(Note) – all of my homilies are written for the audience to which they are delivered. That might make some references ambiugous or not clearly understood. Please bear that in mind.
Homily – 30th Sunday (Year B)
We hear in today’s Gospel the story of a people who in many ways have forgotten where they came from. The blind man Bartimaeus is calling out to Jesus to have pity on him and many people rebuked him to be silent. I find it very sad that a call for pity needs to be silenced. But the blind and the lame were often considered lesser people by the Israelites. Their infirmities were considered to be the result of sin: that of their sin or that of their parents. Today we hear a man calling out for pity who is told to be quiet but refuses and calls out even louder. He knows he is a man in need of a savior. Many around him forgot they are too. After all they were the chosen people and they had arrived.
We are reminded in the first reading that this wasn’t always the case. Israel was once a people lost and wandering. A people far away from their homes and in a land where they were strangers. In Egypt they were a people in captivity. A people persecuted because they did not belong and they had begun to prosper. When the Egyptians saw their prosperity the became frightened that they would take over and they began to persecute the Israelites with ferocity. The Israelites had no desire to take over the Egyptians. They simply wanted to live their lives, worship their God and take care of their families. Who can fault someone for trying to do any of those things. The Egyptians could, because the Israelites were Hebrews, a lesser people, a slave people. They were not Egyptians. And the torture and persecution began. Then God, faithful to his promises, delivered his people from bondage. Our first reading tells us he gathered them from the ends of the world with the blind and the lame in their midst. The blind and the lame are part of God’s people as well. They have value because God created them not because of what they can or can’t do. This is an important point in our world today as we see ever increasing attacks on the value and dignity of those who aren’t perfect.
The Israelites in the Gospel forgot this. They wanted to prevent a man from asking for pity because in their eyes he was lesser than themselves because of his disability. They forgot they were the ones calling out for pity because they were different. The blind man simply wanted to be happy, he wanted mercy, he wanted a better life for himself and his family and he called out for a savior.
One might ask who was truly blind in the story. The ones who thought they were the chosen people or the one who knew he needed a savior. I think the blind man could see quite clearly and his example can teach us much.
Catholics in the United States and here in South Dakota have much in common with the Israelites. Many of our parents and grandparents were strangers in a foreign land
Many of them came to the United States looking for a better life for their families. They weren’t very welcome. They were confined to Ghetto’s and when they began to prosper many in the majority began to persecute them. To this day 47/50 states have a constitutional amendment, called the Blaine amendment, that was created to limit Catholic Freedoms. It was to prevent them from prospering. You had the anti catholic riots in the earlier part of the last century and times where they tried to burn church’s and schools. Being catholic meant you were a foreigner and you weren’t welcome. The majority that was here didn’t want us taking over.
Eventually though we worked hard and became more and more a part of American Society. Very few of us have experienced active discrimination against us because we are Catholic. This is again on the rise though and in our lifetime I think you will see open persecution of Catholics for their faith but that is another story. Most of us don’t feel like foreigners anymore. We feel like we’re here and we belong and this is our home. We also have arrived.
We share something in common with those in the Gospel today then as well. Some of us have forgotten where we came from. Some of us have forgotten that we too once cried for pity and some of us are moving against those who do now. We too have become blind and we think it is others who are.
I am of course speaking of the situation that has been in the papers regarding Roosevelt High school and the “racial tensions”. I am told members of our parish are involved although I would like to believe that wasn’t true. I have seen enough lately and heard enough to hear that is isn’t beyond Catholics.
South Dakota is experiencing the influx of a lot of people who are from other places. We too must not forget we are not natives here either. Many people, like the blind man in the Gospel, are in search of mercy, happiness and a better life. We have growing populations of Hispanics, Vietnamese and Sudanese people. All are refugees from one thing or another be it the economy or religious persecutions. I want to speak specifically of the Sudanese since that seems to be the current challenge although the principal applies to all peoples.
The Sudanese are arriving because of a horrific civil war in their country in which the Muslim majority is persecuting Christians viciously. They are torturing and killing them if they don’t convert. I had friends in the seminary who where tied up and tortured with electric shocks for days because they were Christian. One friend was trying to escape the country when he was caught. Instead of simply letting him go they decided to torture him. Some members of his family, brothers and sisters had been killed. He hadn’t seen his mother in 10 years and didn’t even know if she was alive. Yet when you met this man at our school you would never know those things unless you asked him. He was a man of joy and friendliness. I never saw him without a smile on is face and he was always overjoyed to meet new people. This has been my experience with all the Sudanese I have met and especially here in Sioux Falls.
They are a people who never desired to leave their homes but were forced to by the Muslims in their country. They are a people who want happiness, a better life for their family, a chance to worship God and mercy. They are just like the Israelites in Egypt or the Catholics in America. A people far from home but trying to make a better life for themselves.
Are we so blind we can’t see that? Will we persecute them and try to kick them out because there are more of them arriving and they are starting to prosper?
Most of them are fellow Catholics. Because they have a different color of skin do we see them as lesser people. Are they our blind and lame, and not worthy of a chance at the Lord’s mercy? Are we such a chosen people that we forget where we came from and the fact that it is God’s grace that got us here.
We, my friends, are the ones in need of a savior. We are the ones in need of mercy. We are the ones who are blind but we refuse to see.
Now I know I have a reputation of not making my points very clear in my homilies but let me try in this one to remedy that here.
You cannot be catholic and a racist. You cannot be Christian and a racist. God is the father of all people. He created every single one of us and that includes the choice of color of our skin. God didn’t make some people he loves more and some people he loves less. The color of your skin does not say how much God loves you or how worthy you are.
God loves everyone. He created them. If you think he made a mistake with the color of their skin then you think you know better than God.
Everything we have is given to us by God. All of creation is for all of God’s children. Our land is not ours alone but it is to be shared with others. If someone wants to come here to make a better life for themselves who can blame them? If they do it legally then who are we to stop them?
We, as a community, need to stand up to these injustices. We need to go out of our way to welcome these refugees and foreigners. If we do not then we are no better than the people who rejected us and persecuted us because we are Catholic.
The blind and the lame, downtrodden people are still people. Sometimes they can see more clearly than us and we should not try to shut them up or cut them off. Like Jesus we should ask them “What do you want me to do for you?”
Granted we are not saviors, we are people in need of a savior but we are called to be Christ like and his example is clear.
He welcomes all to him and we must too.
As a community we need to cry out to Christ: Jesus, Son of David have pity on us For we are blind and we want to see.