READINGS:Jeremiah 31:7-9Psalms 126:1-6Hebrews 5:1-6Mark 10:46-52
Few of us, blessedly, would know what it is like to be blind at the time of Jesus. With no social safety nets, it would reduce you to abject poverty, and make you completely dependent on the generosity of others. Whether he was blind from birth, or whether it happened later due to some unfortunate accident, Bartimaeus in today’s gospel was a desperate man. His days were spent beside a well-traveled road (the road between Jericho and Jerusalem) begging for any help that the well-heeled religious people might give him.
Bartimaeus was informed that “Jesus with His disciples and a sizable crowd” would be passing by on their way to Jerusalem. He could hear the approaching crowd, and since he was unable to see, Bartimaeus could only make the assumption that Jesus was part of it. Bartimaeus knew only what he had been told – Jesus was a teacher from Nazareth, who not infrequently would perform “miracles,” unexplainable reversals of fortune where the lame would walk and the blind would regain their sight. While he had no way of independently proving that the stories were true, his desperate state had nothing to lose if he just annoyingly cried out with incessant frequency: “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”
Bartimaeus was, to most, nothing but an annoying beggar, “and many rebuked him, telling him to be silent,” but this was the chance of a lifetime, and so he “called out all the more, ‘Son of David, have pity on me.” Bartimaeus knew that many so-called religious people just walked by without stopping, never sharing from their wealth even a small token that could make his life easier, but Bartimaeus sensed that this time would be different.
No one in need escapes the notice of Jesus, and while His predicted fate lies closer than ever, He has time for one last miracle in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus tells His disciples to bring Bartimaeus forward: “Call him.” Jesus simply asks “what do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus’ heart must have pounded deep within his chest; he had waited what seemed like a lifetime for such an opportunity, but there was no time for the back story. Bartimaeus simply said, with the greatest of deference: “Master, I want to see.” With no flashes of lightening, Jesus assures him that “his faith [in Jesus] had saved him,” and he was free to “go on his way” as a reborn man with the precious gift of sight.
Notice that Bartimaeus doesn’t go on his way. He chooses to stay with the crowd, savoring sights that he could only imagine. Among his first sights is the face of the man who cured him, the gentle face of the man he knew in his heart was his “Master,” and who he suspected to be the Messiah (“Son of David” is a messianic title). Bartimaeus chose to follow Jesus along the way to Jerusalem, and very soon Bartimaeus would see the crowd grow bigger, and after placing Jesus on a donkey, he would see people, lots of people, strewing palm fronds on the ground before Jesus. But those wonderful sights would not last long, and soon Bartimaeus would be wishing he couldn’t see the scorn leveled at the kind and gentle man who restored his sight. Indeed, they would even nail his Savior to a cross, something that seemed too wrong for a person who was clearly so good.
We will never know what happened to Bartimaeus after the crucifixion scattered the disciples and sent them running for locked doors. But we do know that Bartimaeus’ encounter with Jesus was enough for Bartimaeus to follow Jesus to Jerusalem, where his faith would be tested alongside that of the disciples. I would like to think that the courage that caused Bartimaeus to approach Jesus, is the same courage that helped him survive the chaos of those three days in Jerusalem. Indeed, I would like to hope that Bartimaeus became a noteworthy witness to the gospel, and that he led others to recognize that this itinerant preacher from Nazareth was the very Son of God.
We are all so much like Bartimaeus, blind to so much that surrounds us, and in the course of ordinary days we call out to Jesus “have pity on us” and answer our prayers. Day after day the world we live in appears more troubled, many that we love become sick and infirm, and so many friends seem to be overwhelmed by the struggles of life. There is so much to pray for! We cry out “have pity on us,” but the day is too full for a real encounter with Jesus. Like Bartimaeus, Jesus wants us to come to Him, and He wants us to see as God sees, who notices the poor and the needy, the confused and the broken, those who have been deliberately led astray, those who have no faith to support them. Our encounters with Jesus help us to keep going while seeing things differently. In dramatic unfoldings, in the quietest moment of a single day, Jesus beckons us to come to Him. Let us make time for Him in our lives, in order that our faith in Him will grow ever stronger, and that faith, just as it did for Bartimaeus, will “save” us and bring us to wherever our “road to Jerusalem” ends.