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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - Are You Blinded by Cities of Sin?

Robert Barron - Are You Blinded by Cities of Sin?

Robert Barron - Are You Blinded by Cities of Sin?

Peace be with you. Friends, our Gospel today contains this marvelous story of the healing of blind Bartimaeus. It's an icon of tremendous power. What I mean is it's a sort of sacred picture of the spiritual life, of the process of salvation, all of it. It's gorgeous. The fact that he's named is interesting. Here I'm following Richard Bauckham, the great biblical scholar, who said, sometimes the people that Jesus cures aren't named. Think of the man born blind or the Capernaum demoniac. But other cases, they are named. Think of Zacchaeus. And here, Bartimaeus is named.

Now, how come? His speculation was: Well, because they were still around, maybe at the time the Gospels were written. We have this fantasy sometimes that after Jesus died and rose, everyone that knew him got in a spaceship and flew away. No, they were around, they were remembered. They could verify their own stories. And so, Bartimaeus was probably a well-remembered member of the Christian community. Anyway, it speaks to the facticity, the historicity of this great story. But, as I say, it's also at the same time a marvelous spiritual icon that we should read symbolically. So the first detail. He's sitting by the walls of Jericho.

Now, any attentive biblical reader right away is thinking, "Okay, Jericho, that's the city that was conquered by Joshua and the Israelites in the Book of Joshua, where they blow the trumpets and the walls come tumbling down". Jericho, therefore, is a symbol of sin. It's the city of sin. It's the dysfunctional human family. How come Bartimaeus is blind? Because in these cities of sin, in these dysfunctional communities, we are blind to spiritual reality. We're blind to the meaning of life. And so Bartimaeus is all of us, right? He's "jeder Mann," he's everybody, all of us who live to varying degrees within the fallen city of the world and are therefore blind. Don't you love that he begs? "Jesus, son of David, have pity on me".

That's the appropriate starting point, everybody. We're sinners, unable to save ourselves. Anyone who's ever gone through a twelve-step process knows about this, right? I can't solve my own problem. I can't get myself out of this addiction. I have to give myself over to a higher power. Sin is an addiction. I can't solve it on my own. That's why the Church has always stood against Pelagianism. That's the view that, well, I can just kind of pull myself up morally by my own bootstraps and make my life better. No, you can't. The proper stance of us sinners, therefore, is to beg. Advent's coming up, the great hymn of advent, "Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel".

That's appropriate. We're like people held for ransom. We're captive, unable to save ourselves. Isn't it beautiful too, everybody, Catholics now, that we basically commence the Mass by calling to mind this person? Why? Because we chant or we sing or we recite his words. We say, "Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison". Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have pity on me. We're repeating the words of blind Bartimaeus, because we acknowledge that's where we are in the city of sin. We're then told, "many rebuked him, telling him to be silent". Oh, this shouldn't surprise us. Look, when you're living in the city of sin, you're living in a place where everyone is sharing the same dysfunction. Sin has a way of perpetuating itself, of protecting itself. Am I right?

I mean that both individually and sort of systemically and collectively. The city of sin protects its own interests. When someone musters the courage to say, "Lord, I need help. Lord, help me out of this situation," he's not to expect the support of people around him. You know the old spiritual adage I've cited at many times, that the road to healing is always blocked. Mind you, not sometimes, not most of the time, always blocked. Well one of the forms this takes is the resistance of the crowd. Try it sometime. You're trying to break free of the structures of sin. You're trying to turn your life over to a higher power, turn your life over to Christ. How much support do you get? Oh, you get some, sure. But more often than not, you'll get exactly the reaction of this crowd.

"Come on. Oh, come on, leave him alone and stop this. It's embarrassing". But don't be cowed by it. Listen now to Bartimaeus: "But he kept calling out all the more". The first great virtue is he's a beggar and he knows it; he can't save himself. A second great virtue is his perseverance. How often, by the way, in the Bible, everybody, perseverance in prayer is emphasized. In fact, I'd say it's one of the great rules or laws of prayer. We're meant to pray with persistence. We're meant to knock and to seek and to ask.

St. Augustine said it's because the Lord wants our souls to expand so as to receive the gift he wants to give us. And so Bartimaeus, despite the opposition of the crowd, despite the fact that he's been sitting there in his blindness probably for years or decades, despite that, when he knows that Jesus is close, he begs and he begs and he begs. Good. You and I need to do exactly the same thing. Especially when the crowd is mocking us. Then this now pivotal moment. Listen. "Jesus stopped and said, 'Call him.'" I'm intrigued by this image of Jesus stopping. So he's walking through and maybe I'll pass Jericho, but he stops. He becomes a still point. Remember, it's also in Mark's Gospel, the story of Jesus retreating from the city. But then it says, "People came at him from all sides".

