Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bartimaeus and ‘Choice’

(Thirtieth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on October 25, 2009 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Mark 10: 46-52.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirtieth Sunday 2009]

What do you learn about Bartimaeus from the following statements?
Bartimaeus chose.

Bartimaeus chose again.

And he chose again.

And he chose again.

And in the midst of all this, he chose once more.

What have you just learned about Bartimaeus?

“Not much, Fr. Ray.”

That’s right! That’s exactly right. You’ve been told that he made 5 decisions, but that’s it.

Before you could learn anything substantial about Bartimaeus, you’d need to know WHAT he chose! Was it good or was it evil? Was it something harmful or something helpful? Was it a sinful act or a virtuous act?

If you had a 3-year-old son, and I said to you: “Your 3-year-old son was standing near the edge of a cliff today, and he chose,” you wouldn’t know whether to scream in horror or jump for joy, would you? But if I said, “Your 3-year-old son was standing near the edge of a cliff today, and he chose to turn away and walk to safety,” now you’d know how to react, because you’d realize that he had made the RIGHT choice.

“Fr. Ray, this is common sense.”

Well, in that case, it only proves the old adage, “Common sense is not so common.” Because right now in our society it’s considered a sign of brilliance and enlightenment if you say, “I believe in the right to choose”—and leave it at that.

If this is all common sense, then why don’t more people ask what should be the obvious follow-up question: “Choose what?” “Okay sir, you’re for ‘choice.’ So am I. I’m for making the right choice in every situation. What choice are you for? That’s what matters. Is it, perhaps, the choice to live an immoral lifestyle or the choice to kill innocent human beings: the pre-born child, the mentally handicapped person, the terminally ill cancer patient? Could that be why you choose not to finish your sentences? When I say, ‘I believe in the right to choose,’ I always tell people what the choice is that I support, because I only support GOOD choices. I’m not ashamed—or afraid—to finish my sentences.”

I indicated at the beginning of my homily that Bartimaeus made at least 5 choices on the day he encountered our Lord. Thankfully, they were 5 very good choices. And please note: if he had not made any one of these 5, he would not have been healed by Jesus! He would have ended the day as he began it—as a blind beggar.

St. Mark tells us the story:

“As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging.” Someone then told him that Jesus was passing by. At that moment, he made his first choice: THE CHOICE TO CRY OUT. He could have easily chosen to remain silent; he certainly had that option. But had he done so, he never would have met Jesus. And if he had not met Jesus, he would not have been healed.

St. Mark goes on: “On hearing it was Jesus of Nazareth, [Bartimaeus] began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” Which brings us to good choice #2: THE CHOICE TO GO AGAINST PUBLIC OPINION. You see, if you had polled all the people in the crowd at that moment and asked them, “What should Mr. Bartimaeus do now?” most would have said, “He should close his mouth and keep quiet!” We know that because St. Mark tells us, “And many rebuked [Bartimaeus], telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, ‘Son of David, have pity on me.’” Good for you Bartimaeus! We need more people like you in the world today: people who are willing to disregard the polls and do—and stand up for—the right thing!

(Like our Bishop, Thomas Tobin, did last Friday in his exchange with Congressman Patrick Kennedy about abortion funding in the proposed Congressional health care plans.)

St. Mark continues: “Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’ So they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.’ He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.” Here we encounter good choice #3: THE CHOICE TO OBEY JESUS. Our Lord said, “Come,” and Bartimaeus did.

Once the blind man was in our Lord’s presence, he made his 4th good choice: THE CHOICE TO EXPRESS HIS NEED TO JESUS IN AN HONEST PRAYER OF PETITION. As St. Mark tells us, “Jesus said to him . . . ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man replied to him, ‘Master, I want to see.’”

Jesus gives him his sight immediately, based on these 4 choices and choice #5, which was the one which stood behind the others. I’m talking about THE DECISION OF BARTIMAEUS TO PUT HIS FAITH IN JESUS. That choice motivated and inspired the other 4 I just mentioned. Jesus recognized this and commended Bartimaeus for it when he said, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” In other words, “Your choice to put your faith in me has made you well.”

Many people today are fond of telling us they’re “pro-choice.” Among other things, the story of Bartimaeus teaches us that this term—“pro-choice”—is absolutely, positively meaningless when it’s used in isolation (as it normally is!). First and foremost, the quality of a choice is determined by the goodness or badness of the object chosen. When the choice, for example, is to lie or cheat or steal or fornicate or kill babies in the womb, then to be pro-choice is actually to be pro-evil, because the object being chosen is evil. The only time it’s acceptable to be “pro-choice,” is when the object of the choice happens to be good: the choice to love, the choice to forgive, the choice to respect human life from natural conception to natural death.

Bartimaeus was blessed by Jesus because he made the right choices, and ONLY because he made the right choices! May we—as individuals and as a nation—experience the countless blessings of the Lord for the very same reason.