A Reflection on the Readings for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 24, 2021
Reading I: Jeremiah 31:7-9
Responsorial Psalm: 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
Reading II: Hebrews 5:1-6
Gospel: Mark 10:46-52
Jeremiah received his call to the prophetic office in 628 B.C.at the young age of about 22 and was active in Judah, particularly in Jerusalem. It was a time of great tension in Judah as the northern Kingdom of Israel had been destroyed by Assyria in 722 B.C. But Assyria fell in 612, and the new threat to Judah was the Kingdom of Babylon. Judah was conquered by Babylon in 598 and eventually destroyed in 587. It was during this time period between the fall of Judah and the destruction of the nation that Jeremiah was most active.
During this period, between 598 and 587, Jeremiah attempted, unsuccessfully, to counsel King Zedekiah of Judah to submit peacefully to Babylon. Zedekiah revolted, and Babylon struck decisively in 587, destroying the city of Jerusalem and the temple, which was the pride of the people. The majority of those who survived this destruction were carried into Babylon as captives, resulting in the Babylonian Exile.
Our first reading is from chapter 31 of Jeremiah, wherein he prophesies the return of the exiles. But it is not just the Babylonian exiles that will return according to Jeremiah: “For I am a father to Israel. Ephraim is my first born.” Ephraim refers to the tribes of the northern Kingdom of Israel that were conquered and dispersed by Assyria in 722. This is a prophecy that all the dispersed people will be gathered together and will return to their homeland, including the blind, the lame, the children and expectant mothers.
But it goes further than just the return of the Israelites. If we read further into chapter 31, we will come to what is probably the most famous passage in Jeremiah; the “New Covenant” in verses 31 to 34. The qualities of this new covenant will be different from those of the old covenant: the new will not be broken; the laws of the new will be written on the hearts of the people rather than on stone tablets, and knowledge of God will be so well-known that it will not be necessary to teach the law to anyone. In the Christian tradition, this prophecy is fulfilled only in the person of Jesus Christ. Consequently, Jeremiah 31:31-34 is often referred to as “The Gospel Before The Gospel.”
Our second reading draws our attention to Jesus as the fulfillment of the new covenant. In ancient Israel, the priesthood was hereditary; only males from the tribe of Levi, and they offered sacrifices in the temple for their own sins as well as those of the people. But Jesus was of the tribe of Judah and would not have qualified as a priest in Israel. But the author cites Psalm 110, wherein God refers to Jesus as “My son,” and declares Jesus to be a “priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” Melchizedek is a very enigmatic figure in the scriptures. We meet him only in Psalm 110, in the passage from Hebrews above, and initially in chapter 14 of Genesis, wherein he is referred to as a “priest of God most high.” The significance of this designation in Genesis is that Melchizedek is declared to be a priest of God before there was a Jewish priesthood or even a Jewish nation. Therefore, there is a priesthood that predates that of Israel and Jesus is a priest of that order.
Turning to our gospel, we have the account of the blind Bartimaeus (with the blind and the lame in their midst). Bartimaeus referred to Jesus as “Son of David.” Nearly all of the prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah made that Messiah a Jewish descendent of King David. Bartimaeus’ acknowledgment declared his belief in Jesus as that Messiah. He was unable to see Jesus physically, but he undoubtedly heard of him and had come to believe. His request of Jesus was that he wanted to re-gain his eyesight and, because of his faith in Jesus, his request was granted. But his faith carried him one step further: “He received his sight and followed him on his way.” Bartimaeus became a disciple.
The golden thread this week is the gift of faith. Faith in God can be shaken by the experience of suffering in the world. Bartimaeus may have asked, “why must I suffer the scourge of blindness?” The Israelites may have asked: “why must we suffer the pain of exile?” We, too, maybe inclined to ask why God doesn’t do something about the evil and suffering we see throughout the world. It is a difficult concept for us to grasp, but the answer to those questions is that God has done something about the evil in the world. Jesus freely accepted the evil and humiliation of crucifixion so that he may rise from the dead and conquer death. And through his teachings and the church he established on earth, we have the power to conquer the evil within us and around us. We may have to suffer the trials and tribulations of this life but, if we truly have faith in what God has done for us in Jesus, we know that the suffering will end, and we will experience eternal bliss in the world to come. What is required of us is faith; faith in the words and teachings of Jesus and in the sacraments of the church through which we can rid ourselves of the evil within us and prepare ourselves for that world to come.
Author: Ric Cross