Jer 31:7-9; Heb 5:1-6; Mk 10:46-52
“MASTER, LET ME SEE AGAIN.”
Today’s gospel contains the last healing miracle in the Gospel of Mark. After it, Jesus enters Jerusalem to the acclamation of the crowd, an event that we commemorate on Palm Sunday. He begins his short ministry in Jerusalem which is marked by controversies over his authority, and which in their turn would lead inevitably and speedily to the events of his passion and death. Mark uses this incident in Jericho of the restoration of the sight of Bartimaeus to stress that Jesus is truly THE MESSIAH. This is why he makes a point of recording that Bartimaeus addresses Jesus as the Son of David. In an unusual manner, Mark records the name of the man involved and the precise location of this particular healing. These records are not meant merely to satisfy our curiosity. Each detail has a specific significance for our faith-journey, as Christians.
- THE NAME “BARTIMAEUS”
Mark tells us that the blind man’s name was Bartimaeus. (Luke does not give him a name.) In Hebrew, “Bartimaeus” means, “son of garbage” or “son of filth”. This man was blind, discriminated against because of his name and he had to beg in order to survive. He had to be resilient in order to cope. This is the type of person through whom we receive enlightenment for our faith!
In the time of Jesus, beggars commonly spread their cloaks on the ground to catch the coins chucked down to them by passers-by. In the text it says that when Christ called him, Bartimaeus threw off his cloak, jumped up and went to Jesus. By this simple action, Mark points out how Bartimaeus threw aside material things and went straight to Jesus. His eagerness is further highlighted by the fact that he jumped up, not slowly getting to his feet with stiff joints after sitting so long by the wayside. No! He leapt to his feet and left his material possessions (and his frustrations) behind on the ground.
Like most people who have lost one sense, the others senses tend to become more sharpened. Bartimaeus sat at the gate because it was a busy place. As a blind beggar, he was familiar with the sound of foot traffic. This was a good time of year for beggars because the crowds were traveling through Jericho on the way to Jerusalem for Passover. It was like “Christmas Spirit” of today, with lots of bustling and hustling. This day something was going on. The traffic was greater and there was a sense of excitement in the sounds of the day. Bartimaeus asked, “What’s going on?” He was told that “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” His eyes were dead but God had gifted him with a first class set of lungs (he could use them for shouting!). Immediately he started to yell, “Son of David have mercy on me!”
- “SON OF DAVID, HAVE MERCY ON ME!”
In Mark’s Gospel, apart from Peter’s famous declaration, “You are the Christ”, at Caesarea Philippi and the recognition by the demoniacs, one of whom called Jesus “Son of the Most High God”, Bartimaeus is the only one who addresses Jesus with any kind of Messianic title. Mark uses the irony of the fact that it is a blind man who recognizes Jesus’ true identity in order to bring the story of Jesus’ ministry before the entry into Jerusalem to a suitable conclusion. Where the disciples failed, Bartimaeus succeeded!
It is worth noting that Bartimaeus was told, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by” yet he responded “SON OF DAVID, have mercy on me”. In other words, he was calling to the One whom he believed was the Savior. Herewith, the prophecy of Jerimiah, in the first reading of today is being fulfilled: that the Lord will lead the BLIND and the lame back the Promised Land. This is similar to the prediction of Isaiah: “In that day the deaf will hear words read from a book, and the blind will see through the gloom and darkness.” (Is 29:18). Even at the conclusion of the long reflection on the healing of the Man Born Blind in the John 9, Jesus says, “I came so that those who are blind may see.” The great days that Jeremiah and Isaiah had prophesied had begun. Perhaps Bartimaeus had heard the stories of the people that Jesus healed. Perhaps he had heard of the teachings of Jesus. Maybe he thought to himself, if only this Jesus could pass by my way then I too could be healed . . . I could see. When Jesus passed by, he was not going to miss out on this opportunity.
