25th October 2015
In the first reading (Jeremiah 31:7-9) we are presented with an example of what prophecy essentially is. It is not fortune telling nor really foretelling the future; it is the expression of an insight of seeing things from God’s point of view – it is speaking on behalf of God. In the books of the Bible classified as prophecy, there are many words of history, of anecdote and words from disciples of the prophet, but embedded in the books are also the poetic accounts of genuine insights into how things are viewed by God. The reading today seems to be one of these moments. The context is one when the people feel that all is lost, their superiority, their dignity, their protection by God, their very own land and place to live – in short, they feel almost abandoned. But, with some kind of insight from the standpoint of eternity, the inspired prophet sees a different view and expresses it as best he can in the context of his own limited experience. We notice the inevitable fumbling with how to put it as the text changes tense: the present tense “thus says the Lord”, the imperative call “Proclaim! Praise! Shout!”; the future expression “I will bring them back… I will comfort them”; and the present continuous tense in the final words, “I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim [another name for the people of Israel] is my first-born son.”
The second reading (Hebrews 5:1-6) is the continuation from last week’s reading from the Book of Hebrews. It develops further the writer’s point that Jesus is a genuine and perfect priest for us. He makes three points about priesthood in the first four verse. Firstly, a priest needs to have a commonality with people, their weaknesses and needs; the writer completely eschews the high priests current in Judaism standing at the top of a secular hierarchical structure within society. Secondly, a priest must make an offering of his own life to God, living not selfishly but for others – it is a service. And thirdly, a priest must be called by God for this role not assume it from his position in society as his hereditary right. Then he begins in reverse order to apply these to Christ; so, as is his wont, he uses Scripture to show that Christ has been called to this universal priesthood by God Here the author refers to Melchizedek, who became to be seen as the ideal kingly priest, even in preference to the Jewish high priest himself; he quotes Psalm 2 and also Psalm 110 (in some versions numbered 109)
The third reading (Mark 10:46-52) is the easily read story of the cure of the blind man, Bartimaeus. This is the last healing in Mark’s gospel, after which the entry into Jerusalem and the passion account take up the rest of the gospel. In this story we see again how Mark indicates the inadequacy of the disciples – they try to shut the blind man up, when he is calling for Jesus to cure him. Is this because they don’t understand the kindness to the lowly that Jesus has, or is it that Mark wants to focus our attention on the much wider and deeper significance of Jesus – the dedication (and surrender) of his life as the foundation of the possibility for us of fulfilling the great plan of God for everything? And could Mark also have seen this miracle of curing blindness as a sort of allegory of the overcoming of human failings with faith and real insight into the meaning and purpose of life? In John’s gospel, later than this, the idea of seeing is used symbolically to refer to believing and realizing one’s calling as a Christian.