Once upon a time there was an old man who lived on the island of Crete, which is located in the Mediterranean Sea. All people love their homeland, and this was especially true for this man; in fact, so deep was his love for his island of Crete that when he was about to die, he had his sons carry him outside and lay him on the ground. As the last act of his life, he reached down and clutched some of his homeland’s sacred soil in his right hand, and then died a happy man. He found himself outside the gates of heaven, where God, in the appearance of an old, white-bearded man, greeted him and said, “Welcome! You’ve been a good man, so please enter into the joys of heaven.” However, as the man was about to go through the gates, God said, “Please, you must let go of the soil.” “Never!” shouted the man, and so he was left outside heaven while God sadly went back in alone. A few eons went by, and God came back, this time in the appearance of one of the man’s lifelong friends. They reminisced about old times and told some stories, and then God said, “All right, my friend, time to go inside—but you have to let go of the soil.” “No, I can’t!” the man shouted, and again he was left outside the gates of heaven.
More eons went by, and again God came out, this time under the appearance of the old man’s lovable and playful granddaughter. “Grandpa!” she said. “You’re so wonderful, and we all miss you. Please come inside with me.” The old man nodded agreement, and she helped him up, for he had grown very ancient and arthritic. In fact, he was so weak that as they reached the gates, his strength gave out, and his hand unintentionally dropped the soil of his native Crete that he had been clutching for so long, and the wind scattered it and blew it away. The old man grieved, but this loss allowed him to enter into heaven empty-handed—and he passed through the heavenly gates, he suddenly realized he was once again young and vigorous, and the first thing he saw in heaven was his beloved island of Crete, more beautiful and perfect than ever before (William J. Bausch, Telling Stories, Compelling Stories, p. 13). It’s a natural desire, and temptation, to try to hold onto the things that are dearest to us, but Jesus calls us to place everything—without exception—into His hands, and when we do this, we discover something amazing: whatever we give to God, we receive back in an even more wonderful way.
The bolder we are in trusting in God, the more completely we’re able to experience His blessings. Bartimaeus (Mk 10:46-52) provides us with a wonderful example of this. It wasn’t just the fact that he called out to Jesus in a spirit of faith, believing that the Lord could heal him, nor the fact that he kept on calling out and ignored the people telling him to be silent. The blind man’s holy boldness is shown by the fact that, when the people told him “Get up, Jesus is calling you,” Bartimaeus threw aside his cloak and got up immediately. We might not realize it, but throwing aside his cloak was a radical act. As a poor beggar, this was his one possession, serving as his sleeping mat, bed, source of warmth, and security blanket. Bartimaeus didn’t take his time and carefully fold up his cloak, or ask someone to hold onto it for him, or even carry it with him; he threw it aside in his eagerness to seize the opportunity of meeting Jesus. His great faith was rewarded, for the Lord restored his sight—and then Bartimaeus followed Jesus down the road. Those who trust in God are never disappointed; as the 1st Reading tells us, the Lord is a father to His people, caring for the blind and lame, consoling those who are mourning, and guiding and protecting the weak and powerless. Moreover, as the Letter to the Hebrews (5:1-6) tells us, Jesus, our great high priest, deals patiently with the ignorant and erring, for He personally under-stands the weakness of our human condition. All that’s necessary is for us to trust Him.
We often hear it said that God is never outdone in generosity, with these words used in the context of promoting tithing or sacrificial giving. Those who take the risk of giving the first 10% of their income to God discover that their financial needs are somehow miraculously taken care of. However, this principle also applies to other areas of life. For instance, we should spend time every day in prayer or Scripture reading—at least half-an-hour, and preferably a full hour. To that, the common response would be, “I’d like to, but I just don’t have the time.” However, we might be able to make the time by tossing aside our comfortable routine—maybe by getting up half-an-hour earlier, or spending half-an-hour less in the evening in front of the TV or on the internet. If we make that sacrifice for God, we’ll receive back far more than we’ve given up by finding a new peace, purpose, and joy in life. Also, if we like to be in charge of things at home, at work, or in our relationships with others, we might try letting go of our need for control and instead giving other people a chance to blossom and be appreciated; this can result in much deeper and richer relationships. In addition, the Lord invites us to let go of our need always to win, or always be right in discussions, or always have the last word in arguments, and instead experience the freedom that comes with humility and acceptance. Furthermore, if there’s something worthwhile we’ve felt called to do, but have held back out of fear, we can toss aside our worries and step forward with God’s help; such an act of faith can be the key that unlocks the door to unexpected blessings.
Just as Bartimaeus cast aside his cloak, we’re called to throw away our suspicions of others, our dislikes and prejudices, our past hurts and sense of failure, our stubbornness and pride, our need to have everything our own way, plus all the good things in life we cling to too tightly, and anything else that keeps us from truly seeing and accepting God’s love. Our Lord promises that if we make this effort, we will be richly blessed—and if Bartimaeus were here right now, he’d look each of us in the eye and nod his vigorous agreement.
As the old man from Crete discovered, it’s good to love our earthly homeland, but we’re never truly at home until we’re in the Kingdom of God—and arriving there is worth whatever sacrifices we have to make. Even if we love God with all our hearts, His love for us in infinitely greater, and so our expressions of love and trust will be met with a divine response beyond all our imagining.