(See the readings for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct. 28, 2012)
Bartimaeus crys out: “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” The moving story of Bartimaeus calls to mind several aspects of our faith and our relationship with Jesus. The story begins with Jesus leaving Jericho with a large number of people. St. Mark tells us that as they went along the way there was a blind man named Bartimaeus sitting by the road side begging. When he hears that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by Bartimaeus cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” While many rebuked him, telling him to be silent, he cried out all the more: “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.”
Jesus, hearing the cry, stops and tells his followers to call Bartimaeus to Himself. Someone in the crowd tells Bartimaeus, “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.” Bartimaeus throws off his cloak, jumps up and goes to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks. Bartimaeus replies: “Master, I want to see.” Jesus then says: “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” At Jesus’ word, Bartimaeus’ eyes are opened and his sight is restored and “he followed him on the way.”
The encounter between Jesus and Bartimaeus is one that has been repeated over and over again in the lives of the faithful. We know that Jesus is the one who gives us life. He is the one who can restore us to health. He is the one who heals our wounds, whatever they may be. He is the one who opens our eyes to see the truth. He is the one who opens our ears to hear the word that leads us to peace.
Who is it that goes to Jesus as Bartimaeus did? It is us. When we feel laden with difficulties in life. When we recognize that we are broken. When we sense that there is something more to life than we currently experience. When we face ambiguity and confusion. When we are troubled. When we long for inner peace and joy. When we worry about our children. When we see suffering in those around us. When we seek a better way. In all these cases it is as if we are Bartimaeus on the road.
Important to remember is that while Bartimaeus hears about Jesus and calls after Him, it is Jesus who hears the cry, “Son of David, have pity on me.” Jesus sends for Bartimaeus. Jesus calls him to Himself. Jesus reaches out to Bartimaeus. Jesus summons him into His presence. Jesus invites him to be near. So too for us.
When Jesus asks Bartimaeus, “What do you want?” He asks us. The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, opens with these words: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.”
So as followers of Christ we bring to Him our joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties; and he asks us what are these joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties. He asks us so that He can shed His loving mercy on us with encouragement, consolation, healing and peace.
Yet before Bartimaeus can respond to Jesus’ call, he needs help. Bartimaeus is blind and there is a crowd of people gathered around Jesus. So disciples of Jesus have to assist Bartimaeus in coming to Jesus. As mentioned above, we are Bartimaeus today; but we are also the disciples of Jesus who help Bartimaeus to get to Jesus. In communion with Christ and with each other as brothers and sisters it is our duty and responsibility to bring others to Christ when they are in need.
If we isolate this activity from our life of faith, we might think “duty” and “responsibility” are dry and lifeless terms but in the context of communion we realize that they are indeed an act of love. Jesus’ interaction with Bartimaeus is one of love. The disciples assisting Bartimaeus is an act of love. Our reaching out to brothers and sisters in need is an act of love.
The love that we share brings life because it comes from the source of life Himself. Some time ago I met a man who was sick, in fact he was dying. He had been away from the Church for some time and felt a great distance from the Lord. Yet as he would explain to me later he had this inner desire to be near Christ and to be reconciled with the Church. He had done some bad things in life – some really bad things – he was looking for peace and he knew where he could find it. Be that as it was, he also explained that it was hard for him to ask, difficult for him to reach out and seek reconciliation, a challenge to his pride to admit his need.
What was it that led to this encounter? What was the “breakthrough”? It was the help of a friend. Without being told explicitly, the long-time friend could see that he needed healing, that he desired it in the depths of his heart but had a stubbornness in asking. The friend remained gently persistent in inviting him to return and to experience the healing love of Christ. The persistence slowly broke down the wall of pride. The man was reconciled to Christ and to the Church. The peace and joy the man experienced were evidence of the inner healing that took place.
Jesus is present in this world and in our lives. He is present in our communion with each other. It is in this communion that he continues his loving work of mercy and heals what no medicine can cure.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.