One of the most inspiring symbols in the Old Testament is “the remnant.” It comes up in various contexts related to the exile. The Assyrians and Babylonians have conquered Israel. The leaders are all led into exile. Both at home and in exile, the Israelites are giving up, blending in with their conquerors. But a remnant remains, a small crew who are still faithful.
It’s an inspiring image because we often feel like a remnant. It feels like so many have given up hope, given up faith. In fact, we need to feel like a remnant, to try to be more faithful than the many.
But this Sunday’s readings teach us a little about what it really means to be part of the remnant.
Jeremiah is classic Exile literature. Our reading this week is about the remnant: “Shout with joy for Jacob, exult at the head of the nations; proclaim your praise and say: the Lord has delivered his people, the remnant of Israel.”
We should rejoice to be among the chosen few, the band of brothers, the remnant. But here’s the key, the part we sometimes forget: “the Lord has delivered.”
God says, “Behold, I will bring them back from the land of the north” (that is, from Assyria and Babylon). But so often, in our heroism, we forget that he says, “I will,” and get a little too excited about our own heroism.
He continues: “I will gather them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst.” The image is important: the remnant comes staggering home from exile to rebuild the kingdom – and they come limping. It is not the strong who come. The blind and the lame remind us that the battle belongs to the Lord. They have been defeated. But he is stronger.
With them come “the mothers and those with child.” The image works on two levels. First, they are another symbol of weakness. Pregnant women are not warriors. They have not conquered, God has.
And yet the new life they bring is the most perfect sign of restoration.
This is us, the remnant. Not the strong and the heroic. Merely those who are saved.
We come limping – and our limping is a sign of God’s strength, made perfect in our weakness.
We come as families. But family makes us limp all the more. We have no strength to conquer our enemies. But the Lord is our strength, and in our children, in our pregnancies, in our weakness is the perfect sign of restoration.
This Sunday’s Psalm contains the line, “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the torrents in the southern desert.”
I share this video.
It is a sign of resurrection, of strength not our own.
The Gospel is blind Bartimaeus. It’s an interesting scene: there is “a sizable crowd.” And there is a blind man who “sat by the roadside begging.” He could not see Jesus; he had no resources for knowing about Jesus; and he could not make his way through the crowd. And he is the one who is saved.
My friends, serious Catholics talk a lot about rebuilding the culture, or converting the culture. That’s fine.
But I think too often we trust in kings. We think that what we really need is impressive people converting impressive people, with lots of impressive resources.
Bartimaeus was not an impressive person. Those who rebuilt Israel were not impressive. Our impressive resource is the power of God. Our impressive people are the meek and the humble and the poor: people like Mary and Joseph. No ones.
The poor are so critical to rebuilding the culture, because it is by the poor that we measure whether we really believe in the power of God, or whether we talk a bit talk but are “practical atheists,” who think everything depends on our cleverness.
The only Christian civilization is the one built around people like Bartimaeus.
And, at the center, the Crucified.
In our reading from Hebrews, we see Jesus, our high priest. “He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and the erring.” He has taken on our sins, and comes among us.
And “it was not Christ who glorified himself,” but his glory is in “the one who said to him, You are my son: this day I have begotten you.”
Let us be the remnant not of the clever and amazing, but of those who put all our trust in the God of Jesus Christ.
In what ways are you tempted to think the most important Christians are the most impressive?