Mark is further telling us quite simply that THE BLIND SEE MORE THAN THOSE WITH SIGHT. It is a great affliction to be blind, but perhaps the very lack of sight can distance a person from the glamour of the material world. Perhaps the blind can get a better perspective on what is really important in life. We frequently judge other people in terms of their physical beauty and ignore the beauty that lies within. The media and the advertising business are constantly glamorizing people. Celebrities are groomed to have a certain look. They go to great lengths to look good. Cosmetic surgeons have never had it so good! Appearance is everything. If it were not like this, beauty magazines and certain body-care shops would soon go out of business.
And not only people, THINGS ALSO! Today, everything has to look good to be considered worth buying. Quality often counts for nothing. In fact, real quality in a product is a handicap for the salespeople because if a product lasts a long time then there will be only one sale, but if it only lasts a short time then there will be two or even more sales. Our sight gets in the way. Mark is certainly right; sometimes THE BLIND SEE FAR BETTER THAN WE DO.
We are well aware that we live in a material world. But faith is not something material. Indeed, in order to find faith we must quite literally leave the material world behind or to use Mark’s analogy TO SEE BEYOND THE MATERIAL WORLD. Bartimaeus becomes a picture of what real faith looks like.
- THE TRUE NATURE OF FAITH
From Bartimaeus’ story, we can get to know the nature of faith. Jesus tells him at the end of the encounter: “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” This means that the man received his sight back by the merit of his faith. We tend to take these words and think they mean: if you have sufficient faith you will be healed. Or to state it negatively, if you are not healed it is because you do not have enough faith. Certainly, this is a wrong doctrine, and it does great harm to people who are hurting or going through one difficulty or the other. One does not ‘EARN’ a healing by scoring high enough on the faith exam! The amount of faith does not determine the depth or fullness of healing. Jesus was telling the man that because he put his trust in him, he would heal him. It was BECAUSE the man had faith, not the quantity of the faith that made healing possible.
As humans we are always trying to look for formulas that will make it possible for us to “get what we want.” We look for the right words, the right behaviour, the right attitude. In other words, we want to know: “what can we do to make sure we get what we want?” God gives his gifts, not because we say the right words or give the right amount of money, but because of our faith, however small it may be. The only requirement is that our faith be directed toward God, and fixed on him.
Notice the way in which Bartimaeus made his request or prayed to Jesus. Firstly, he said, “Have mercy on me.” (Mark 10:47) It was only later that he asked, “let me see again.” (Mark 10:51) His first request was to ask for “mercy”, before asking for his “sight”. This is so because he was sufficiently in tune with himself to know that what he needed most was deeper than restoration of sight. His deepest need was for spiritual healing, a far deeper need than his need for physical healing. He asked for spiritual healing and no doubt he received it since he also received physical healing. Bartimaeus was a person of faith, not a person who prayed only in a crisis to get what he wanted from God. He reminds us of the teaching of Jesus in Matt 6:33, “Seek the kingdom of God first and all these other things will be given you as well.” Bartimaeus sought the kingdom of God first – “God’s mercy” – and the other thing, “his sight”, was given him as well.
- “LET ME SEE AGAIN!” (Mark 10:51)
These words of Bartimaeus in response to Jesus’ question are in line with the popular adage that says: Do not give me fish, instead teach me how to fish. Mark tells us that Bartimaeus sat by the road begging (v. 46). Beggars, today, generally anchor themselves at major road junctions, entrances to shopping centers, Church houses, market places etc. where they can attract (or even prick the consciences of) generous givers. At these strategic points they reduce themselves to immobile recipients of “hand-outs” – a few coins (change) here and there or some foodstuff ready for consumption. Instead of asking for this (fish to eat), Bartimaeus asked for a restoration of his sight so that he may “go and catch fish”, by himself. In other words, “do not give me fish to eat, but teach me how to fish.” He did not want to remain dependent forever. Therefore, once he received his sight, he set about following Jesus. He exercised his new-found freedom.
