24th Sunday B – Awakening of Faith
Many years ago I watched a woman on television tell her story. She had been blind from birth and, after more than 25 years of not being able to see, she was operated on. When the bandages came off she was scared. Nurses and doctors were leaning over her and she had never seen people before. When they brought her something to eat she had to be helped because she couldn’t guide her hand to the food on the tray. She had to close her eyes and feel for it on the plate. It took a bit of practice before she could guide herself around the hospital room unaided. She thought the chair and bedside locker were moving. The whole process of relearning how to transfer images from her sense of touch to her eyes and brain was both stressful and exciting. I remember her saying she never knew the world was so beautiful, and she had a picture in her mind of what she thought her parents and sister looked like…. It must have been a tremendous experience for Bartimaeus in the Gospel to have been able to see.
The gospels use sight, being able to see, as a symbol for faith. Healing from blindness are images of a process, either of faith finding understanding or the birth of new faith. In the early church, baptism was called “enlightenment.” Prior to this incident, Mark had been giving us a picture of the disciples being spiritually blind: Keep your eyes open…. Have you eyes that do not see? Are you still without perception? cf. Mark 8:14-21 and 31-33. Jesus kept dangling before his disciples the image of his passion and death as a kind of broad hint about himself, “but they were afraid to ask him” – 9:32. And there was the incident of Jesus correcting James’ and John’s failure to see him for who he was, and what his kingdom of glory was all about: they wanted top spots, luxury suites, but Jesus demurred and said their place was below with the servants – Mark 10: 35-45. The disciples are like ourselves.
Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me. Bartimaeus, the blind beggar at the side of the road, wasn’t asking for a special place in the kingdom. “Rabbuni, Master, let me see again.” If James and John hoped for something for themselves, this blind beggar wanted what Kieran O’Mahony called “again sight”. And Jesus gave him a deeper insight of faith. Suddenly, the Spirit of God rolled back the long centuries and blind Bartimaeus heard the immortal echo of the words spoken to Moses in the desert, “I am who am” – and at the very place where God’s people entered the promised land, Jericho, in fulfillment of the promise and commission given to Moses at the burning bush – cf. Exodus 3: 1-14. In that divine instant of the here and now “I-am”, the reality of Jesus was recognised by a blind man. It took but an instant. When Jesus told him that “being saved” had caught up with him, Bartimaeus left behind him his cloak and “immediately followed Jesus along the road” – as a disciple, to wherever Jesus was headed.
What do you want me to do for you? What do I want most in life at this time? Health, wealth, external success, internal wisdom…? The eyes of the disciples were healthy and intact, but they lacked the wisdom and insight of faith. The story invites us to new faith and a life-changing encounter with Christ. “Let me see again” begged the beggar; let me see “again”, let me see “more”, let me see “beyond my horizon”…. The eyes of the blind beggar of Jericho were opened and he recognised Jesus, just like the eyes of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus were opened and their hearts burned within them – Luke 24: 30-35. Why listen to the word of God? To grow into the likeness of Christ whose life is the gold standard of human life: “In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus….who emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave and became as we are…” – Philippians 2: 5-7. To read the Gospel and fail to meet Jesus is like hearing great music while being tone deaf.
Fr. QQ – 10/20/2021
Prayer is nothing but inhaling and exhaling
the one breath of the Universe. – Hildegard of Bingen