In the First Reading today, the prophet Jeremiah heralds the return of the northern exiles focusing on the most vulnerable – the blind, the lame, and pregnant women without their husbands. These are special in God’s eyes. God is their parent and protector, their consoler and guide. They are filled with gratitude for the Lord has done great things for them, as the Psalmist shares.
“Blindness” appears again in the gospel with the poignant story of a blind beggar. Bartimaeus, by name. Author, Fr. William Bausch, suggests there are four significant parts to this story.
First, Bartimaeus hears about Jesus – we don’t know how- and calls out to him, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” He is given the grace to recognize Jesus as the Davidic Messiah.
Second, Bartimaeus is rebuked, told to shut up, by the crowd. They suffer from a different kind of blindness – the blindness of prejudice, of intolerance, of a lack of empathy. How easy it is for us, too, to fall into this kind of blindness when we see people begging at intersections. It’s easier to just stare straight ahead and pretend they aren’t there. When I lived in Calgary, I met a man who had what he called “alley ministry.” He would visit alleys in the city and talk with those who were collecting empty bottles and cans from trash cans. They would take them to a nearby collection center and receive a bit of money for them. Since I would walk downtown most days (7 blocks), I asked him what I could bring with me for the homeless people I would meet. He recommended three things: energy bars, bus tickets, and paper for rolling a cigarette (“tobacco, too, if you can afford it”). Which is what I did. Here, I carry energy bars in my car.
Third, Jesus overrides the reaction of the crowd (including his closest disciples, it would seem) to the beggar: “Call him,” Jesus says. Bartimaeus seems to hesitate, but those closest to him encourage him (now, over their blindness) to get up and go to Jesus. Which he does, casting aside his cloak. His cloak was his mat, his bed, his security blanket. And his one possession. To let go of it was to let go of all he depended on. Which, of course, is a message for us too: discerning at different stages of our life what we need to let go of to follow Jesus more completely.
Fourth, Jesus asks Bartimaeus what he wants. Notice, he doesn’t presume what it is. It’s a way of respecting him. “Master, I want to see” Bartimaeus says. Jesus honors the man’s humility and the persistence of his faith by healing him, “Go your way,” Jesus says, “your faith has saved you.”
Bartimaeus, now freed of his blindness, decides to leave Jericho and follow Jesus as one of his disciples. The disciples, now freed from the blindness of their prejudice, welcome him into their company. It’s a classic “win-win” experience.
Let us pray:
Lord, Jesus, we ask You to
increase our faith, hope, and compassion.
Help us to see, as Mother Teresa did,
You “in all your distressing disguises.”
Forgive us for the times when we have
turned our backs on the needs of our
less fortunate brothers and sisters.
We ask this, in Your Name……AMEN.
Fr. Max Oliva, S.J.