Commenting on the economic and social situation of many African nations, in the light of today’s gospel text, one biblical scholar laments over the refusal of some African leaders to seek a clearer vision, just as Bartimaeus did. Instead of striving for a clear sight to enable them see the reality of their current situation and seek solutions to them, many African leaders of reduce their nations to silent recipients of handouts from Europe, America and China. Instead of folding up their sleeves and striving to catch their own fish for the future meals of their citizens, they stay contented at the dining table, eating fish provided for by ruthless and egocentric donors.
This same lamentable phenomenon prevails in many families. Many African families, today, are increasingly making themselves dependent on their relatives who live and work in big cities or in foreign countries. If handouts are not coming from beyond ‘somewhere’, through MoneyGram, Mobile Money, Express Union, etc. they threaten going extinct. We would fulfil the role of Jesus, if we could help people to be independent in catering for their own needs, instead of waiting for the big brother or big sister who is overseas to send everything needed at home. The hand-outs that we are dishing out end up creating more need for more hand-outs. If Jesus had given all the food in this world to Bartimaeus, without curing his blindness, Bartimaeus would not have been any better off. He would still have been blind. So Jesus avoided a make-shift or provisional or short-term solution to the problem. He gave him the tool he badly needed, which is his sight, in order to enable him to fish for himself with total independence from others. And Bartimaeus changed from being Bartimaeus THE BLIND MAN to Bartimaeus the WISE MAN because he knew what his situation needed most and demanded it, when he said: “Master, let me see again.”
- A “ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME” OPPORTUNITY
This encounter between Bartimaeus and Jesus was a “once in a lifetime thing”, an opportunity too good to be missed. Jesus’ trip through Jericho during which he restored the blind man’s sight was the very last in his life. He never passed that way again. He was on his way to Jerusalem to be crucified. If Bartimaeus had missed that opportunity, he would have remained blind all his life. But he took a quick advantage of the first and unique opportunity that came his way, and he cried out to Jesus. His request was granted.
Bartimaeus had a persistence that would not quit. (Winners never quit; and quitters never win!!) Many among the crowd rebuked the blind man. They tried to stop him from crying out to the Lord. It was only natural for the people, even Jesus’ disciples, to try to shield Jesus from being harassed by beggars. From Bartimaeus’ perspective, we can say that he had every reason to be discouraged. But, like the widow faced with a recalcitrant judge in the parable (Luke 18:1-8), Bartimaeus refused to act according to the dictates of the crowd.
Many failures come our way because we are not perseverant. We easily PROCRASTINATE. (‘Cras’ in Latin means ‘tomorrow’.) Procrastination is putting off, delaying, or postponing things that could be done NOW to some later time (tomorrow), mainly because of laziness; e.g. Postponing the baptism of our children until it is too late, delaying visiting a sick person only to hear that he/she passed away, deferring listening to or talking to a spouse until the marriage goes irreparably bad, delaying to stand up for social justice until the fabric a society begins to disintegrate, etc. Many people live in permanent regret, today, because of the many opportunities that they lost in their lives. How we wish we could overcome this weakness! “Had I known” only comes last!
- THE CROWD
Bartimaeus refused to follow the crowd, but recognized the person of Jesus, as the “Jesus, Son of David”. Many people in the crowd failed to recognize Jesus; they simply followed Jesus because everybody was doing so. They were close to him but never recognized who he really was.
Quite often, in our Christian life, we belong to the crowd. We make a lot of noise around Jesus, and about Jesus, (during Holy Mass, in Church-based meetings, Choir sessions, at crusades, etc.), but not having the full light, we tend to be obstacles to those who want desperately to get their eyes opened fully. We, too, need the kind of vision gained by Bartimaeus. We need the sight that comes from faith; the sight that sees what is really essential. We, too, need faith to call out when others tell us to shut up. You will, surely have noticed the further irony of the very ones in the crowd who told Bartimaeus to shut up; they quickly change their tune when Jesus invites Bartimaeus to come near. Now, they patronizingly tell him to have courage when, in fact, he was the one with the real courage. They were the cowards who were afraid to commit themselves to Jesus.
Today, me pray to Jesus: “LORD, LET ME SEE AGAIN!” Lord, open my physical and spiritual eyes that I may understand what it really means to follow you!