October 28, 2018
Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi
You and I are invited to take the place of Bartimaeus in order to learn how to be better disciples of the Lord Jesus. For you see, this encounter between Jesus and Bartimaeus happens at the end of the central part of Mark’s Gospel where Jesus has been teaching his followers how to become his disciples. Bartimaeus shows us the way.
His cry: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” becomes our cry. The New American Bible translation which we use for our Mass readings uses the word “pity” but the word closer to the original Greek is actually, “mercy.” “Jesus, have mercy on me!” For with this blind beggar, we first need to realize our complete and absolute dependence on Jesus.
That we are broken beyond repair and only he can heal us. That we are sinners who do not do the good we want but the bad we desire not to do. That we are stuck along the roadside of life, stuck there because of some hurt or pain or suffering, known or unknown, which prevents us from getting up and going forward with Jesus. So, we cry out, “Jesus, have mercy!”
Note that Jesus responds to this urgent plea of great need, that even with all the noise and commotion around him, Jesus hears the cry of great need. For Jesus is always alert to those who cry out to Him for the gift of His life-giving mercy, a divine gift which saves and renews and restores.
Then when we are called to Jesus’ side with Bartimaeus, we also have to throw aside our cloak, whatever it is that we wrap around us as our security. We are invited to leave behind the things that we rely on for “warmth” and instead be warmed to the core of our being by the loving gaze of Jesus. We throw aside our cloak, those things we use as our “security blanket” and go quickly to Him in whom we are protected from the power of sin and evil and everlasting death.
So, we take courage with this blind beggar and go to Jesus with our every need, from small to great and discover not only that he hears us but wants to help us with everything that burdens us.
Next comes Jesus’ question, “What do you want me to do for you?” It is the same question he addressed to James and John in last Sunday’s Gospel, and their desire was for the best seats in his coming kingdom, for power and glory. Note that Bartimaeus has a different desire, a deeper desire, a more profound desire. “Master, I want to see.”
Now in the Gospels, sight is something much more than light striking one’s retina and an image forming in one’s brain of what is right in front of one’s eyeballs. In the Gospels, seeing is always connected to faith, an insight into who Jesus is and what Jesus teaches. To see in this way means admitting that one is blind, that one does not recognize Jesus or understand completely his challenging teachings.
This is why once Bartimaeus “sees” the first thing he does is follow Jesus on the way. Jesus is on the way from Jericho to Jerusalem, where out of love for the world, he will suffer and die, giving his life so that all might be able to live forever in the light of God’s love. For those who see who Jesus is and understand that his words are the words of everlasting life, the daily call is to die with him to whatever in us that is not of God and rise with him to newness of life.
In the 3 predictions of His Passion preceding this encounter with Bartimaeus, Jesus has been teaching us how to see who He is and thus see our life and others through his eyes. Mark uses this pattern of Jesus telling his disciples about his upcoming Passion, which they then respond to with blindness (misunderstanding), so Jesus follows up with a teaching meant to open their eyes and ours.
The 1st prediction of His Passion in Chapter 8 of Mark is followed by the first teaching: “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34 )
So many are blind in our culture because they do not deny themselves but instead are self-absorbed, looking out only for what’s best for them and them alone. Disciples of Jesus see that the only way to fullness of life is to direct our lives outward toward others, to move from selfishness to self-giving with Jesus.
So, we cry out, “Jesus, help us to see where we are still blinded by our selfishness!” This blindness can be seen not only in those who make the choice to abort the new life growing within them because it will be too much of a burden, but also this blindness afflicts those who choose to make “gun rights” an absolute right, more important than the foundational right of others to life itself. I am still haunted by the words of a father whose son was killed in one of the many mass killings over the past decade, “You say you have a right to own a gun. Well, my son has a right to life.” It is selfish to believe that one has the right to own whatever kind of weapon one wants, especially when that weapon can be used to kill many people in a short time. This particular blindness has devastating effects, so that no place of worship is safe, not a synagogue, Christian church, nor mosque, and the places of education where are children need to feel safe in order to learn are now places where they fear for their lives. “Lord, help us to see where we are still blinded by our selfishness!”
Jesus’ 2nd prediction of His Passion in Chapter 9 is followed by the 2nd teaching: “Whoever welcomes a little child such as this welcomes me.” (Mark 9:37 )
A heart of hospitality—welcoming the “other” as if they were Christ himself— is an essential characteristic of being a disciple of the Son of David, Jesus Christ. Jesus challenges us to see Him in the most powerless, the poorest, the stranger from another land, the one who can do nothing for us. To see Jesus in them and by welcoming them, to receive Jesus himself.
Some political leaders, including our president, play on our fears of the “other,” and this fear blinds us to Christ in them asking us to welcome Him, to help him. So we cry out: Jesus, help us to see where we are blinded by our fears of the other.”
The 3rd Prediction of His Passion in Chapter 10 of Mark is followed by the 3rd teaching: “The one among you who serves is the greatest of all.” (Mark 10:43 )
This teaching addresses a blindness of which so many of us suffer, thinking we are better than this or that person because of their race or color of skin or sexual orientation or political ideology. When we have a heart of service, we see what we all share in common—our humanity. When we bend our knee to wash the feet of others, we cannot stand over them in condemnation or anger or hatred.
Rhetoric encouraging violence against those who are different from us or disagree with us has consequences, as we have seen in the pipe bombs being sent through the U.S. mail this week. Words which demonize another person or group, spoken by the leader of our nation or by any one of us, have consequences because these words inevitably lead to violence.
When we have a heart of service, we join our lives to the Son of David, the King of Kings, the one who came not to serve but to serve & to give his life that we might be reconciled to God & to one another and live in peace. So we cry out: “Jesus, help us to see where we are blind to the violence we encourage against others.”
A healthy self-denial, which leads us out of ourselves into a life of hospitality & service, helps us to see who Jesus is and who we are called to be with him.
We desire to see Jesus more clearly, so we might follow him more nearly, joining our lives to his more fully.
We desire to see Jesus more clearly, so we might love him more dearly, and thus love Him in every word we speak and in every deed we do.
Jesus, we want to see you! Hear us and have mercy on us!!