Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm 126:1-6
Hebrews 5:1-6
Mark 10:46-52

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Healing the Blind and Restoring the Remnant
In our First Reading, the 6th century BC prophet Jeremiah prophesies a joyful procession of the faithful remnant of God's people returning to Jerusalem from the Babylonian exile.  In Jesus, Isaiah's prophecy has a greater fulfillment.  Jesus' mission was to redeem the people of God from their spiritual exile, calling the "faithful remnant" back from where they had been scattered.  Jesus called the new Israel of His disciples and Apostles to join with all the others from the ends of the earth who had come to belief in Jesus Christ, the Davidic Messiah, in His universal (meaning of the word "catholic") Kingdom of the Church and in anticipation of the journey to the heavenly Jerusalem.

In today's Second Reading, the inspired writer of Hebrews writes that the Messianic son of David is the Son of God promised in the Psalms (Ps 2:7; 110:1-2).  He is a priest-king like God's representative at the beginning of salvation history, the priest-king Melchizedek (Ps 11:4), who blessed God's chosen, the faithful Abraham, and made the sacrificial offering of bread and wine (Gen 14:18).  Jesus, our covenant mediator and compassionate High Priest of the heavenly Sanctuary, offers Himself in the sacrifice of the Cross and blesses the faithful, giving Himself in the bread and wine that becomes His Body and Blood for God's chosen people in the Eucharist.

The First Reading anticipates the Gospel Reading where Jesus heals blind Bartimaeus from Jericho.  It is ironic that many who saw Jesus and His mighty works failed to recognize Him as the promised Messiah, but Bartimaeus, even in his physical blindness, had the faith and spiritual insight to proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah, the son and heir of the kingdom promised to David (2 Sam 7:12-16; Is 11:1-5, 10-13; Jer 23:5; Ez 34:23; 37:25b-28). 

Bartimaeus is a symbol of the faithful remnant of God's people.  The preservation of the "faithful remnant" is a Biblical theme found throughout the books of the Old Testament.   They, like Jesus' disciples, are the faithful few who are not blinded by the power of sin but recognize God and His works.  Jesus came to restore spiritual sight to God's people by forgiving their sins that blinded them to the works of God and to bring them back from the exile of sin to the new Davidic Kingdom of the Church.  In recognizing the Messiah, the "faithful remnant" became the people of Zion we sing about in today's Psalm.  Bartimaeus recognized that God had done great things for him.  His tears of suffering were turned into gladness as he began a new life by following Jesus "on the way"; it is a journey that will take him to the gates of heaven.   We have also been redeemed by Jesus our Savior.  He has freed us from the darkness of the exile that sin causes in our relationship with God, and He has shown us the path to our homecoming in the heavenly Jerusalem.  All we have to do is to continue to "follow Him on the way". 

The First Reading Jeremiah 31:7-9 ~ God's Deliverance
7 Thus says the LORD: Shout with joy for Jacob, exult at the head of the nations; proclaim your praise and say; The LORD has delivered his people, the remnant of Israel.  8 Behold, I will bring them back from the land of the north; I will gather them from the ends of the world with the blind and the lame in their midst, the mothers and those with child; 9 they shall return as an immense throng.  They departed in tears, but I will console them and guide them; I will lead them to brooks of water, on a level road, so that none shall stumble.  For I am a father to Israel, Ephraim is my first-born.

Prior to the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the population of Judah into Babylon in 587/6 BC, Jeremiah, who had consistently prophesied divine judgment in a 70-year exile of the people of Judah (Jer 25:8-11), now promises that God will have mercy on His people and will return them to their homeland (also see Jer 29:10).  Not only will God bring back the exiles of Judah, He will also bring back the descendants of the Israelites of the Northern Kingdom (Ephraim) sent into exile by the Assyrians in the 8th century BC.  He will gather unto Himself a people from the "ends of the world", including the physically disabled and the most vulnerable. 

This great deliverance is fulfilled in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the one greater than His ancestor David who came to fulfill the prophecies of the prophets, healing the blind, the lame, the deaf and the spiritually disabled (Is 35:5-6; Mt 11:5; Lk 7:22) to establish the everlasting kingdom promised to David (2 Sam 7:16, 29), in Jesus' universal Church.  This deliverance is what was revealed to Simeon when he held baby Jesus in the Temple: "...for my eyes have seen the salvation which you have made ready in the sight of the nations; a light of revelation for the Gentiles and glory for your people Israel" (Lk 2:30-32).

