October 25-26, 2003 Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Over these past few weeks, the author of Mark's Gospel has really challenged us to reflect on what we mean when we say we are disciples. Two weeks ago we heard the story of the rich young man, last week of James and John asking Jesus for places of honor in his coming kingdom, and today that of blind Bartimeus.
Bartimeus is blind, in a society that didn’t have any safety net for the blind. If a blind person did not have a family to take care of him, the only thing he could do is beg. When Bartimeus hears that Jesus is passing by, he calls out with all his might, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” Bartimeus believes in two things: that Jesus has the power to do something about his situation; and that Jesus will take the time and the effort to do so. This display of faith is embarrassing to the crowd so they try to get him to keep quiet, basically telling him, "Who are you that this important person would even acknowledge your existence?" But his faith is too strong so he continues to cry out. When Jesus stops and calls him, the crowd changes their tune. Now they encourage him to get up and go to Jesus.
Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do?” If we were hearing this Gospel story in the vernacular of today's adolescents, the response would probably be, "duhh?" What else would a blind man want from someone with healing power? Well is it a stupid question? If you remember, last week Jesus asked the very same question to James and John. As we have listened to Mark's stories of Jesus' journey to Jerusalem, he has made it clear that Jesus never "does" a miracle to someone. It is never a one sided activity. Jesus' miracles always involve an interaction between the faith of the person or people and Jesus' power. Remember when he was in his home town? The people had no faith and Jesus was unable to perform any miracles.
So Jesus is really asking Barimeus to focus all his faith on this encounter. Bartimeus gets it right. He wants to see. And because of his faith, he does see. But he sees more than just physically. Mark has made him stand in stark contrast to the response of James and John to the same question. Two things now are different from the other miracle stories we have heard from Mark.
If you remember, all along in Mark, every time Jesus would perform a miracle, he would tell the person or the crowd or the disciples not to talk about it. He did that because he was afraid they would not see him for the type of Messiah he really was. Now that he is about to enter Jerusalem where he will suffer and die, he is no longer worried about that. Plus Bartimeus really sees. And because he sees Jesus for the real kind of Messiah, he doesn’t go away happy that he can see at last but rather he leaves his old life behind him, as symbolized by his cloak, and follows Jesus.
Are we like Bartimeus, or more like the disciples or the crowd? Do we really see who Jesus is? Do we really have faith that if we take our troubles to Jesus, he will help us to overcome them? Are we blind to the impact that we can have on the pain and suffering around us? Are we blind like the disciples who thought that just by hanging around with Jesus they would have cushy jobs in the coming kingdom? Or are we blind like the disciples and the Pharisees and scribes who wanted to see some sign before they would believe in Jesus?
Have any of you ever wished that you just had some concrete proof of God’s existence or Jesus’ presence where two or three are gathered? If you could just see a burning bush or a transfiguration, you could believe?
Let’s try something: I want to show you a set of pictures but I want to show different ones to this side from the ones I show to this side. So if everyone on the right would close their eyes while I show the first set.
Look at this picture: don’t say what it is out loud but look at it closely. Here is another image of the same drawing.
Ok – now the people on the right would open their eyes and the people on the left close theirs.
Look at this picture: again, don’t say what it is. Here is another image of the same drawing.
Ok – now everyone open their eyes. What is this a picture of?
The truth is that seeing is not believing. Believing is seeing!
Unless we believe we are blind to the wonders around us. So as we come to communion today, let’s try to be more like Bartimeus as he approached Jesus than James and John in last week’s gospel. Let us believe that Jesus is just waiting to help us with whatever problem or burden we have, or to share some joy. So just as we are about to receive communion, or a blessing if you haven’t made your first communion yet, say a silent prayer telling Jesus exactly what your deepest desire is. And then as Bartimeus did, let us follow Jesus without reservation.