Sunday, October 25, 2015

Bartimaeus's Sight

In today's gospel, Jesus has been on a journey for quite some time now. He's been working his way from Galilee to Jerusalem, and now he's getting close. He's reached Jericho, a town about fifteen miles from Jerusalem. And has he leaves Jericho to get the last leg of the journey done, he gets waylaid by this blind beggar. Now, at the beginning of this journey, Jesus healed another blind man, so this journey has been framed by Jesus healing blind men at the beginning and end of it.

Jesus is passing by, and Bartimaeus has probably heard about this Jesus guy already, and he knows that this is the man he needs. He has one shot and so he can't miss Jesus as he passes by. He starts shouting, he's actually the only person healed in Mark's gospel who calls Jesus by name, but the crowd tries to shush him, but that just makes him shout even more. He calls Jesus "Son of David," which recognizes his royal and powerful heritage.

So Jesus stops, but he doesn't call Bartimaeus or go to him. He makes the crowds, the very ones who were trying to silence Bartimaeus, be the ones who call him forward. So they call him, and the crowds who were trying to silence Bartimaeus have the audacity to tell him to take courage. All along, Bartimaeus has been the one acting courageously in calling out for Jesus. It's the disciples who are afraid of Jesus's mission to go to all the people.

And when Bartimaeus goes to Jesus, Jesus doesn't need to touch him or say anything special to him. Jesus just asks Bartimaeus what he wants. Bartimaeus asks for sight. He knew the one thing he needed and he knew the one person who could give it to him. That's faith. So Jesus says to him, "Go your way; your faith has saved you."

And then this is really interesting. Jesus tells Bartimaeus to, "Go your way," and then after Bartimaeus can see it says he followed Jesus, "on the way." Bartimaeus was so moved by Jesus that he made his way, that is, his life and everything he was about, Jesus's way. He decided to spend his life following Jesus. And indeed, scholars often think that the only reason Bartimaeus would be identified by name was if he had become a part of the Christian movement and would have been someone that the original readers of the gospel would have recognized.

 But Mark, the gospel writer, wants us to draw a connection. He wants us to see that the physical blindness of Bartimaeus is only meant to illustrate the spiritual blindness of the apostles and disciples who are accompanying him. Jesus has been demonstrating time and time again that he has come to save the lost, and yet here again there's a lost person seeking Jesus and the crowd tells him to keep quiet. Even still, the crowd is blind to Jesus's mission and purpose while Bartimaeus understands it quite well.

Faith, Bartimaeus teaches us, consists in recognizing what you need and who can give it to you. What you and I need is forgiveness of our sins, and the one who can give it to us is Jesus. Our sins leave us broken, our sins leave us blind to the good things that God wants to give us. Remember, Bartimaeus's physical blindness should help us recognize our spiritual blindness. We fall into the danger of thinking that we can't bother Jesus with this or that problem, but the truth is that he wants to be bothered!

Or the greater danger that we fall into is thinking that our spiritual blindness isn't that bad. So many of us avoid Confession because we think that we don't have anything we need to apologize for, or we think that Confession just doesn't do any good. My friends, if we want to be healed of our spiritual blindness, if we want to experience the good things that God wants to give us, we need the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Bartimaeus has to be our guide. Bartimaeus wasn't healed by just sitting on the roadside hoping something would happen. He had to get up and go to Jesus. Same for us, we have to go to Jesus if we expect him to heal us, and that happens in Reconciliation.

Jesus wants to be the one who heals you of the sin that blinds you.  Pursue him relentlessly. The world will tell you that it's not worth the fight, or that you're fine the way you are. Don't listen to the world. Cry out for Jesus, chase after him. Once Jesus heals your blindness, then you are free to follow him just as Bartimaeus did. Call out for Jesus, let him heal your blindness.

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