THIRTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2018)
As the captain of a British slave ship, John Newton regained his faith during a storm at sea, another place, like fox holes, where there are few atheists. Newton eventually became an ordained minister who was very active in the abolitionist movement. He explains how he gained his “spiritual eyesight” in his famous hymn, Amazing Grace.
How sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found,
was blind but now I see.
Today’s Gospel, which tells of the healing of the blind man, Bartimaeus, challenges us to strengthen our faith in Jesus, the healer, and invites us to long for the true “spiritual vision” which is more valuable than physical sight.
The story of the healing of Bartimaeus is significant in Mark’s gospel. Bartimaeus is the second person to be healed of blindness in Mark’s gospel, the first taking place in Bethsaida, and occurring in chapter eight, just before Jesus’ first Passion prediction. The blind healing stories almost serve as bookends to everything that has been proclaimed over the last seven Sundays.
The Bartimaeus story’s placement here in Mark’s gospel, right before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem [the place they have been traveling to for weeks now], appears to be commentary on much that has gone before. Bartimaeus stands in stark contrast to the apostles, who, while not being robbed of their physical sight, are unable to see Jesus in the way that Bartimaeus “sees” Jesus. Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus from his personal darkness with a distinctively messianic title: “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” The persistence of Bartimaeus in the face of those who would quiet him, shows that his insight was far greater than that of the apostles. On previous Sundays we have witnessed the blindness of the disciples manifested in their inability to understand the kind of Messiah that Jesus would be, a shortcoming responsible for the disciples’ unbridled ambition seen in last Sunday’s gospel. Even without physical sight, Bartimaeus is able to recognize Jesus as the long awaited Messiah, and, unlike the disciples, his sole desire is not power, prestige, or riches. Bartimaeus simply wants “to see,” and his faith tells him that Jesus is the one who can make that happen.
The curing of Bartimaeus is simple in comparison to the previous blind healing in Mark (8:22ff.). There was no spittle, no second attempt, no admonition to “not go into the village.” Jesus simply asks Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus simply answers: “Master, I want to see.” Bartimaeus’ faith and confidence that Jesus could accomplish what he asked for was enough. “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” With his sight, his way became that of Jesus, and he “followed him on the way.”
We would love to know more about Bartimaeus. Was he in the crowd waving palm branches when Jesus entered Jerusalem? Did he watch Jesus stumble with His cross on the way to Calvary? Was his faith shaken when “darkness came over the whole land” on that Friday we call “Good”? Alas, we will never know. What we can safely assume, is that Bartimaeus’ encounter with Jesus did, most assuredly, change his life for the better. It was not solely the restoration of his physical sight that made his life better. It was the entire encounter with Jesus which filled Bartimaeus with the conviction that “the Lord had done great things for” him, and he was “glad indeed.”
Our encounters with Jesus are meant to be personal and deeply moving. Like Bartimaeus, we are meant to hear and see Jesus in the darkness of our contemporary world, and that can only be accomplished with a strong faith. Indeed, the distractions all around us, the deafening sound of voices other than that of Jesus, and our natural aversion to embracing the cross, all make it especially challenging to find Jesus in our world. We must believe that the God who deigned to come into our world, taking on human flesh in order to save us, left this world with the promise that His Spirit would remain with us. It was Bartimaeus’ darkest moments which gave birth, not to despair, but to the strongest of faiths. If our nation, our Church, our neighborhoods or parish seem troubled, it is all the more reason to work harder at seeing with the eyes of faith. In our prayer, personal and sacramental, may our desire be that of Bartimaeus: “Master, that I may see!” See with the eyes of faith! See the way that God sees! Seeing Christ in every place and in every person that we encounter, no matter the difficulty.