“And they should be glad when they live among the poor and the powerless, the sick and the lepers and the beggars on the side of the road.” So St. Francis told his brothers. I think that Francis says this not just so that the brothers will learn to be compassionate and generous with those in need. More importantly, Francis is urging them to open themselves to learn the ways of God from those who often know them best: the poor, the blind, the lame.
In the last Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 10:46-52), of all the crowd that follows Jesus, it is the poor, blind beggar Bartimaeus who shows most clearly what it means to have faith. The crowd only looked at him as a nuisance and tried to shut him up; then as an object of pity, telling him not to be afraid. Bartimaeus was not intimidated or distracted by them: he kept yelling until he was heard by Jesus, and then leapt to his feet when Jesus responded and called him. He even left behind the only little bit of security he had in the world: his cloak. And when Bartimaeus receives what he thought was most important, his sight, he uses it to do what he discovers is even more important: following Jesus down the road. Thank God he didn’t listen to the crowd and shut up, content to let Jesus go by without making any waves. Rather, Bartimaeus was called to show to all that crowd, and to us, what it means to have faith.
Such faith reminds us that we never know through whom God is going to speak, so we have to learn how to listen well. And Francis said that this begins with the poor and the lepers and those who live by the side of the road. They can teach us what real faith and perseverance is.
I have experienced this in my life, though I always need to be reminded of it. I found that it is good to reflect also on what we heard from the prophet Jeremiah in Sunday’s first reading. The Lord through the prophet says that he will lead the people: “Behold, I will bring them back from the land of the north; I will gather them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst, the mothers and those with child.” The pace of any group is set by the slowest members. Yet, right in the middle God will place the blind and the lame, the mothers and those with child. Those who are least able for the journey are set in the middle, not only to be protected, but also to set the pace! We are usually inclined to see anyone who holds us back or slows us down as a nuisance and a hindrance, just as the crowd considered that annoying blind beggar, Bartimaeus. Yet, by the grace of God and the persistence of his faith, he set the pace.
God tells us: My ways are not your ways. I pray that with Francis we can learn to leave our ways behind and, like Bartimaeus, walk in His ways, following Him down the road.
Peace and Good!