30th Sunday Ordinary Time
A Homily - B Cycle - 2002-2003
First Reading - Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm - 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
Second Reading - Hebrews 5:1-6
Gospel - Mark 10:46-52
Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say "Jesus, son of David, have pity on me." And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, "Son of David, have pity on me." Jesus stopped and said, "Call him." So they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you." He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. Jesus said to him in reply, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man replied to him, "Master, I want to see." Jesus told him, "Go your way, your faith has saved you." Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.
We've all experienced to a greater or lesser degree the effects of any physical infirmity. Physical infirmities not only limit our activity, but also limit our range of options. Ask any athlete and they will tell you that even a slight injury can hamper them from performing at peak level. But even for the average person who is injured, even the simplest of tasks are things that we suddenly have to think about and we find ourselves having to scale back, to avoid further injury and thus cause more pain. In fact, the greater one's physical infirmity, the greater one can feel marginalized - you can get the sense that one is lost in a world that seems to make sense to just about everyone else but you.
The blind man in our Gospel today, was just such a person - marginalized by his blindness - a truly serious physical infirmity. Consider for a moment that there were no social security or government programs for him to fall back upon and you begin to see how limiting his disability really was. He was expected, like everyone else, to earn a living, somehow. And yet, normal physical work for wages was impossible. So, society expected him to do what he did - find a corner at a busy intersection, sit on the ground and beg. Unless his parents were wealthy and in a position to leave him an inheritance, life would mean a never-ending dependence on begging for alms with absolutely no means for escape. This blind man found himself at the bottom rung of society, so much so, that he had to sit on the ground - a totally denigration of his human dignity. In fact, our Gospel doesn't even give us his name. "Bartimaeus" literally means "Son of Timaeus" - again, he is portrayed as a nobody.
Of course, this will all change when Bartimaeus discovers that Jesus is passing by. We can assume that Jesus heard his cry because the other persons along the road were telling Bartimaeus to keep quiet. Jesus does not respond right away. Rather, he gives Bartimaeus an opportunity to express his great faith. This is the first time in Mark's Gospel where Jesus is recognized as the Messiah by a flesh and blood human being, not by a demon. When demons recognized Jesus it was because they were enemies. When Bartimaeus recognizes Jesus, it is because the blind man senses that Jesus is His only source of hope - the same source of hope that the prophet Jeremiah in our first reading foretold would gather the blind and the lame from the far corners of the earth. Bartimaeus makes a great act of faith here - the very first one that a human being makes in the Gospel of St. mark-more than halfway through the gospel.
We should put ourselves at the scene. Recall that immediately before this scene in the Gospel, Jesus had asked James and John what they wanted from him. They wanted positions of power and honor at the side of Jesus when He should enter into His kingdom. Now, Jesus turns to Bartimaeus and asks him what HE wants and he gets a simple response - "I want to see." Note that the healing that occurs here makes no use of extra elements like mud or saliva or physical gestures, as Jesus had used in other similar healings. Here, Jesus wants to make sure that the onlookers realize that it is Bartimaeus' act of faith itself that has brought on the cure.
As is often the case in the gospels, a single person, like Bartimaeus, symbolizes something far greater and more extensive. Here, Bartimaeus stands for the entire human race, locked into - not physical blindness - but spiritual blindness - cut off from the light; prisoners to sin; to selfishness - to ambition, lost in a dark land with no signposts and with no way out. Persons who are spiritually blind can't understand suffering; they are unmoved by the plight of others and they can be indifferent and cold to the needs of the disadvantaged. The spiritually blind person only sees God insofar as He is useful to them, like a good-luck charm you call upon when you're down on your luck. The spiritually blind person is relatively unconcerned with what God is trying to do in their life - they just don't get it. I often found this in my experience of working with certain couples that I helped prepare for marriage. At times, their resistance to a total openness to life and their implied desire to resort to contraception in their marriage belied a blindness that couldn't even begin to see the traps that they were falling into. Isn't it sometimes the case that we tell our Lord that we want healing from our blindness, but not yet? Not now? We don't really want to see because that will mean our lives will have to change and we like our sins to the degree that we're unwilling to cooperate with God's grace to be free of them. On the other hand, Bartimaeus wanted to see - really, to see and to accept all the consequences of what that would mean. Keep in mind that Bartimaeus would probably have seen our Lord die at Calvary. Seeing has its price because discipleship costs us. And yet how great in the reward for those who are faithful to the very end?
For Bartimaeus, his faith radically changes his life and it open him up to new possibilities. St. Mark wants us to understand that the same kind of faith can change our lives as well. Life can acquire a new meaning, a new direction. Life lived for Jesus and not merely for ourselves and what we can get out of this life will open us to the fullest expression of our humanity and we will discover who we truly are. We will then find ourselves in the company of Bartimaeus, having left our personal prisons behind, embarking on a new life of discipleship - as we too follow Jesus, up the road.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever, Amen.
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