(Monday of the of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time-Year B; This homily was given on 16 November, 2009 at the Chapel of The American College of the Immaculate Conception in Louvain, Belgium; See 1 Maccabees 1:10-63 and Luke 18:35-43)
This morning’s first reading, from the First Book of Maccabees, relates to us a rather tragic series of events. We hear about King Antiochus Epiphanes and his ruthless opposition to the people of Israel. In the days to come we will hear in great detail about the torture and malevolence of his regime. His plan was for nothing less than the utter obliteration of the chosen people of God.
But that is not the tragedy I am referring to this morning. There is another, related tragedy mentioned in our first reading: that before Antiochus ever set out against the people of Israel there was already opposition from within, and a plan for their own demise:
In those days there appeared in Israel men who were breakers of the law, and they seduced many people, saying: “Let us go and make an alliance with the Gentiles all around us; since we separated from them, many evils have come upon us.”
—1 Maccabees 1:11
They saw, in the political climate of their day, an opportunity for advancing their own ends, even though it would come at the expense of the way of life God had called them to. 1 Maccabees relates how “they covered over the mark of their circumcision and abandoned the holy covenant” (1 Maccabees 1:15), taking on the way of life of the Gentiles among whom they lived.
This clever and advantageous way of life was then introduced to King Antiochus, who was more than willing and able to carry it out. The tragedy, of course, is that the people of Israel should have known better. They knew full well they were called by God to be holy. Instead they chose themselves over the way of life God had shown them, and soon the entire nation would suffer.
In our Gospel this morning we find that same internal dynamic, albeit to a much lesser extreme, in the story of the blind man who calls out to Christ for healing.
“Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” (Luke 18:38), that man cries out as he hears that Jesus is passing by. “Son of David,” of course, is a Messianic title; this man knew his theology! He knew that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, the One who would come to save Israel; to open the eyes of the blind and set the prisoners free.
Nonetheless, the blind man cannot see the Messiah. He cannot reach out and touch Him or find his own way to the Christ, so he does the only thing he can: he cries out, over and over again, for help.
Tragically, the very people walking with Christ, the ones right out in front, do not do a single thing to help him. Instead, we are told, they try to stop him. They rebuke him and tell him to be silent. St. Augustine says that these represent our fellow believers in Christ who can sometimes become obstacles in the spiritual life (St. Augustine, Sermon 351). Through their discouragement or perhaps their actions and decisions they block the way for us to reach the source of healing and strength in Christ.
Yet at this point in the Gospel Christ does something that could easily go unnoticed. In response to that blind man calling out for help, Christ initially does…nothing. He does not reach out to him, nor does He move an inch in that blind man’s direction. No, instead, perhaps sensing a deeper crisis of blindness in the people walking with Him, He suddenly turns to them and orders them to bring the blind man to Him. He wants them to reverse the direction they are moving in and to go, spiritually speaking, in the opposite direction.
The great Protestant theologian, Dietrich Bonheoffer, says that on the battle field of life there are no rusty swords. We are either fighting for Jesus Christ—in all of the little and big decisions of our lives—or we are fighting against Him. The way we live and how we choose to treat those around us makes a difference in our spiritual lives and in our relationship with God.
This morning we can ask ourselves, “Which side am I fighting for? Which direction am I moving in?” Because when we look at these readings today and reflect carefully upon them, we should be able to recognize that the greatest enemy and adversary of our spiritual lives is not necessarily the one we find hardest to love or the person we seem to always be “bumping into” every day. Very often the enemy keeping us, and perhaps others, from spiritual growth is us.
That is the enemy who needs to be conquered, over and over again, each and every day, by Jesus Christ. We must allow ourselves to be conquered by Him and even long for it, because He is the only one who can truly conquer us with pure love, however painful that healing may be.
This morning Christ comes to us in the Eucharist to conquer us with His radical self-gift, His own body and blood which he sacrificed on the cross and now gives to us so that we, too, may become true gifts to the Father and to those around us.
Are we willing to be conquered by Christ?
Are we willing to allow Him to transform us in the furnace of His divine love?
If so then we, too, can be the people to whom Christ speaks in the Gospel this morning, the ones called to bring to the Messiah all who are blind, broken and hurting. May we bring them, and ourselves, before the Son of David so that our eyes may be opened and we may truly be made new in Him.