The Gospel reading for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time begins with some interesting puns that only work in the Aramaic language. First, the story begins in Jericho, a town whose name means “Moon,” in Aramaic. In Hebrew, “Jericho,” can mean either “Moon,” or “Scent.” Deuteronomy 34:3 tells us the place, far from being the moon, was the place date palms, “Tamar,” or “Tamaracks,” grow. Tamar is the mother of two of Judah’s children. Jericho is also the first city Joshua possessed when he crossed the Jordon River.
The second interesting name in our Gospel reading is the name of the blind man, Bartimaeus. This man’s name means “Son of Timaeus.” “Timaeus” in Hebrew means “Innocence.” In Greek, it means “Value.” This man truly lives a life of despair, caused by his blindness in a society that took a dim view of the handicapped. Our society also tends to take a dim view of those unable to complete in our so-called free-market economy.
Like many in our society today, the crowd scolds the man crying for help from the king, Jesus, telling him to be quiet; people as important as Jesus do not have time for outcasts like the son of innocence/Bartimaeus. Jesus is not like earthly kings. He specifically calls for this son of value. For Jesus, all people have value. Like so many in our society today, seeing that Bartimaeus has an inside track with the boss, they try to ingratiate themselves with the blind man, escorting him to see the king of kings.
The crowd lacks something Bartimaeus has, because he is blind. “Blind,” also has two meanings in St. Mark’s Gospel. If we go back two short chapters we can find the second meaning.
When they arrived at Bethsaida, (Hunting lodge) they brought Jesus a blind man and begged him to touch him. Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. Putting spittle on his eyes, he laid his hands on him and asked, “Do you see anything?” Looking up he replied, “I see people looking like trees and walking.” Jesus laid hands on his eyes a second time and he saw clearly; his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly.
The key phrase in this passage is, “Trees walking.” In Hebrew and Aramaic, the word for Counselor, old stodgy fellow who counsels the king, is the same as the word for “Tree.” The first time Jesus touches this first blind man, he sees people, but he only sees their exterior. Everyone looks the same, like stodgy old men more interested in rules, than in people. The second time Jesus touches the blind man, he sees, not just the outside, the persona people want them to see, he sees the real people crying out to be seen and heard, on the inside.
This brings us to the first reading and the essence of Jewish spirituality. In our first reading, the people return home after the Babylonian exile. The essence of Jewish spirituality comes from Deuteronomy 5:1-7.
Remember, “I am the Personal Name, your Almighty Judge, who brought you out of the land of Egypt/Oppression, the house of menial labor.” Truly to remember is to remember what it was like to be there and to remember our rescue. This is the essence of Jewish spirituality.
The other people on the road in our Gospel reading for the Thirtieth Sunday in ordinary time do not remember their rescue. They have not needed that rescue; they have always been able to see, at least the stodgy old men all of us want the world to see. It seems strange that we would want to be stodgy old men. We call it showing we are tough, tough enough to make it in this cruel world.
Jesus teaches the opposite. The blind man has nothing to hide; we have already seen his vulnerability. Therefore, looking to himself, he can see the vulnerability in others. He can see. The tough old codgers are still blind.
This brings us the question about us. Do we live in Jericho, the city that looks like the moon? Are we the tough old codgers with the thick skin who can take it in this cruel world? Do we live in Jericho, the city of Palm trees, sensitive to the vulnerabilities of others and willing to help them along the way? The choice is ours. Jesus calls the blind man, who sees, and not the sighted who are blind.