SO THAT NONE SHALL STUMBLE!


30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
October 28, 2012

SO THAT NONE SHALL STUMBLE

Trekking up a mountain in pitch darkness is an experience I won’t want to have again – ever, in my life. One feels literally blind and almost utterly helpless. One is scared, worried, even terrified, at the very real possibility of a potentially tragic misstep – every step along the way! This, I had twice or thrice, many years ago, at a time when LED lights were still on the drawing board, and most climbing equipment were imported, and – therefore – rare and prohibitively expensive!

This is the image that immediately came to mind as I read today’s readings. Jeremiah, as we know, was a prophet during and after that sad chapter of Israelite history – the great Babylonian exile! He was most likely devastated by the bitter experience. He was also most likely disheartened, discouraged, and, given his obvious emotional reactivity, might also have been somewhat depressed. But today, no matter those strong feelings, Jeremiah, at least for me, comes across as a beacon of hope, of positive thinking, as much of humbler resignation as a firm faith in the Lord who is both healer and deliverer.

Jeremiah’s cry today is for his people to “shout with joy.” And he definitely has more than enough reasons for this exuberance: first, “the Lord delivered his people;” second, he “will bring them back from the land of the north;” third, he “will gather them from the ends of the world;” and fourth, he “will console them and guide them.” But I say more … True to form as a true-blooded Israelite, he speaks in terms of concrete symbols and images … “I will lead them to brooks of water, on a level road, so that none shall stumble.”

Hiking up a mountain trail at night is bad enough. But being effectively blind, on top of all this, is even worse.  The trail is by no means “level.” Uncertainty envelops your whole body; and your mind is enwrapped by thoughts of looming disaster just around every invisible bend, unexpected obstacles, and gnarled giant roots and jutting branches of drift wood that at any time can hit you, pierce you, or hurt you in some way.

All the images conjured up by Jeremiah’s words, and those that the blind Bartimaeus reminds us of, speak to me of life as we all have it here and now and everywhere! For at least, two reasons!

First, we all are captive, like the Israelites of old, in some way. We are all on veritable exiles. We are enslaved by our own sinfulness, for one. Our journey through life traverses uneven roads, difficult trails, and tumultuous paths. Most families I know, in this country and beyond, have members in semi-exile in any of the more than 120 countries all over the world where Filipinos are working. You and I know full well, that no matter how even the road might be, no matter how seemingly straight the path looks, “sometimes the runner stumbles.” I know whereof I speak, for up till now, I am not San Pedro Calungsod, nor Lorenzo Ruiz – at least, not yet.

But there is a second reason … we, too, are blind in many and varied ways. We all have blind spots. Often, we do not even see our own motives, and the real reasons why we do what we do. We cannot even predict the future. We face so much uncertainty in our lives. For many of our people, their lives are a daily effort to stretch out what little they get from their meager work, from paycheck to paycheck, with very little, or no real savings whatsoever. For many of us, too, life is pretty much like having to hike an invisible and uncertain trail in pitch darkness, hungry, cold, and unable to see one’s way, and definitely unable to see the summit of our strivings!

But the Gospel is not called “good news” for nothing! It is, indeed, good news worth shouting out for joy. It is good news that would merit literally what, we, indeed, uttered after the first reading: “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.”

If there is anyone who should be disheartened and discouraged, it ought to have been Jeremiah. But no … he spoke of good news. He spoke of a big and noble dream. Of God. For man. For you and me. For the world. “I will lead them […] on a level road, so that none shall stumble.”

The “High Priest” of the second reading got us all covered. He has made it, not only possible, but already a reality. This, he did, by “offering gifts and sacrifices for [our] sins.”

But there was someone else who should have been despondent. Many “rebuked him” according to the gospel. They “told him to be silent.” No one goaded him on. But he persisted and called on the Lord, with hope and faith: “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” It was a prayer of one who was sure that the Lord was his only deliverer and healer. And knowing this, there was nothing, absolutely nothing that could dissuade him from asking that great favor of a lifetime.

Everyone who was with my team in those two occasions up on a dark and dreadful mountain trail knew how much I prayed at a time of need. I know how much I have fallen and failed, not necessarily only during those hikes. I am a sinner. I am, as of last count, still a son of Adam and Eve, in need of light, in need of guidance, in need of a level ground on which to walk steady and sure towards the goal.

But the Lord has done great things for me. I am sure, you, too, can tell your own stories of the little miracles He has done for you. Even now, I walk through valleys and gullies of darkness. Even now, we walk through roads and pathways of uncertainty.

But He calls us. He comes to our rescue. He listens to the plaintive cry of the blind man in you and me. ‘Master, I want to see.” And what do we hear him say? “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”

The Lord as deliverer and healer is with us … He continues to lead us through level roads … so that none shall stumble.

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