This Sunday’s readings speak of the Lord as the healer of his people who leads them on their way.
We begin with Jeremiah 31:7-9, a promise that the Lord will bring the remnant of Israel back to their homeland. All, regardless of infirmities, are included, and the Lord will clear the way for them so that the return to Israel will be easy.
Between the years 732-722 B.C. the Assyrians annexed the Northern Kingdom of Israel, which included all the Israelite tribes other than Judah and Benjamin. They deported the people to Assyria. Writing in the period 605-587, as Assyria weakened and Babylon gained strength, Jeremiah looked forward to the end of the captivity. In fact, it does not seem that there was a wholesale return of Israelites from Assyria, and in 587 Babylon conquered the Southern Kingdom of Judah and there was an exile of its people, known as the Babylonian Captivity, which lasted until 539, when Persia conquered Babylon.
Since Jeremiah’s prophecy does not seem to have been literally fulfilled, we must understand it differently. It is, of course, possible that at some point before the end of the world, the descendants of the tribes deported to Assyria will return to the Promised Land. But we need not insist that there will be an eventual literal fulfillment of the prophecy. We can, and I think should, take it in a figurative sense, seeing the Promised Land as a type (prefiguration) of heaven, and the people as being all God’s people. God is our father, and he will bring us from what we can metaphorically consider an exile from heaven in this life to our true home with him. We suffer in various ways, but he will remove both internal and external obstacles to our joyous return to him.
In the responsorial psalm — Ps 126 — we meditate on the joy of the Lord’s bringing us back to our ultimate promised land.
The gospel — Mark 10:46-52 — recounts a specific healing by Jesus, that of the blind man Bartimaeus. This presents an individual case corresponding to the more general reference to the disabled of various types in the passage from Jeremiah. We all have disabilities. there are physical disabilities. More importantly, all of us, regardless of physical condition, have our spiritual disabilities — sins — which keep us from God. When we seek the Lord’s healing forgiveness, he will not refuse it.
Bartimaeus, once healed, didn’t stay in Jericho. Without being asked, he joined the company of Jesus’ followers as they went up to Jerusalem, where Jesus would suffer and die for us. In the same way, being forgiven, healed of our sin, enables us to follow Jesus through his suffering and death to his resurrection and return to heaven.
We can hear the second reading — Hebrews 5:1-6 — in the context of the passages about being healed and led home from exile. The quotes from Psalms 2 and 110 with which the reading concludes became common among Jesus’ followers’ understanding of him after his death and resurrection. (See Acts 13:33 for Ps 2:7 and Matthew 22:44 for Ps 110 — though not directly v. 4.) It is as our high priest, our representative before the Father, that Jesus offers the sacrifice of himself: the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 52-53 whom we heard about last Sunday. This is what frees us from the sins that separate us from God.
In one sense, our spiritual blindness is cured in baptism, which sets us on the path of return to God. But we can also fall victim to a sort of blindness when we lose sight of God as part of our lives and wrap ourselves in the cloak of our own self-interest. We can turn aside from the path that leads to God and return to a state of exile. If we find ourselves in any sort of spiritual blindness, in any sort of exile or estrangement from God, the Church says to us what it says to all, “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.” He makes it possible for us to follow him home to the Father.