Opening the Word: Jesus' saving work

St. Thomas Aquinas, in the third part of his Summa Theologica, explained that “Christ’s manner of life had to be in keeping with the end of his incarnation, by reason of which he came into the world.” The Son became man, wrote the Angelic Doctor, for three essential reasons. First, to “proclaim the truth,” and so he appeared openly and preached in public. Secondly, “he came in order to free men from sin.” And, third, he came that through him “we might have access to God.” 

Jesus, then, came to proclaim, to liberate and to sanctify mankind. These three actions correspond to his work as prophet, king and priest. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, a central text of the Second Vatican Council, states, “All men are called to belong to the new people of God.” In order to gather together his children, God “sent his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, that he might be teacher, king and priest of all, the head of the new and universal people of the sons of God” (No. 13). The same document says, “The eternal Father, by a free and hidden plan of his own wisdom and goodness, created the whole world. His plan was to raise men to a participation of the divine life” (No. 2). 

Today’s readings focus on the Father’s call, the Son’s saving work and man’s response. The prophet Jeremiah, writing during the Assyrian exile about seven centuries before Christ, often delivered messages of chastisement and judgment. But he also proclaimed good news: “The Lord has delivered his people, the remnant of Israel.” This particular passage reiterates the initiative taken by God, who delivers, brings back, gathers, consoles, guides and leads his people. Why? Because, he says, “I am a father to Israel … ” 

The Father, wrote the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, is he who calls and appoints high priests “from among men” so they might “offers gifts and sacrifices for sins.” This was not an honor men could grant themselves, but required God’s beckoning. As Lumen Gentium states, “Fallen in Adam, God the Father did not leave men to themselves, but ceaselessly offered helps to salvation … ” (No. 2). Yet those same high priests, fallen men and sinners, had to make offerings for themselves as well as for the people. So, something more was needed. That something was someone, the Son, who is the perfect and everlasting high priest who “became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Heb 5:9). 

Obedience comes from a heart longing for light and life. Bartimaeus, despite being physically blind, knew Jesus and twice called to him, “Son of David, have pity on me.” Whereas James and John had earlier jostled for positions of glory in the Kingdom (Mk 10:35-45), Bartimaeus simply desired mercy. While the rich young man claimed to recognize the good (Mk 10:17-22), he put his trust in riches. In contrast, Bartimaeus begged to receive sight, yet he had already seen more than most, undeterred by those who tried to quiet his cries of faith. 

Jesus said, “Call him.” His disciples then did so, and he cast off his cloak, a sign of his old life (see Rom 13:12; Eph 4:22). “Master,” he said, “I want to see.” Jesus told Bartimaeus that he was healed — “Go your way.” What way would that be? The way of obedience and discipleship: “Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.”  

Carl E. Olson is the editor of