Homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
28 October 2018
Sacred Heart Parish
“The world is unhinged. As many people see it […] we are wandering aimlessly and confused, arguing for this and against that. But a statement on which most people can agree, beyond all antagonisms and across all continents, is: ‘I don’t understand the world any more’” (The Metamorphosis of the World, Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2016, xi).
One of the reasons I really believe the world is becoming unhinged, and we’ve spoken about this in recent weeks, is that we live in a culture of outrage. “If you don’t agree with me, then unfriend me/delete me/cut me out of your life because I don’t want to hear what you have to say.” This isolation makes us live in ghettos of thought, secured areas where we maintain our own opinions as the only valid form of reality, and where our autonomy, the ability to live life as the arbiter of truth and reality, is the only rule.
Then someone says something we disagree with, and we fly off the handle. It’s a culture of outrage in which the only appropriate response is to take offense. We’re so desensitized to the idea that truth exists outside my own vision of things, our tolerance for being corrected and inspired and encouraged to die to ourselves and seek something bigger and better is so low, that the only option is to freak out.
The freak out, it seems, takes one of two forms: outrage, as I have mentioned, or a kind of existential melancholy; “I don’t understand the world any more.”
It is particularly disheartening when we see this kind of isolation taking place within Christianity. Everything in Christianity is about union with God, which only means anything if we figure out how to live in unity with other people.
The real danger is that the individualism and false autonomy offered by the culture of outrage prohibit the fulfillment of the promises of Jesus. Jesus only promised us two things: his peace and his cross. Everyone wants the peace, and very few among us want the cross. I certainly don’t most of the time. But how many times must this be stated for us? There will never be peace with the cross; there was no peace for Jesus without the cross and there will be no peace for us without the cross. Somehow, peace comes when we take up the cross and embrace whatever we are called to suffer.
Suffering is not a matter of acknowledging some hardship set before us and then sitting on our hands weeping. It is, rather, a matter of acknowledging some hardship and taking it seriously – every part of it! – and engaging with reality, with full knowledge and confidence that by living in the light and doing the hard work that being fully alive requires Jesus will respond to you and grant you what you seek.
Bartimaeus, the blind man, called out to Jesus for pity and mercy. The people shushed him.
Do not cry out! Do not speak! Do not approach this Jesus with confidence! He is too busy for you, he is too preoccupied for you, he is too important for you; he has no time for a blind beggar.
We must face the embarrassing question, “whether the redeemed shouldn’t look more redeemed?” (Romano Guardini, The Lord)
Of course, Jesus shames the shushers by demonstrating that it is precisely for blind beggars for whom he has all the time in the world.
What are the two great aspects of Bartimaeus’ approaching Jesus?
First, when Jesus invites Bartimaeus to go to him, he throws aside his cloak and goes to Jesus. As he sat there begging day after day in the hot sun, his cloak would have been his only protection. Very likely, Bartimaeus would have eaten and slept in his cloak, used it to shield himself from the mocking passersby; it was for him what the blanket was for Linus in the Peanuts cartoons.
Bartimaeus throws aside the last barrier, the last piece of protection that he has and springs up, going to Jesus. He casts away what keeps him comfortable and safe, what keeps him in his little world, in favor of what he hopes Jesus will do for him. It is not about Bartimaeus anymore; it’s not about the shame anymore; it’s not about the anger toward those who mock him or leave him helpless, not anymore. Now, finally, it’s about the Anointed One.
Second, Jesus asks Bartimaeus the question he likewise asks all of us: What do you want me to do for you?
“The blind man replied, ‘Master, I want to see.’” Another translation says, “Master, I want to receive my sight.”
Master, I want to be healed but I recognize that I cannot do this on my own. Any healing I receive from you, Master, will be a gift and an act of your mercy. I cannot come to you and take my healing, I cannot come to you and take my sight; I can only receive it.
A very good definition of original sin is “the tendency to take what is meant to be received.” Those who are the Lords of their own universe, those who commit idolatry and blasphemy by making themselves god, do not know how to receive from another because, for them, there is no other. They are the center of the cosmos.
Then someone else bigger or smarter or different comes and the two cosmoses crash into each other and there is outrage. There is outrage because there is no humility, there is no regard, there is no self-gift, and, most importantly, there is no peace because the cross lays on the ground covered in shame.
What can we do? Think of one way you have created for yourself a ghetto of thought. Maybe it’s politics, economics, money, a relationship, religion, whatever…think of one way you’re burrowing yourself behind something false and as you receive holy communion today invite Jesus into that place to smash your wall, to destroy your world, to give you the courage to make the long journey back to living in reality.
What will be the death of the culture of outrage? This culture of outrage will die when we admit that we are little, that we are powerless, that we are small; when we begin to say regularly the horrible, difficult, true phrases like, “I’m sorry. Do you forgive me?” “I was wrong.” “Oh really? I didn’t know that.” “I don’t know everything.” “I am not the center of the cosmos.” “Jesus is more powerful than me.” “Jesus, I believe in your love for me.”
Jesus, king of love, we are confident in you. Come, please. We invite you. Please come among us and make us yearn for you. Jesus, king of love, come do your thing.