Coming home Jer 31:7-9; Ps 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6; Heb 5:1-6; Mk 10:48-52 The longing to “be at home” — to be at ease surrounded by family and loved ones — is surely one of the deepest desires of the human heart. When I was growing up, due to my father’s work, our immediate family lived away from our hometown of Philadelphia, where all our extended family resided. Heading “home” for Thanksgiving was always a joyful anticipation, even when the reality itself was usually a bit short of complete bliss. Inevitably there would be some arguments among our boisterous Irish clan, and my Aunt Madeleine — a severe maiden — would manage somehow to feel slighted over something. But we kept coming back anyway. The longing to come home has deep biblical roots, as the readings for this Sunday confirm. One of the searing wounds in the collective memory of biblical Israel was the Babylonian exile, when the temple was destroyed and so many Israelites were torn from their homes and became refugees in a foreign land. Here are the roots of the notion of the “diaspora” in Judaism, the “scattering” of Jews into so many foreign lands beyond Israel. Even though it took place in the sixth century before Christ, the later biblical books remembered this event. It took on an even deeper symbolism of the longing of the human heart and the human family for a homeland where they could be safe and at peace. The Scriptures realize that ultimately the only guarantee of such deep peace, or “shalom,” is God’s own presence and redeeming power. That is the message of the exquisite first reading from Jeremiah. The Lord declares, “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. … They departed in tears, but I will console them and guide them; I will lead them to brooks of water, on a level road, so that none shall stumble.” That motif of a joyful return home is picked up in the response from Psalm 126: “When the Lord bought back the captives of Zion, we were like people dreaming. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with rejoicing. ... Those that sow in tears shall reap rejoicing.” The selection from Mark this Sunday is one of this Gospel’s most beloved stories and it, too, has echoes of a homecoming. Jesus is passing through the town of Jericho on the final stage of his fateful journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. A blind man, Bartimaeus, sits by the roadside begging, and when he hears it is Jesus who is passing by he cries out, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” The bystanders try to silence him, but he cries out all the louder. Jesus hears him and stops to speak with him, in words we can all make our own: “‘What do you want me to do for you?’ ‘Master,’ Bartimaeus replies, ‘I want to see.’” Bartimaeus receives his sight and much more. In approaching Jesus, he throws off his beggar’s cloak and embraces a new life. The story concludes with Bartimaeus no longer sitting on the sidelines in despair, but now following Jesus. Bartimaeus had found his way home. Some interpreters have suggested that the notion of bringing people “home” and forging them into a family of love and compassion stands at the very heart of Jesus’ mission. Such images abound in the Gospel: the sick healed and accepted, the poor gathered in and fed, those in sadness consoled, people lost and scattered forgiven and embraced. This notion of bringing people back home from “exile” reveals an essential dimension of our Christian faith. It is not a matter of us simply finding peace and fullness of life, but of the gathering as one family, bounded in love and compassion, recognizing each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. This is the ultimate hope: that we who live in tears will, through the power of God’s love, come home rejoicing.