Today in the gospel, we meet a very special person: Bartimaeus, a blind beggar sitting by the side of the road near Jericho which is the last stop on the way to Jerusalem. At first, it may seem that the story of the healing of the blind man is just another miracle narrative demonstrating the power of Jesus. Yet, when we place ourselves in the story and deeply ponder the meaning of the gospel, we see that Mark is summarizing his passages about discipleship by sketching for us a picture of what a true disciple looks like in front of Jesus, and the kind of faith needed to enter into Jesus’ revelation about the Cross and Resurrection.
Mark started his gospel with Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan, which revealed his identity as God’s beloved Son and his mission to call people to repent and believe in the Good News.
At this stage in his public life, Mark pictures Jesus as the wonder-worker and then gradually demonstrates to the readers of the gospel the limitations of such an approach. At the centre point of Mark’s gospel, the confession of Peter, he shows us the utter inadequacy of picturing Jesus as the great miracle producer as he begins to tell the disciples about his own passion, death, and resurrection experience as the way to establish God’s kingdom.
Then in three swiftly moving scenes Mark has Jesus inviting his disciples to see and embrace the suffering, death, and resurrection rhythm found in all of creation as the path to enteral life.
The first is the rich young man who asked Jesus, “what he must do to inherit eternal life?” His desire for goodness has led him to Jesus who he recognized as the Good Teacher; the One who might be able to answer his faith questions in a way that would give his life meaning and purpose. But when invited to become a disciple and relying on God’s providence like Jesus did, he is shocked and walked away.
Next is the story of James and John, who after hearing Jesus speak about his forthcoming passion, death, and resurrection, desired the best places for power and glory in the coming kingdom. They recognized Jesus as the Messiah but were confused about the baptism and way of life Jesus was asking his disciples to accept in order for them to become servants and give their lives as a ransom for many.
And today, we meet Bartimaeus, the blind beggar whose poverty and helpless give him the faith to see and accept the self-surrendering path that Jesus was walking to bring about God’s justice and love in the world.
Bartimaeus must symbolize every Christian. To be sure, not many of Mark’s readers before opening his gospel would have found a blind beggar a fitting image of themselves. But such was Mark’s hope. He would look upon his work as a great success if many, on reading his gospel with an open heart, came to realize the appropriateness of this symbol.
The healing of blindness is a fitting one, for blindness denotes being trapped within oneself. It is indeed a miracle of grace when people can widen their horizon and truly can perceive the heart and soul of others.
Most days we prefer blindness, for it makes far fewer demands upon us. In this state we need to cry out, “My Teacher, let me see again.” The gift of perception, seeing with the eyes of faith, help us in our vocation of following Jesus.
Let me tell you my story about being blind and the gift of perception I received. During the pandemic, the St. Joe’s Supper Table had to change the way it cared for the poor who come to our doors. Instead of an evening meal served indoors, the Supper Table began to provide take-away meals for breakfast, lunch and supper. This generous individual service drew many people to the parish every day, and even had a few who decided to find a place of refuge on the empty spaces around the parish. One individual was not only homeless, a drug addict, and a hoarder but also had a mental impairment. Many times, when I would come to church early in the morning, I would find him spreading all his belongings from one end of the parking lot to the other. Usually, my efforts to have him pack up his things and suggest he find another spot only resulted in both of us becoming frustrated and impatient with one another which would make me feel very troubled and bothered. In a way I felt like the people in today’s gospel who tried to hush the shouting blind beggar when he asked Jesus for help.
As I wrestled with my guilty feeling about my lack of care, I found myself wondering why I saw this stranger as a problem to be dealt with rather than a brother in need. Talk about having your eyes and heart opened! It was a grace moment that when we encountered one another in the same situation, it allowed me to approach this unique individual with dignity and respect, a brother in need and not a problem to be solved. I have learnt his name, have taken time to hear his story and I worry about his safety and well-being. Like Bartimaeus, his poverty is a challenge and a call for me.
Remember in Mark’s gospel, Bartimaeus is not only blind; he is also a beggar. He senses Jesus entering his world and he cries out. He begs at the top of his voice. Such conduct, of course, is hardly dignified and all the proper people try to hush him up. But putting aside all the social pressures of his world, he allows no one to prevent him from telling the Messiah his need.
Understanding need is exactly what Jesus is about. He stops and through the disciples – that is the church – calls the man to him. These disciples call the beggar in a special way; they say: Courage, get up! The church knows how God calls us. God does not want anyone flat on his face; he wants no one to remain crying out for mercy. Healing means standing up. Only after we have the courage to stand and be ourselves will we dare to open our eyes.
Only after the beggar has risen and is standing with dignity and courage does Jesus speak to him. Once more, we hear Jesus ask the question, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus, calls out, “My Teacher, let me see again.” Jesus tells him that vision comes in faith — trusting the power of the kingdom will go with him. As sight comes, the beggar immediately knows what to do. He follows a Saviour who is on the way to Jerusalem.
In our own blindness and poverty, may we have the faith to ask Jesus to let us see again. And may Jesus’ gift of perception, seeing with the eyes of faith, help us to accept the self-surrendering path that Jesus walked in order to bring about God’s justice and love in the world.
Fr. Jim Bleackley, OMI
Pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish, Ottawa