For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry “Abba, Father!”
Romans 8: 14-15
In today’s gospel reading from Luke we hear of Jesus’ healing of the woman who had for eighteen years suffered an affliction that had her bent over and unable to stand erect. Jesus sees her and calls to her, telling her that she is now freed of her infirmity. “He laid his hands on her, and she at once stood up straight and glorified God” (Luke 13:13). This occurs on a sabbath and thus, as a violation of the law, evokes the anger of the leader of the synagogue. We are thus presented with a dramatic image of two contrary states of the human heart: the leader is mean and angry; the woman is standing up straight and glorifying (thanking and praising) God. Jesus’ presence and action in the world can evoke very different reactions in us.
St Paul speaks in Romans of two different spirits that can move us: the Spirit of God on the one hand and the spirit of slavery and fear on the other. As Pope Francis never ceases to remind us, the Spirit of God as manifest in Jesus is always aware of and concerned about the actual specific need and state of the human person before us. For Jesus it is the person and the person’s appeal that is paramount, superseding any abstract principles and ideologies that often are mere covers for the fear that the stranger evokes in us. Jesus’ harsh words to the leader of the synagogue are not directed to the fact that he is fearful but rather to his refusal to recognize that his sense of power and superiority over others is but the illusion that covers his unrecognized and unacknowledged fear.
What is the compulsion in us to correct and punish others, to assert our own righteousness at the expense of the weakness of others? How does it foster our own deeper life to exclude others from the “gathering of the justified” to which we belong? In the homily he delivered yesterday at the close of the Synod in Rome, Pope Francis seems to answer the question by saying it is because “… just like the disciples, we are with Jesus, but we do not think like him. We are in his group, but our hearts are not open. We lose wonder, gratitude and enthusiasm, and risk becoming habitually unmoved by grace.” The woman whom Jesus cures “stands up straight and glorifies God.” When we live in wonder, gratitude, and enthusiasm, we cease, at least for the moment, to be afraid of what is different and what is other. We need not suppress what is other because we have come to appropriate in wonder, gratitude, and enthusiasm what is other in us. As all of who we are has a place in our own hearts, so all of humanity in its diversity and seeming incomprehensibility has a place in our gathering.
The practice of mercy and compassion requires a constant practice of recognizing the pervasiveness of the spirit of slavery, that is of fear, in us. The Spirit of God can more and more come to pervade our consciousness and inform our acts to the degree that we create a greater space for it by acknowledging, and so diminishing, the power of the spirit of fear in our lives. This day, may we recognize in our compulsions to control and diminish others our own fearfulness, and pause long enough to allow a degree of wonder, gratitude, and enthusiasm to take its place.
There are, however, some temptations for those who follow Jesus. Today’s Gospel shows at least two of them. None of the disciples stopped, as Jesus did. They continued to walk, going on as if nothing were happening. If Bartimaeus was blind, they were deaf: his problem was not their problem. This can be a danger for us: in the face of constant problems, it is better to move on, instead of letting ourselves be bothered. In this way, just like the disciples, we are with Jesus but we do not think like him. We are in his group, but our hearts are not open. We lose wonder, gratitude and enthusiasm, and risk becoming habitually unmoved by grace. We are able to speak about him and work for him, but we live far from his heart, which is reaching out to those who are wounded. This is the temptation: a “spirituality of illusion”: we can walk through the deserts of humanity without seeing what is really there; instead, we see what we want to see. We are capable of developing views of the world, but we do not accept what the Lord places before our eyes. A faith that does not know how to root itself in the life of people remains arid and, rather than oases, creates other deserts.
There is a second temptation, that of falling into a “scheduled faith”. We are able to walk with the People of God, but we already have our schedule for the journey, where everything is listed: we know where to go and how long it will take; everyone must respect our rhythm and every problem is a bother. We run the risk of becoming the “many” of the Gospel who lose patience and rebuke Bartimaeus. Just a short time before, they scolded the children (cf. 10:13), and now the blind beggar: whoever bothers us or is not of our stature is excluded. Jesus, on the other hand, wants to include, above all those kept on the fringes who are crying out to him. They, like Bartimaeus, have faith, because awareness of the need for salvation is the best way of encountering Jesus.
In the end, Bartimaeus follows Jesus on his path (cf. v. 52). He did not only regain his sight, but he joined the community of those who walk with Jesus. Dear Synod Fathers, we have walked together. Thank you for the path we have shared with our eyes fixed on Jesus and our brothers and sisters, in the search for the paths which the Gospel indicates for our times so that we can proclaim the mystery of family love. Let us follow the path that the Lord desires. Let us ask him to turn to us with his healing and saving gaze, which knows how to radiate light, as it recalls the splendour which illuminates it. Never allowing ourselves to be tarnished by pessimism or sin, let us seek and look upon the glory of God, which shines forth in men and women who are fully alive.
Pope Francis, Homily for Closing Mass of the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops