last Sunday was also World Mission Sunday, and I asked a missionary what it meant to be a missionary and she said that to be a missionary means to live with your eyes open. It’s no coincidence that these saints were canonised on World Mission Sunday – the day when we celebrate missions and missionaries worldwide – they lived with their eyes open. They saw clearly those around them, as they are, in the physical and spiritual need – to live with your eyes open is a mark of holiness.

And today Jesus meets this blind man, Bartimeus – Jesus is making his way down to Jerusalem from Galilee – he arrives in Jericho, which is very close to Jerusalem and Bartimeus recognises him as the Messiah. Bartimeus has never been with Jesus; never had a conversation with Jesus; never heard Jesus speak; never seen Jesus, yet he recognises him as the Messiah. He calls him “Son of David”. Everyone knew that the messiah would come from the house of David.

But remember who else recognised Jesus as the Christ? Remember at the beginning of the journey, up in Caesarea Philippi? “Who do you say that I am” and Peter says, “you are the Christ.” But still it takes the whole journey for Peter and the disciples’ eyes to be opened. They don’t see or understand what Jesus is doing, they don’t understand the cross and they don’t see why they are really going to Jerusalem. And at the end of the journey, we have the eyes of the blind being opened.

What I haven’t told you is that at the beginning of the journey, up in Galilee, Jesus heals another blind man: The blind man in Bethsaida – this a story not a lot of people know. This man does not ask to be healed – his friends bring him and his friends ask Jesus to heal him. Jesus touches his eyes and it doesn’t work very well. He asks him, “Can you see” and the man says, “yeah, a bit, but I see people and they look like trees” and so Jesus has to heal him again. So you see, sometimes, it takes a little effort and time for our eyes to be opened.

By comparison, Bartimeus recognises Jesus; Bartimeus goes to Jesus; Bartimeus asks Jesus to heal him and his faith makes him well. And Jesus treats him with incredible dignity. He doesn’t presume that he knows what Bartimeus needs. He asks “what do you want me to do for you?” Duh, the guy’s blind. But Jesus doesn’t presume. He treats him with incredible dignity. That’s how Jesus meets all of us, exactly at our level, exactly where we are. And He asks the same question to us today, “What do you want me to do for you?” What will you answer?

Perhaps, if you’re not entirely sure how you would answer that question, we can start by asking Jesus to open our eyes, so that we can see him, so we can recognise him as the Christ and our Lord. So we can understand the Cross and the Eucharist, so we can see those around us, as they are, in their physical and spiritual need, like St. Kateri did; and so that he can help us be his disciples and we can follow him on the way. That’s what Bartimeus did. As soon as he was healed, he followed Jesus on the way. And the very next verse, after Bartimeus follows Jesus on the way is, “as
they approached Jerusalem”. So let’s ask Jesus to open our eyes so that we can see him, be his disciples and follow him along the way and then we too, like St. Kateri and Bartimeus can enter into Jerusalem.

Learn more about St. Kateri Tekakwitha.

From → English, Reflections

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