See as though he's the still point, he's the central point. And then he gathers people to him. He magnetically draws them. Think of in our chaotic world, and that's one of the effects of sin, is we live in this sort of disassociated, confusing spiritual space, Jesus is the still point. Think of the scene of the storm at sea, the disciples in the midst of the storm and the waves are crying out in confusion. What's Jesus doing, but he's asleep. The still point. He's still that still point in a chaotic and changing world. So he stopped and said, "Call him". Now, you say that's pretty ordinary detail. No, no. Not if we're listening with Gospel ears and seeing with Gospel eyes. "Kalein" in the Greek, "to call". That's the root of the word "ekklesia," the Greek word for church. "Kalein," "to call". "Ek" means "out of".

The ekklesia is that community which has been called, listen now, out of the world and into fellowship with Christ. It's still true. We who are in the ekklesia, we've been "ek-kaleoed," we've been called out of Jericho. We've been called out of the city of sin by Christ and into communion with him. Jesus still stands still and calls us sinners to him. So Bartimaeus is evocative of all of us, blind, beggars, sinners, seeking salvation and now being called into the Church to find it. I love this. Listen. "He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus". Now we're going to hear the overtones of Baptism. In the ancient Church, when you were baptized, you took off your street clothes and then you were kind of oiled up with the chrism. You were put down into the waters, you were immersed. Then you came up out of the waters, and they clothed you in a white garment, a bit like an alb that a priest would wear. The idea is you're throwing off your old self, you're being baptized into Christ and then clothed with salvation.

So again, listen. "He", Bartimaeus, "threw aside his cloak". That means I'm letting go of my old life. I've been "kaleoed". I've been called by Christ. So I willingly let go of my old self. And then I love the detail of, "he springs up". The energy that comes when we respond to the call of Christ. All of us sinners, look, we're all in the same boat. And we're all seasick, as Chesterton said. But, what sin does to us, it depresses us. I don't just mean that psychologically. I mean, it depresses all of our powers and our energies. Because we're built for God. We're wired for God. We're wired for a life of love. When we're caught up in all these addictions and attachments and self-preoccupations, it just weighs us down.

And so, throwing off the old self, I invite you to do it right now, he springs up. Sure, he's full of life now, full of energy, full of possibility. That's what Jesus still offers us. He springs up and comes to him. And then this: "What do you want me to do for you"? Years ago, I attended a retreat, and the retreat master structured his talks along the questions Jesus asks in the Gospels. It was a good retreat. Throughout the Gospels, he asks a series of questions. Here's one of them, and boy is it good. Imagine now the Lord right in front of you right now, asking you this question: "What do you want me to do for you"?

It's also a baptismal reference, isn't it? Because when the child or the adult comes to be baptized, the minister says, "What name do you give this person"? And then, "What do you seek of God's Church for this person"? What do you want? So it's the second baptismal reference, the throwing off of the old clothes, the old self. And now hearing this question from Christ, "What do you want"? What do you want? Answer him right now. What would you say? It's not so easy, not so easy. What would you ask for? "Oh, I want all the wealth in the world. Oh, Lord, just make me popular. Oh, Lord, just make me powerful. Oh, Lord, just take away my pain". We'd answer a lot of ways, but those aren't the right answers. What do you want? Listen to Bartimaeus. "Master, I want to see".

Now, he's talking about seeing at the physical level, sure. But in the Bible, that's always being used at the same time as a spiritual symbol. See, in our sin, fellow sinners, we don't see things aright. We might be the most successful person in the world, but we're not seeing things the way they really are. We're not seeing them properly in relation to God. We're not understanding ourselves. We're weighed down. We have all the wealth, pleasure, power in the world, but we don't get it. See, we don't get it. We don't understand God or ourselves or our proper relationship. And so, his marvelously penetrating answer here should be ours. "Master, I want to see". Every one of us should respond that way to Christ today. What do you want? Master, I want to see. And so, his vision is restored to him, his physical vision, and the Lord says, "Your faith has saved you".

Faith, trust. Look, in our version of Jericho, our version of the city of sin, our lives are predicated upon autonomy: "My life, my choices. Don't tell me what to do. I decide. I determine value and truth". Come on. That's exactly why we're blind. What saved you? And the word there "save" is related to the word "salve," S-A-L-V-E. It means your faith has healed you. When you get out of this boring preoccupation with your own desires and your own autonomy, and you trust, you learn to trust in a power already at work in you that can do infinitely more than you can "ask or imagine", St. Paul to the Ephesians. That's faith. It healed Bartimaeus. It'll heal you. Trust me. It'll heal you. Last step. Having regained his sight, immediately, he "followed him on the way".

That's how it works, isn't it? Blind Bartimaeus by the walls of the Jericho, depressed, unable to move, sad. Even if he wanted to move, he wouldn't be able to, couldn't tell where he's going. But now having been "kaleoed," having been called into the Church, into fellowship with Christ, having thrown off his old self, having responded to the call of Christ, having his vision restored, he knows who he is. He knows what he's about. Now he's ready for discipleship. He knows where to go, because he follows Jesus on the way. That's all of us, called to follow the Lord. Everybody, revisit this story, this marvelous account. Go through it as I have, step-by-step, and you'll see the whole of the spiritual life. And God bless you.
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