Responsorial Psalm 126:1-6 ~ God's Mighty Works
Response: "The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy."
1 When the LORD brought back the captives of Zion, we were like men dreaming.  2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with rejoicing.
Then they said among the nations, "The LORD has done great things for them."  3 The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad indeed.
4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the torrents in the southern desert.  5 Those that sow in tears shall reap rejoicing.
6 Although they go forth weeping, carrying the seed to be sown, they shall come back rejoicing, carrying their sheaves.

Psalm 126 is one of the "songs of ascent" that pilgrims sang on the journey to Jerusalem to celebrate God's ordained annual pilgrim feasts. They had traveled to Jerusalem from the different nations in the region where they were living, like the Jews in 30 AD who traveled to Jerusalem from distant parts of the Roman Empire to attend the Feast of Weeks/Pentecost in Acts 2:9-10.  Upon arriving at the holy city, the pilgrims remember and relive the joy felt by the returning remnant of Israel from the Babylonian exile (verses 1-2; also see 2 Chr 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-5; 2:1).  They are thankful to God for His great work of kindness in bring the exiles home to Jerusalem in the 6th century BC (the "them" in verse 2), and for bringing the pilgrims safely to Jerusalem (the "us" in verse 3).

Next, they petition God to "restore our fortunes", comparing His blessings to the abundant rain He sends to awaken the desert.  And they ask that those who suffer ("sow in tears") will experience a reaping of rejoicing in God's blessings in a fruitful harvest.  The last two verses are probably a symbolic reference to the painful work of life that will be crowned with God's salvation for those who remain faithful until the harvest of souls into God's heavenly storehouse.

The Second Reading Hebrews 5:1-6 ~ Christ our Compassionate High Priest
Brothers and sisters: 1 Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.  2 He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness 3 and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people.  4 No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.  5 In the same way, it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest, but rather the one who said to him: "You are my son: this day I have begotten you"; 6 just as he said in another place: "You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek".

In the two previous Sundays, we have had readings from the Letter to the Hebrews.  The inspired writer refers again to the Jewish High Priest who officiated in the Temple of Jerusalem.  He represented mankind in covenant with God by offering gifts and sacrifices in liturgical worship.  But that human representative is no longer needed since we have a new High Priest directly appointed by God like Aaron the first High Priest to serve in the heavenly Temple.  Jesus is the High Priest of the New Covenant faithful.  He has been appointed by God, and He exercises His priesthood by constantly offering His sacrificial death on the Cross in an unblemished sacrificial gift that pleads for mercy for all of us.

God, in His mercy, intended in the Old Covenant as well as in the New that the covenant mediator who serves in the role of High Priest should possess human nature in order to lead the people to salvation with an understanding of and sympathy for the struggles the people must wage against the temptation to sin.  In the Old Covenant Church it was the High Priest's role to act as the covenant representative of the "people of God".  In the same way, Jesus Christ, who is fully man and fully God, acts as our compassionate High Priest, interceding for us at the altar of the heavenly Temple.

to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.
Part of the duties of a priest was the offering of sacrifices on behalf of the people and for himself.  Prior to the Sinai experience in the age of the Patriarchs, every father of a family and his sons served in a priestly role, offering sacrifices to Yahweh.  For example the sacrifices offered by Cain and Abel in Genesis 4:3-5; Noah offered sacrifices in Genesis 8:20; Abraham in Genesis 15; 22:13; Jacob/Israel in Genesis 31:54 and 46:1; etc.  But with the formation of the corporate covenant at Sinai with the children of Israel, God established an ordained priesthood through one father, Aaron.  And in this section, the inspired writer contrasts Christ's eternal priesthood with the priesthood established at Mt. Sinai through Aaron, the brother of Moses, and his descendants.  It was to be a priesthood which was to be continued through his sons and their descendants and lasted only during the duration of their earthly lives (Ex 28:1-2).  But a new and eternal priestly order is established in Jesus that harkens back to before the Sinai Covenant to the priesthood of God's representative Melchizedech. 

