Sunday, October 25, 2015

High Risk

   Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

I’ve had nine years of higher education—
which means I’ve studied under a lot of different professors
and sat through a lot of different classes.
While I’ve learned a whole lot,
I don’t remember too many of those particular lectures.
But one that stands out rather clearly in my memory
is specifically about this Sunday’s gospel.
It was in Sr. Elena Bosetti’s course
on the synoptic gospels—on Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
And in examining the story of blind Bartimaeus,
she highlighted a small but crucial detail:
the way he throws aside his cloak in order to follow to Jesus.

Bartimaeus was a blind beggar,
which means this mantle was his only possession.
It was his covering to keep warm at night.
It was a defense against the insults or objects
that might be hurled at him by passersby.
In an age before tin cups,
it was also where he would collect any coins
that kindhearted strangers tossed his way.

“He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.”

Can you see what a big deal is contained in this small detail?
Bartimaeus is taking a huge risk
when he comes to stand before Jesus.
Compare him to the rich young man of two Sundays ago,
who walked away from Jesus sad because he had many possessions;
it’s an enormous gamble for this blind beggar
to throw aside the only possession he has.
Compare him to the brothers, James and John, last Sunday,
of whom Jesus asks the very same question:
“What do you want me to do for you?”;
while the sons of Zebedee try to secure future seats of power,
Bartimaeus jumps to his feet
and asks for the sight that will allow him to follow—come what may.
And compare him to what Jesus himself is about to do,
for just turn the page in Mark’s gospel, and it’s Palm Sunday,
when many are throwing down their cloaks
as Jesus enters the gates of Jerusalem;
God’s about to put everything on the line,
to take the biggest risk of them all—
which will also see the biggest pay-off—
in the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ.

Most of us think of the Christian religion
as a refuge of safety and security:
a sure source of comfort in a troubled world,
of peace and joy amidst so much sorrow.
No doubt, that’s why folks react so strongly
whenever change comes to the Church—
whether it’s a change in church practice
or the closing of a church building.
“But we’ve always gone there!
We’ve always done it that way!”

Bartimaeus—with Sr. Elena’s assistance—
has helped me to see that the truth of the matter
is actually quite the opposite:
being a disciple of Jesus Christ is inherently risky business.

Now, I’m not naturally a risk-taker.
As a little kid, you might have easily mistaken me for Linus,
because I carried a blue security blanket with me
almost everywhere I went.
And while I was a summer camp counselor,
I distinctly remember saying that I prefer my adventures
to occur “in a carefully controlled environment.”
Even the modest investments I’ve made looking ahead to retirement
(assuming, of course, that I’ll ever be able to retire)
have all been rather careful, conservative ones.
But things have changed a bit in the last few years.
You know that, two years ago, I went out
on a 10-day, 120-mile hike through the heart of the Adirondacks.
And this September and last I took part in a 90-mile canoe race.
In between those events,
I’ve done quite a bit of camping in the mountains:
in fact, I’ve slept out-of-doors a least one night for the last 22 months.
My recent bout of outdoorsy activities
has necessarily come with more than a few risks
(just ask my worried mother).
Some of them I took knowingly; others I ran into by surprise
because I wasn’t as well-prepared as I thought.
But I’ve learned from them all.
Stepping out of my comfort zone,
I’ve not only seen some amazing sights
and grown in self-knowledge and self-confidence
by accomplishing things I never thought I could;
it’s also helped me to become a better Christian
and—I hope—a better priest:
one who’s more willing to take a risk for Jesus.

One risk I’ve recently taken as your pastor
is in founding Frassati House.
You’ve read a bit about it in the bulletin.
In an effort to reawaken the faith here at St. André’s—
in particular, among our young people—
I’ve invited young adult Catholics
to come and live as missionaries among us.
It was risky when I brought this new idea
to our Bishop and the Pastoral Council for approval—
a project that’s not just new to Malone or new to the Diocese,
but which hasn’t really been tried anywhere yet.
It was risky when we started advertizing Frassati House:
would anybody respond?
But inquires starting coming in
within the first hour we posted an ad online.
About 35 young people,
from more than a dozen states and 2 foreign countries,
expressed serious interest in coming to Malone for a year or two
to live and work as parish missionaries.
Mind you, most of them had no idea where Malone was
(although that changed after two inmates escaped in June),
but what they did know
is that they love Jesus and they love his Church,
and they want other people to do the same.
And after many résumés and interviews,
after much prayer and discernment,
five young Catholics—two men and three women—
have taken the risk to come here and help this new vision take shape.
You’ll be hearing from some of them this Sunday and next.

What’s the last risk you took for Jesus?
What cloak, what security blanket, do you need to throw aside?
Are you willing to step outside your own comfort zone
and give yourself to the adventure
of following the Lord wherever he might lead you?

It could reasonably be said that the Son of God
came with one mission: to open our eyes.
Christ’s mission is to open the eyes of our hearts
to the truth about God—that God is real,
that God loves us as our Father,
that God would do anything for us to know and live in that love,
both now and forever;
to open our eyes to the truth about ourselves:
that we are precious in God’s sight,
that we are called to holiness in this life and to heaven in the next;
and to open our eyes to the truth about one another:
that we have all been made in God’s image and likeness,
that we all have God-given dignity and a duty to defend it.

The Lord Jesus keeps opening my eyes:
from a lecture hall listening to Sr. Elena’s lesson,
to journeys among the mountains and waterways of the Adirondacks,
to serving you here at St. André’s as your parish priest.
What an adventure!  It’s been worth every risk!

Jesus wants to keep opening your eyes, too.
"Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you."

No comments: