The prophet Jeremiah’s life experience was often marked with pain and heartache as he watched the Jewish people fall to the rising empires around them. His life would end knowing of the sad fall of Jerusalem in the late 500s B.C. and the exile of most of his people to a distant land. He would find himself carried off to Egypt by others, in order to escape this coming destruction.
In his records one can read that this suffering purified inwardly. To console his kinsmen, God granted Jeremiah the vision of a future restoration of God’s people that would “gather them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst … on a level road, so that none shall stumble.”
The exile of the Jews was an image of the greater exile of all humanity through the tragedy of sin. Each of us knows this exile well. It is into this exile of sin, with all its spiritual and material consequences, that God personally, through Jesus the Son, will come to lead his people back home to himself. This truth is at the heart of the Letter to the Hebrews, written after the resurrection.
In today’s second reading, the Jewish high priest is described as a sinner like all of us, and although he can empathize with our weakness, he is unable to take away sin and must rely on the inadequate sacrificed blood of animals.
Christ is the sinless high priest, appointed by the Father, who can offer himself as the perfect sacrifice for sin, innocent and undefiled. This sacrificial offering is accepted and loved and thus places Christ uniquely in the position of being able to lead a spiritually exiled sinful people back to the Father through his very self. We are the people of Jeremiah’s vision.
Some elements of this present exile are particularly bitter, as experienced in the blindness of the man Bartimaeus. Blindness is evidence that the fall did not only have spiritual consequences but also material ones. In the miracle of the restoration of sight we see the Lord’s desire to not only restore the fallen human heart, but also the fallen physical world. Ours will one day be a complete restoration of body and soul.
Where do you feel the lingering effects of humanity’s inherited chosen exile from God? Some effects are a result of our own folly and others come to us through our common humanity. We too cry out, “Son of David, have pity on me.” He hears us. When we come to him through a turning of our heart in prayer, a willingness to be anointed or to go to confession, he is able to even further our restoration begun at Baptism.
It is a restoration that will be completed on the other side of life. Knowing that our restoration day will come in fullness allows us to even now exhibit Christian peace and joy.
Questions for reflection
1. Where have I experienced the exile?
2. Where has my restoration begun?
3. Do I portray the peace of one returning home?
Fr. Vander Steeg is pastor of St. Mary Parish, Greenville, and St. Edward Parish, Mackville.