In the New Covenant, Christ Himself becomes both the sacrificial victim and High Priest.  No longer are sins simply "covered"; now "at-one-ment"/"atonement" takes on the meaning of "complete cleansing" from sin through the expiation of sin by the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, as St. John the Baptist identified Jesus in John 1:29 & 36.   Expiation means: "Atonement for some wrongdoing.  It implies an attempt to undo the wrong that one has done by suffering a penalty, by performing some penance, or by making reparation or redress. Etmy. Latin ex -, fully + piare, to propitiate: expiare, to atone for fully" (Catholic Dictionary, page 139).

New Testament Scripture identifies Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross as an act of atonement for the sins of mankind:

God reconciles us and the world to Himself through the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus the Messiah: And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ (2 Cor 5:18).  Reconciliation for our sins is made by the offering of Jesus' perfect sacrifice on the altar of the Cross, which the Father has accepted. 

In His perfect sacrifice he has made it possible for us to be cleansed of all sins:  Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of flesh and spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God (2 Cor 7:1).

Unlike the Old Covenant priesthood, our High Priest, Jesus Christ, is both the means (sacrifice) and the agent (offerer) of atonement as the representative of man and the agent of reconciliation.  This concept of the atoning work of Christ and God's response is one of the major themes of the Letter to the Hebrews where the Jesus' role as both High Priest and perfect sacrifice are compared with the priesthood and sacrifice of the High Priest Aaron who performed the act of atonement for the people of God in the Old Covenant by offering a blood sacrifice just as Jesus as our High Priest offers the sacrifice in atonement for the sins of mankind.

2 He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness 3 and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people.  4 No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.
The inspired writer already introduced the necessity of a priest being able to sympathize with the struggles of the people in Hebrews chapter 4:15 when he wrote of Jesus' role as high priest: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way yet without sin.  The role of the High Priest wasn't to be a harsh judge—his role was to be a sympatric mediator.   God expected His High Priest of the Covenant to be merciful to sinners because he himself was tempted by the same sins.  For this reason it was necessary for the High Priest to make sins offerings for himself as well as for his people.  Jesus in His humanity experienced our struggles and understands our weaknesses since He was Himself tested but He is the more perfect High Priest because He never sinned.  St. Cyril of Alexandria wrote that Jesus offered "his life as a model of saintly existence to be used by earthly beings, he took on the weaknesses of humanity, and what was his purpose in doing this?  That we might truly believe that he became man, although he remained what he was, namely God" (Letter to Euopitus, Anathema 10).

5 In the same way, it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest, but rather the one who said to him: "You are my son: this day I have begotten you"; 6 just as he said in another place: "You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek".
In Hebrews 5:5 the inspired writer quotes from Scripture, first from Psalm 2:7, You are my son, this day I have begotten you, which he already quoted in Hebrews 1:5, and then quoting from Psalm 110:4, You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek, the psalms which he quoted in Hebrews 1:13 but in that passage he quoted from Psalm 110:1, Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.  Although Psalm 110 is the most quoted psalm in the New Testament, the inspired writer of Hebrews is the only writer to quote from verse 4 here in this passage and again in chapter 7:17 and 21.  The inspired writer of Hebrews will invoke the name "Melchizedek" 8 times in the Book of Hebrews, 5 times in chapter 7 alone (see 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:1, 10, 11, 15 and 17).  In all of Sacred Scripture, references are made to this ancient priest of God the Most High 10 times (for Old Testament references see Genesis 14:18; 110:4).

Twice in this passage the inspired writer of Hebrews compares Jesus' high priestly ministery to the priestly order of Melchizedek.  First by quoting from Psalm 110:4 in verse 6 and then a second time in verse 10.  The name "Melchizedek" or "Melek-zedek" in Hebrew means "king of righteousness" and was a title and not a proper name (Hebrew "king" = melek; "righteous" = zedek or sedek). 

