Representatives Before God
Jesus’ response to Bartimaeus in this Sunday’s gospel, “What do you want me to do for you?” is precisely the response that those who feel powerless hope to receive from those with spiritual power. When Pope Francis visited our nations’ Capitol, even those of us in justice circles who spend our time connecting everyday people with their personal power could nonetheless barely resist every “Pope-ortunity” to clamor like groupies for access during his U.S. visit. Curiously, in the headlines, it seemed that even accessibility itself became a political megaphone. After meeting with Speaker Boehner and a joint session of Congress, Pope Francis skipped their lunch invitations in favor of a meal with the homeless of Washington, DC. While he made time privately to acknowledge the work of bishops and U.S. clergy, he also offered a separate audience to listen to the accounts of sexual abuse victims. He spent considerable time meeting with President Obama, but also made time to greet the Little Sisters of the Poor, who are currently in a legal battle over the Administration’s contraceptive mandate. After a culture war erupted with the revelation of his private meeting with Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, the American public learned of Francis’ longer private audience with Francis’ former student, Yayo Grassi, who happens to be gay, and his partner of 19 years. While debating the political implications of the Pope’s various audiences does have its place in terms of assessing the course expected for a global church, what is perhaps more significant about the Pope’s diverse audiences is how public favorability seemed to take a backseat to Pope Francis’ simple appreciation of the opportunity to encounter individual people. This can be seen pretty clearly in the video encounter of the private meeting with Yayo Grassi’s family, an audience virtually devoid of policy conversations. It is hard to ignore the overwhelming impact this simple meeting had on the mother of a man whose sexual orientation has likely complicated every aspect of his relationship with the Catholic Church. She could not contain the overwhelming implication of the encounter.
Almost 2 years ago, when I had the privilege of meeting President and Mrs. Obama in the Fast For Families tent, I saw nearly the same spontaneous reaction from an undocumented immigrant woman who was granted an audience with the chief executive of the United States. She could not hold back tears as she recounted the struggles that she and her family have encountered while her son was placed in detention to the one man who had the most power to rectify her situation. I also recognized that while the law had not changed at that point, she felt a certain degree of freedom as she embraced him through her tears. Accessibility plays such a key role in the confirmation of faith when it is granted to those who feel powerless, but according to Jesus, faith itself, and not access to a Messiah, is the seat of power. While Bartimaeus no doubt recognized the healing power inherent in access to the pity of Jesus, the desire he expressed in saying “Master I want to see” came from a recognition that God was opening up a door within him that had otherwise seemed impossibly sealed. Jesus’ words themselves (“Go YOUR way”) are an affirmation of the agency of a roadside beggar, which serves in stark contrast to the common perception that the high priest held all of the power. I heard a similar remark from President Obama in the fasting tent when he first expressed his sincere belief that the Speaker wanted to do the right thing in bringing up Comprehensive Immigration Reform for a vote then told the fasters asking for him to halt deportations that they needed to continue to publicly pressure him.
In the Second reading Paul makes it quite clear that every high priest is of the same human race as everyone else. While it is an honor to be a “representative before God,” it is not an honor granted by access to a particularly charismatic or powerful human being, but rather an outward acknowledgement of God’s boundless capacity to be glorified in lifting up regular people to levels of great responsibility. Sadly, when Jeremiah sounds out the Lord’s call to “gather people from the ends of the world,” those who read those very inclusive lines do not hear their name being called among God’s chosen. These are the excluded that Pope Francis so often refers to, the ones who do not know they are children of God (we might well be counted among them!).
With the Pope back in Rome, Congressional leadership in disarray, and a roller coaster presidential race underway, faith in leadership will inevitably decline unless we become able to see faith as leadership. Paradoxically, only the faithful can see faith as power and the faithful as leaders. We don’t need to clamor past Secret Service to access power, because power itself cannot be grasped. To access power we need only read the lines, as if uttered by some divine Uncle Sam, “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you” and believe that the Most High God is making a collect call.
FAN Director of Franciscan Earth Corps
May we hear and have the courage to answer God’s ‘collect call’ in our lives, we pray…
May the faith we hold heal our ‘blindness’ to compassion toward all human beings, we pray…
Almighty ever-living God,
increase our faith, hope and charity,
and make us love what you command,
so that we may merit what you promise.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.