Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 28, 2018)
Today, we hear mark’s account of Jesus’ last healing miracle before he goes to his suffering and death in Jerusalem. It took place in suburban Jericho, a city located in the Jordan River valley near the lowest point on planet earth, almost 800 feet below sea level. Jericho is only fifteen miles from Jerusalem, which is located in the Judean high country. That is why the Gospel always speaks of “going up to Jerusalem” --- from any direction.
As Jesus begins his long, uphill trek to Jerusalem, a blind beggar is sitting by the roadside. The beggar is a man of desperate desire. His name is Bartimaeus. Why are we told his name? We are not told the names of the man with the unclean spirit, the paralytic lowered thru the roof, or even peter’s mother-in-law.
Bartimaeus knew what he wanted. He calls out. “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” “Many” try to hush him. “Gatekeepers around some people existed in Jesus’ day as well as our own. Jesus calls for him and cures him. Jesus tells him: “Go your way.” Why is Bartimaeus the only name we have of a person Jesus healed in this Gospel? Let us see.
Well, he calls Jesus by his given name, Jesus. Unique. He calls Jesus “son of David” - a messianic title, Jesus interprets this heartfelt, personal greeting as faith and tells him, “Your faith has saved you.”
Mark tells us that Bartimaeus “followed [Jesus] on his way, mark’s way of saying he became Jesus’ disciple. Another first: Bartimaeus is the only example in all the gospels of a cured person becoming a disciple. The others went home in awe to begin a new life of health with their loved ones. We do not blame them for going back. But, the decision to go forward, toward someone completely new and virtually unknown is Bartimaeus’ daring choice.
A simple story, yet it is singular in many ways. Unlike last week’s gospel where James and john wanted glory alongside Jesus, Bartimaeus wants mercy and calls Jesus “master,” a word that disciples use to address their teacher and follow him.
Jesus did not come primarily to heal the physically blind, but to facilitate spiritual insight. Jesus often used physical blindness as a metaphor for spiritual blindness as when he called the Pharisees, “blind guides.”
As a curious aside, in an interview, Ray Charles said that if God offered him his sight back, he wouldn’t take it. Why? Because, he said, “sometimes beautiful people are not packaged very beautifully. But you don’t know this when you are blind. When one of my children crawls onto my lap if I could see, I would probably see dirt on his clothes or shoes. And I would probably say, “Go clean your clothes before you crawl onto my lap, but I don’t see my child as cleaned up or not cleaned up. I only feel my child as ninety pounds of love.” Ray Charles may have physical blindness, but here enjoys spiritual, 20/20 insight.
The blind can’t form first impressions by eyeballing. The physically blind are not deceived by what sighted people think they see. Perhaps we need to ask, “ Who is really blind, after all? Sometimes we rely so much on physical sight that we tend to see only the surface of things. Reality can be so different from appearance.
Each of us is blind in some respect. We may not see from the heart into the heart. Francis de sales said so well: “ Lips speak only to ears; hearts speak to hearts.” Let us look into our hearts, try to be open and ask Jesus to heal our blindness for the hearts of others.
Bartimaeus was probably still present when the story was told in the early church. How else would they remember his name by the time this gospel was written? Bartimaeus is a Christian hero. We can wonder why there are not statues of him in churches that have statues?
Those 15 miles, uphill, must have been easy for Bartimaeus after his more significant, inward journey. Let’s revel in his journey within and join him in renewed faith, gratitude, and loyalty to our sight-giving Jesus.