A Beggar in the Family
“The true protagonist of history is the beggar: Christ who begs for man’s heart, and man’s heart that begs for Christ.” – Fr. Luigi Giussani
We all come from somewhere. Each of us has a family and an origin, some of which we’re proud of, some of which we’re not. This week’s Gospel gives us the confidence to hear and respond to God’s call not only despite the painful circumstances of our lives, but in and through them. And the Gospel enables us to be the voice calling others who share similar origins and weaknesses, since Jesus uses our voice, and even our weaknesses, to call others.
The blind man, whose name is the same as his origin (Bar-Timaeus, the son of Timaeus), is the only authentic voice in the crowd, crying out, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me!” Everyone else wanted to impress Jesus with their reverence and decorum. His raw, discourteous shouts were embarrassing, so they told him to shut up. But he insisted. He was just a poor man who wanted to see.
Happy to hear the rare honest voice, Jesus responds with his own cry, “Call him.” Jesus relies on others to call the beggar. He’s not content just to perform a miracle, but he wants to use the obstinate members of the crowd to do his work, and so transform them in the process. I’ve seen him do this often in families, calling one member to a religious vocation, but transforming the rest in the process. Who in your life is Jesus telling you to “call”? Are you afraid to do so out of embarrassment, because you might not say the right thing? Or do you trust that Jesus is the one who is calling, and he even uses your imperfections and weaknesses to invite others to follow him?
The beggar, the son of Timaeus, who might as well be any son or daughter of Adam, leaps up, throws aside his cloak as if to do away with the heavy, worn-out old nature that he inherited from his father. When family and friends see someone undergo a radical transformation in Christ, they often discourage it, saying it’s a fad, a youthful dip into extremes. Perhaps they recognize their own need for transformation and they are afraid. But Jesus’ healing is available to anyone who is willing to make themselves a beggar.
Jesus knows what the blind man wants and what he needs. But unlike many of us, who usually try to provide people with what we think is best, he engages the man’s authentic needs and desires: “What do you want me to do for you?” I can ignore the beggar, I can throw money at him, or I can buy him a sandwich and sit down and talk about his life with him. Our weaknesses aren’t an inconvenience or waste of time for Jesus. As the true high priest, he sees them as opportunities to exercise his compassion and power: “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.”
Jesus calls us as beggars too. We usually see others’ weaknesses as painful or annoying reminders of our own. Weighed down by our own cloaks, we pridefully think that we have to carry the burdens of others by ourselves. As a priest, I’ve been by the bedside of the dying, in the confessional with those who have unwieldy guilt, and in between couples who have seemingly irreconcilable differences. When problem piles on top of problem, you quickly learn that you are as helpless as the person in front of you. This is most evident when sitting on one side of the confessional screen, hearing the voice on the other side confess the very same sins you have fallen into in the past. And it is painfully obvious that you don’t have the strength or wisdom to solve these problems. So the only solution is to be a beggar for and with them.
“Every high priest…is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness.” I am a priest, not the priest. My power to forgive, heal, transform, and raise up to new life only comes from God, and it is amplified by the reality that I am a weak sinner like others. Bartimaeus the beggar was healed and began following Jesus, but he never stopped being dependent on him. All true Christians are confident beggars, who are daily aware that they have many weaknesses and temptations to confront. But they also know these weaknesses are only one part of the equation: Christ’s power and glory floods forth and heals us when we come to him in faith and confidence. As a priest, I don’t just see problems and weaknesses. I see empty canyons ready to be flooded with grace. Every day I have the privilege to see healing and new life flowing into the bodies and souls of ordinary people. I often think I’m the richest man in the world.
But I’m still a beggar, dependent on the true high priesthood of Christ. This priesthood is a combination of the human weakness that he inherited and his all-powerful divinity which he has always possessed. He is the Son of God and son of Mary. His humanity is sinless, but in it he has experienced all pain, loneliness, frustration, and anguish that we have. Without his divinity, Jesus could never offer a true solution to our weakness, and there would be no salvation. Without his humanity, there would be no bridge to divinity, we would not approach him with trust, and there would still be no salvation. His humanity came from someone, and her name is Mary. And Mary was not forced into this endeavor. God sent an angel to propose to her, to see if she would give him a human nature. The fallen angel had proposed a lie to Eve: “Do this, and become like God.” The angel Gabriel proposed a truth to the New Eve, “Do this, and God will become like you, and then all of humanity will truly be divinized.”
Where would we be if Mary had said no? We can only speculate. But how many families refuse to give Christ a new humanity with which to work? How many Catholic parents never invite their sons to consider the priesthood, or discourage him when he does? How many people don’t hear the Gospel, don’t receive absolution, don’t consume the body of Christ, or die without the anointing of the sick because there aren’t priests to give it to them? How many more priests would there be if more parents, like Mary, said “Yes, I will give you a humanity with which to save and sanctify souls”? Each priest, like Bartimaeus and like Jesus, is the son of someone. Though Mary was immaculate, Jesus’ genealogy was full of sinners. Each of our families is a mix of vice and virtue, strength and weakness, problems and joys which is why Jesus calls his priests from families, so that we can authentic be instruments of his healing power, familiar with human weakness but confident in God’s all-powerful strength. The best priests are beggars, and they come from families of beggars.