In Genesis Chapter 14, Melchizedek is identified as God's priest-king of Salem (Shalom = peace), a settlement on Mt. Moriah which later came to be called jireh-salem ("will provide peace") or Jerusalem (Gen 22:14; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 1.10.2).  The first mention of "Jerusalem" is found in Joshua 10:1-3 in which the king of Jerusalem's throne name is given as "Lord of Righteousness" or Adonai-zedek.  Jerusalem will become the place that God prepared for His people to worship Him (Ex 23:20; Dt 12:5-9, 11-12).  Melek-zedek/Mechizedek's relationship to Abram/Abraham is revealed in Genesis 14:17-20 where Abram is acknowledging Melchizedek's authority over him by paying a tithe, and by receiving Melchizedek's priestly blessing together with bread and wine.  Church Father, St. Clement of Alexandria, wrote of this significant encounter between Abram and the priest-king of Salem: "For Salem is, by interpretation, peace; of which our Savior is enrolled King, as Moses says, Melchizedek king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who gave bread and wine, furnishing consecrated food for a type of the Eucharist.  And Melchizedek is interpreted "righteous king"; and the name is a synonym for righteousness and peace" (Stromateis 4.25).  And St. Jerome also understood the offering of bread and wine as a prefiguring the Eucharist: "And as to the Scripture which says, "You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek," our mystery is foreshown in the word "order"; not at all, indeed, in the sacrifice of non-rational victims through Aaron's agency, but when bread and wine, that is the body and blood of the Lord Jesus, were offered in sacrifice" (St. Jerome, Hebrew Questions on Genesis 14.18-19).

In addition to Genesis 14, Biblical references to Melchizedek are found in: Ps 110:4; Heb 5:5-10; 6:20; 7:1-17 (7 times in Hebrews).  Also see references to Shem as Melchizedek in the 1st century BC and AD Aramaic Targums found at Qumran among the Dead Sea Scrolls: Genesis Apocryphon of Qumran Cave I, all of which identify Noah's righteous firstborn son, Shem, as Melchizedek which was clearly a common belief during the time the Letter to the Hebrews was written. 

The footnotes of the modern Jewish Tanakh identify Shem as Melchizedek, and St. Ephraim, 4th century doctor of the Church, believed Melchizedek was the throne name of Noah's righteous firstborn son Shem, chosen to succeed his father as covenant mediator (Gen 9:26-27):  "This Melchizedech is Shem, who became a king due to his greatness; he was the head of fourteen nations.  In addition, he was a priest.  He received this from Noah, his father, through the rights of succession.  Shem lived not only to the time of Abraham, as Scripture says, but even to the time of Jacob and Esau, the grandsons of Abraham" (St. Ephraim, Teaching on Genesis 14:18-20).  Abraham was a descendant of Shem (Gen 11:10-27).

The inspired writer of Hebrews offers the faithful Melchizedek as prefiguring Jesus, the priest-king of the New Covenantal order: "The Christian tradition considers Melchizedek, 'priest of God Most High,' as a prefiguration of the priesthood of Christ, the unique 'high priest after the order of Melchizedek,'  'holy, blameless, unstained,' 'by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified,' that is by the unique sacrifice of the cross" (CCC# 1544).

And it has been the teaching of the Church that the King of Righteousness' offering of bread and wine to Abraham prefigures our righteous priest-king's offering of Himself to the Church in the Most Holy Eucharist, an offering He first made at the Last Supper (Mt 26:26-28; Mk 14:22-24; Lk 22:19-20).  The Catechism teaches:  "...  The Church sees in the gesture of the king-priest Melchizedek, who "brought out bread and wine," a prefiguring of her own offering" (CCC# 1333).

The Gospel of Mark 10:46-52 ~ Jesus Heals Bartimaeus
46 They came to Jericho.  And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging.  47 On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, son of David, have pity on me."  48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.  But he kept calling out all the more, "Son of David, have pity on me."  49 Jesus stopped and said, "Call him."  So they called the blind man, saying him, "Take courage; get up, he is calling you."  50 He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.  51 Jesus said to him in reply, "What do you want me to do for you?"  The blind man replied to him, "Master, I want to see."  52 Jesus told him, "Go your way; your faith has saved you."  Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.

Jesus and His disciples have traveled southward down the length of the Jordan on the east side of the river and have come to the ford of the river across from the city of Jericho.  What is historically significant about this ford across the Jordan River is that it is where Joshua and the children of the 12 tribes of Israel crossed the Jordan River to begin the conquest of the Promised Land (see Josh 3:1, 16).  Jesus is the new Joshua (their names are the same in Hebrew) and He and His 12 Apostles, who are the future spiritual fathers of the "new Israel," are beginning a "conquest" that will establish the Kingdom of the Church and open the gates to the Promised Land of Heaven.

46b And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging.
Mark explains to his Greco-Roman audience the Aramaic meaning of the patronymic by which he identifies the poor, blind beggar: bar means "son" in Aramaic (in Hebrew the word for "son" is ben).  Mark does not give the man's personal name but he is the only Gospel writer who identifies the blind man from Jericho by any name, even a surname.  Bartimaeus is the only person to receive a healing by Jesus that Mark names in his Gospel and some Bible scholars have suggested he was still alive and known in the Church at the time Mark's Gospel was written.

