In 2012, 28 were killed, twenty children from 6-7 years of age at Sandy Hook Elementary School. in 2015, 9 people were gunned down in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church during a prayer service. In 2016, 49 were murdered and 58 injured at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando. In 2017, 58 died and over 851 were wounded in the Las Vegas shooting. February 14, 2018, 17 students were shot to death at Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS. In October of 2018, 11 died and 6 were wounded at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pennsylvania. August 3, 2019, 23 people were shot and killed and another 23 were injured. In a USA article from February 26, 2021 it was reported that mass shootings hit a recored high in 2020. “In 2020, the United States reported 611 mass shooting events that resulted in 513 deaths and 2,543 injuries.”
These are the facts and figures that have made the headlines, but more importantly, these numbers represent real people, human beings, family members, friends, classmates and colleagues. So many die violent deaths each day, including the unborn, in our country and throughout our world. How are we to respond? In the Gospel today Jesus sheds some light on the darkness that beleaguers not only our country but our world.
On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. (Mk 10:47-48).
Though Bartimaeus is blind, he seems to “see” better and know who Jesus is. He does not just call out the name of Jesus, but “Jesus, Son of David.” This is not merely a genetic marker, but a Messianic title. Bartimaeus may have physical blindness, but he is one of the few in the Gospel of Mark to recognize Jesus is the Messiah. The disciples and the crowd walking with him, the many who “rebuked him”, showed their spiritual blindness, in that they prevented the blind man from coming to Jesus.
When we take time to read and meditate on this scriptural account, who are we? Are we like those in the crowd who follow and identify with Jesus, yet rebuke others seeking to come to Jesus? Do we foster a posture of a fear of the other, embrace tribalism, nationalism, and contribute to and foster division, polarization, and prejudice? If we do, we then are suffering from the very spiritual blindness that Jesus has come to heal.
We need to start by making an assessment of ourselves. Each thought we ponder and action we take ripples out from us and touches everyone. In what way do we contribute to the violence? Do we gossip, spread false reports knowingly about others only to degrade and belittle? Do we pass dehumanizing images and memes on social media? Do we talk over or at people, do we impose our views not even willing to listen to another? The smallest act of indignity shown to another, whether it be a snide remark, a racial, ethnic, or sexist epithet, or any manner of disrespect contributes to the horrific reports I began this post with.
We need to allow Jesus to convict us in the depths of our souls. In so doing, we are better able to counter the impulse to build walls that promote division, hate, and violence, and instead build bridges of forgiveness, unity, and love. We are called to shine a light in our present darkness as Jesus did by embracing one another as human beings, brothers and sisters created in the image and likeness of God. We begin by being present to those within our realm of influence with understanding, compassion, and empathy. Darkness only wins if we embrace it and become the darkness, let us be light. Hate only wins if we feed hate, let us feed love. The following story may be helpful:
An old grandfather said to his grandson, who came to him with anger at a friend who had done him an injustice.
“Let me tell you a story. I too, at times, have felt a great hate for those who have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy to die. I have struggled with these feelings many times.”
He continued, “It is as if I there are two wolves inside me. One is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him, and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way. But the other wolf, ah! He is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing. Sometimes, it is hard to live with these two wolves inside of me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit.”
The boy looked intently into his Grandfather’s eyes and asked, “Which one wins, Grandfather?”
The Grandfather smiled and quietly said, “The one I feed.”
Both wolves are trying to dominate the spirit of our country, which one will you feed?
Let us have the humility to recognize our interconnectedness with one another, that we cannot get through this life on our own. We, like Bartimaeus, need to be healed and made new. We need the Son of David in our lives, we need a savior, a healer, and we need each other. When we acknowledge this reality, we may better be able to resist the temptation to be indifferent to or dehumanize others, but instead be more willing to notice, recognize, pray for and act to provide aide for others. Jesus calls us to arise from our defensive posture and to open our arms wide to love, to will the good of each other as other.