The root derivation of the word religion has to do with bindings. As Christians we experience our being tied down, or tied to. Our faith in Jesus is meant though, to set us free. This tension is at the heart of Eucharistic Spirituality.
We prepare for our communal gathering in celebration of the Lord’s Day of Resurrection by experiencing and praying with the times of our being unfree or boxed-in by our fears, resentments, inferiorities, and the other human sensations of darkness. We pray as well with our histories of just how we have been freed from those same temptations and inclinations. We can come to the Table of Reconciliation with a more joyful spirit and quietly “shout” that we are glad to be here, because we want to be here! We “have to” because we want to!
A high school young friend of mine from Bismarck, North Dakota, Anne, wrote me the other day and in her note she mentioned she was giving a five minute talk on the “challenge of freedom.” I smiled to myself thinking about all the books which have been written about this very topic. “What is freedom?” “How would we ever know if we were really free?” “What happens when my being free collides with your sense of freedom?” Right there her five minutes would be up.
Jeremiah, from whom we hear in today’s First Reading, is usually doomful and pointy of finger. The theme is much the opposite. There is shouting for joy and promises of reestablishment of the homeland and the unity of separated nations as well as a unity of religion under the One God of David.
The exile will end, tears will be replaced by brooks of water. The blind will not stumble along the level road nor the mothers with their children. It is a Second Exodus and the scattered will console each other in their reunion. The verses before and after this section are poems of God’s protesting the everlasting divine love for Israel. God had bound them to regain their hearts and orient their lives. Now the Lord will free them to be once more the People of God.
Our Gospel story concludes the tenth chapter of Mark. It is also a summary statement for the events of this chapter. The story is quite simple. A “blind man” recovers and becomes a “man who was blind”. He throws off the name “Blind Man” by throwing off his cloak and followed Him on the way”. This is the summary statement.
Jesus opened this chapter by confronting the Pharisees in their questioning Him about divorce. Then He spoke of the true Kingdom is having hearts and souls like little children. Then the man came to Jesus who turned out to be too rich and had too many things binding him down and he could not follow Jesus. Then Jesus showed the disciples that being first or the greatest had to do with being a servant and that He had come to serve, not to be served.
As with the ninth chapter of John’s Gospel, the man who was blind now could see and follow, but the Pharisees remained bound up and unable to see Jesus and what Jesus was getting at. So this little story ends with seeing Jesus as He is. The very next chapter begins with Jesus’ entering Jerusalem where His love has bound Him to be seen in glory. We will not hear this Gospel reading until Palm Sunday, but we will continue seeing Jesus inviting others to recover from their blindness in the weeks leading up to Advent.
This “blind man” is freed from his unrelationality. The crowds relate to him according to the negative adjective, “blind”. He is not a part of the crowd, but apart, sitting by himself. The crowds try to hush him up when he shouts towards what he has heard. Jesus deals with him in the personal pronoun, not the impersonal adjective. “What do you want me to do for you”. Mark wants his readers to have seen enough of Jesus so that they will want to see more of Him. Jesus wants to give the man, and us what is good for us and that is a freedom to live as loved and redeemed creatures. Jesus wants to give us a sight of who He says we are in His sight.
People who are blind from birth or who received this gift early in their lives, do not know what they look like. Nobody can tell them exactly either. They can touch their faces and bodies, but that data is insufficient for grateful acceptance. I know too, that some who can see themselves find gratitude difficult as well. The real freedom which Jesus offers this man and all of us, is a picture of our face with His superimposed. Am I pretty, beautiful, handsome, gorgeous? Am I ugly, deformed, bland, disgusting? The real challenge of the freedom which Jesus gives us, is the challenge of living our face.
This coming week here in North America we will put on masks and various costumes for celebrating the Eve of all Saints, or Halloween. The saints will take those masks off the next day and celebrate how they see themselves, because of their seeing themselves through the eyes of Jesus. The man threw off his costume of a cloak of blindness and walked the way of seeing himself close to Jesus. He was freed, unbound, but embraced the bindings of a relationship which too, would have its challenges.
“The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.” Ps. 126
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