Fr. Tom Bartolomeo
The way of the cross: none are more blessed
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By Fr. Tom Bartolomeo
March 31, 2014

Irreconcilable differences – who is to blame? Perhaps we have been involved in such personal differences: husband and wife, father and son, mother and daughter, appellant and complainant, employer and employee. And we, the person on the other side may believe that we are totally justified believing "all's fair in love and war." Really? With Jesus he said that there can be no compromising his teachings: "Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter" and so on. (Luke 12: 51-53).

The gospel story of the man born blind made whole by Jesus exemplifies perfectly "the division" Jesus said he "came to bring into the world," to set in sharp contrast, day and night, good and evil. Even before Jesus healed the blind man the rulers of the people had irrevocably decided that "anyone [who] acknowledged Jesus as the Christ would be expelled from the synagogue." (John 9: 22). We are told that the blind man's parents themselves did not want to be expelled from the synagogue due to their testimony and told their son's accusers, "Ask him . . . he can speak for himself." The argument the man healed by Jesus made, however, was indisputable. How could a "sinner," he argued, heal him and his accusers say they do not know him? You say "we do not know where he is from . . . is amazing . . . yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him. It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything." (John 9: 30-34). The Pharisees were stumped, had no reply and expelled the man cured of his blindness from the synagogue. We may wonder were Jesus there what would he say? In a similar situation, another work of his healing on the Sabbath, Jesus made his case with the same results – their denial that Jesus was the Christ. The Pharisees rejected out of hand Jesus 'work' when he healed a man crippled from birth just as they dismissed his cure of the blind man made whole. Ironic that Jesus who was not at the hearing heard of the proceedings concerning him and was questioned by other Pharisees near him, "Surely we are not blind, are we?" They knew at least it was not a question of physical but spiritual blindness. "If you were blind" Jesus replied, in other words, 'if you were excusably ignorant,' "you would have no sin; but now you are saying, 'We see,' so your sin remains." They were lying.

In healing the man crippled from birth Jesus argued that God works through him on the Sabbath and every day and his work can not be restricted by the Pharisees' regulations. "My Father is still working, and I also am working, Jesus told the rulers.

"For this reason [the story continues] the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Jesus, because he was not only breaking the Sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God." (John 5: 16-18). In the Pharisees' and rulers' hearing about the crippled man Jesus recounted what the authorities had already learned about him through his other 'works' as other great prophets' before him did. Nicodemus, one of the rulers of the people sympathetic to Jesus, secretly visited Jesus, had heard him teaching and had witnessed his expulsion of the money changers from the temple. "Rabbi, [Nicodemus said] we know you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one performs these miracles unless God is with him," making the same argument the healed blind man had made defending Jesus at his hearing with the Pharisees and the rulers. (John 3: 2). The other rulers of the temple knew Jesus, his teaching and miracles, as did Nicodemus. Nicodemus at least was open minded and wanted to hear more. The other rulers of the law, however, were content with their worldly and privileged status in Israel. Their minds were closed. They had too much to lose. "The one who comes from above is above all," Jesus told Nicodemus. The one who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of earthly things."

Jesus told his adversaries in the temple he wasn't claiming anything on his own, "I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me." The rulers of the temple understood what Jesus said and did. He reminded them that John the Baptist spoke about him which they also knew. "But I have a testimony greater than John's," Jesus told them." "The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me," and these works would include the miraculous cures of the man crippled from birth and the man born blind man made whole by Jesus. (John 5: 31- 36).

There are many other 'divisions' in the Gospel as there are in our world, irreconcilable differences often grounded in pride. Consider the difference of the self-righteous Jews in Nazareth, Jesus' hometown compared to the maligned Samaritans in Sychar – both places where Jesus brought the word of God, rejected in one place and accepted in the other. In his hometown, Nazareth, the people were offended by his talk in the synagogue and tried to kill him. They had formed their opinions about Jesus long before he made a name for himself and were expecting great personal favors and signs from their native son. He came, however, to share the same 'good news' he would later share with the people in the Samaritan town of Sychar. The Samaritans accepted Jesus as their Messiah described by Isaiah in the passage Jesus read in the synagogue in Nazareth: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor . . . proclaim release of captives . . . give sight to the blind . . . free the oppressed . . . and dispense the Lord's favor," the same man and message which rejected by the Jews and accepted by the Samaritans. (Luke 4: 18-19).

When Jesus stopped to rest in his travels in Sychar a woman approached the well in the town at midday. Ordinarily, women would draw water from the town's well early in the morning and leave before the heat of the day. Jesus was thirsty and asked the woman for a "drink." At first, she was taken back that a Jew would speak to her contrary to Jewish standards. When Jesus asked her for a drink he understood why she came after the other women had left. She had been married five times and was then living with a sixth man whom she didn't marry, an obvious embarrassment. When Jesus surprised the woman with a gift of "living water" she replied sarcastically, "Sir, give me this water so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water. Jesus then extended his invitation to her and her husband, "call your husband and come back." The woman admitted that she had no husband and Jesus recounted her life's story without criticism, "You have had five husbands," Jesus told her, "and the one you have now is not your husband." The woman then humbly accepted Jesus as a prophet and shared with Jesus her hope of salvation. "I know," she said, " that the Messiah is coming who is called the Christ. When he comes, he will tell us everything." Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one who is speaking to you," the same words Jesus told the man whom he cured his blindness. ( John 4: 5-26). The woman then took Jesus into the town and all the townspeople accepted Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah.

Self interest, wealth and power corrupt the mind and the heart – we should know from our personal experience. Why, too, we should know Jesus spent so much effort blessing the poor, the meek and the merciful. Jesus was a threat to the high priests' and rulers' self interest, wealth and power. Jesus had nothing to lose, nothing of this world he cared to covet. How many – truth be told – close their minds to the beatitudes, think it utter nonsense: blessed and happy being poor, meek and turning the other cheek! We should not, however, share our money and influence with the poor, meek and merciful because we pity them – but pity ourselves, our selfishness and pride of life. The contrite poor, meek and self-effacing are blessed and happy – literally detached from our wants and blotted egos. So let me ask, Do you pity the life Jesus led as a poor, meek and self-effacing man? "I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me," Jesus said over and over again. (John 4: 34; 5: 19; 5:30). This can happen for us whoever we are, whatever our responsibilities including people with great responsibilities like the centurion in the gospel, Jesus commended, a commander of one hundred soldiers and legal authority in Israel who asked – did not command – but humbly asked Jesus to save his servant's life:
    'Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, "Go," and he goes, and to another, "Come," and he comes, and to my servant, "Do this," and he does it.' When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, 'Truly I tell you, in no one have I found such faith in Israel. (Matthew 8: 8-10).
© Fr. Tom Bartolomeo

 

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Fr. Tom Bartolomeo

I am the founder and director of the Families For Families Retreat House, a refuge for anyone who wants to rethink his or her life in a quiet non-demanding environment in an historic house c.1709 when life was less complicated. I am also and primarily a Catholic priest having been a college and university teacher, business-owner and executive among other things. I received my Bachelor's and Master's degrees in English literature from Saint John's University, Jamaica, New York and completed post-graduate studies at Kansas State University. Contact me at FatherTomSays@gmail.com.

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