47 On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, son of David, have pity on me."
The way Bartimaeus addresses Jesus is significant.  He addresses Jesus as the Davidic Messiah promised by the Ezekiel to restore and heal the nation of Israel (see Ez 34:23-24; 37:21-24). You might ask how this man from Jericho knows enough about Jesus to believe that He is the Davidic Messiah.  St. Mark concentrates about two-thirds of his Gospel narrative on Jesus' mission in the northern region of what was once ancient Israel, but we know from St. John's Gospel that Jesus attended the God-ordained pilgrim feasts and so He must have made those three trips to Jerusalem each of the three years of His ministry for Passover/Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles/Booths (see Jn 2:13; 7:2, 10, 14; 12:1).  In addition, St. John records that Jesus attended the national feast of Dedicated (Hanukkah) in John 10:22-23, which was not a feast that required national attendance.  Therefore, it is possible that Jesus, the perfect Jew, attended all seven annual feasts every year in additional to the national feasts of Dedication/Hanukkah and Purim.  If this is the case, the people of Judah had many opportunities to hear Jesus preach.

50 He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
The blind man threw off his cloak; it is probably the one item of value he owns, but nothing will hinder him from immediate access to Jesus the Messiah.  Jesus asks him what he wants; the response is in itself a profession of his faith in Jesus Christ who tells him: "Go your way; your faith has saved you." 

52b Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.
Once again Mark's favorite word, "immediately", instills a sense of urgency.  Bartimaeus is following Jesus "on the way" to discipleship and to Jerusalem and to witness Jesus' Passion, death, and Resurrection.  And at the end of his life, he will be following Jesus to the Promised Land of Heaven.

In the story of Bartimaeus, Mark has continued with his subtheme of "hearing and seeing" in the deaf to whom Jesus restores hearing and the blind to whom He restores sight in fulfillment of what the prophets foretold about the Messiah (i.e., Mk 4:9, 12, 18, 20, 23, 24, 33; 7:16, 37; 8:18, 35, 22, 25) .  Yet, many continue to be both deaf and blind to His true identity and what it means, which is also a fulfillment the prophecy of Isaiah in 6:9-10.  What is ironic about Bartimaeus' unique greeting of Jesus in Mark 10:47-48, the same greeting of other blind men in the other Gospels (Mt 9:27; 20:30-31; Lk 18:38-38) and the greeting of the Gentile woman who Jesus complimented on her faith and then healed her daughter in Matthew 15:22 is that the blind men who cannot see Jesus' miraculous acts and a Gentile woman who is not a member of the covenant people are the only people outside the disciples who acknowledge Jesus' true identity as the "son of David," who is Messianic son of the Davidic kingdom.

Those who are truly blind and remain as "outsiders" are those people who witnessed Jesus' miracles and prophetic acts and still did not acknowledge His true identity.  In this healing of blind Bartimaeus, not only were his physical eyes "opened" but he also had the opportunity to have his spiritual vision confirmed in recognizing the Messiah.  The same kind of spiritual blindness that afflicted the people who refused to acknowledge Jesus as the promised Messiah in the first century AD is still present today in twenty-first century men and women who persist in rejecting Jesus' gift of love and salvation and ignore Jesus' invitation to "follow me."

We are all called, like Jesus' disciples and Bartimaeus, to "follow Him on the way": to take Him as our pattern, receive nourishment from His grace and let Him be the ransom for our sins.  In the sacrifice of the Mass, we take part in His sacrifice and His Resurrection.  Time is suspended and we are present at the Last Supper when Jesus began His walk to the Cross as He feeds the faithful the bread that became His Body and the wine that became His Blood.  As we move forward to the altar, we receive the Body and Blood of the glorified, resurrected Christ and we proclaim to the world that we live with Him and for Him in the new life He gave us when we first experienced the Sacrament of Christian baptism. 

Catechism references:
Jeremiah 31:7-9 (CCC 1611)
Hebrews 5:1 (CCC 1539); 5:3 (CCC 1540); 5:4 (CCC 1578); 5:6 (CCC 1537)
Mk 10:46-52 (CCC 2667); 10:48 (CCC 2626); 10:52 (CCC 548)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015