From them came forth a sinful root, Antiochus Epiphanes, son of King Antiochus; he had been a hostage in Rome. He began to reign in the one hundred thirty-seventh year of the kingdom of the Greeks. In those days certain renegades arose in Israel and misled many, saying, "Let us make a covenant with the Gentiles around us, for since we separated from them many disasters have come upon us." This proposal pleased them, and some of the people eagerly went to the king, who authorized them to observe the ordinances of the Gentiles. So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to Gentile custom, and removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant. They joined with the Gentiles and sold themselves to do evil.
Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, and that all should give up their particular customs. All the Gentiles accepted the command of the king. Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath.
Now on the fifteenth day of Chislev, in the one hundred forty-fifth year, they erected a desolating sacrilege on the altar of burnt offering. They also built altars in the surrounding towns of Judah, and offered incense at the doors of the houses and in the streets. The books of the law that they found they tore to pieces and burned with fire. Anyone found possessing the book of the covenant, or anyone who adhered to the law, was condemned to death by decree of the king. But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. Very great wrath came upon Israel.
As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, "Jesus of Nazareth is passing by." Then he shouted, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, "What do you want me to do for you?" He said, "Lord, let me see again." Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has saved you." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.
The first reading describes the crisis leading to the rebellion of the Maccabees against the paganising of Israel in the second century bce. Antiochus of Syria wanted his Jewish subjects to conform to all the Hellenistic ways of the surrounding nations, abandoning their religious traditions in order to embrace the ways of modernity. This historical overview has many echoes in today's Ireland, where some seem hell-bent on imposing a new, secularist lifestyle and worldview.
The blind man at the Jericho gate longed for the fuller life that restoration of his sight would allow him, so he asked Jesus strongly, "Lord, that I may see!" whether or not he was aware that receiving his sight would involve new demands for him, new responsibilities to family and friends, he was willing to take his chances. Then, having received back his sight, he began to follow Jesus "giving glory to God." His life was given a new focus. Now he could see his wife and children, his friends and surroundings, as treasured gifts. The shining sun, the palm trees around the oasis, the birds gliding in the sky, the bees that buzzed in his garden, this whole new world was received in wonder as he followed Jesus along the way.
Our own conversion may not be as total or dramatic, but we should still pray for the spiritual sight to see the world and others as God's blessing, and to see by what ways the Lord is leading us--and his church--right here and now.
There is something endearing about the blind man in today's gospel. He has that great quality of persevering prayer. When he turned towards Jesus and prayed, "Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me," the people around Jesus scolded him and told him to keep quiet. But in the face of this obstacle, he simply shouted all the louder, "Son of David, have pity on me." He wasn't going to be put off his prayer by other people's intolerance of him. He models for us what persevering prayer looks like. This man's prayer was driven by his need to see again. Very often our own heartfelt prayer of petition is driven by some very deep need within us. In bringing that need to the Lord we allow him to engage with it and respond to it, just as Jesus responded to the need of the blind man when he brought his need to Jesus in prayer. The blind man did not cease to pray when he was healed. His prayer changed. The gospel reading tells us that "he followed Jesus praising God." His prayer of petition changed to a prayer of praise. The prayer of praise may not come as naturally to us as the prayer of petition. But we all have something to praise and thank God for. The blind man teaches us not to forget to enter into this kind of prayer, in response to all the ways the Lord has blessed us and continues to bless us.