Sunday, October 28, 2012

Healing of Bartimaeus

Jesus healed many people during the years he traveled with his disciples through the Galilean countryside. Lepers, the deaf and the blind would come streaming out to meet him holding out the hope that he would take pity on them and cure them. However, of the many people touched by Jesus, only a few are named by the gospel writers. Bartimaeus, the blind man healed in today's gospel, is one of them.

There are a few reasons why the disciples of Jesus would have remembered the name of this humble beggar. Saint Mark tells us that after his healing, he joined the other disciples in following Jesus to Jerusalem. In fact, the very next scene in the gospel of Saint Mark is the account of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem which we recall every Palm Sunday. It is very likely that Bartimaeus is remembered because he was with the other disciples the week that Jesus was condemned to death and crucified. He may have even been one of those who saw Jesus with his own eyes after he rose from the dead.

However, the most likely reason that Bartimaeus is remembered by the gospel writer is for the faith he showed in calling out to Jesus. The whole scene probably made a great impression on the other disciples. And for believers throughout the centuries, this humble, blind beggar has served as an inspiration and an example of faith, perseverance and the willingness to leave everything behind to follow Jesus. Let's take a look at how his story can motivate us in our own journey of faith.

First of all, Bartimaeus is an example of faith and trust. He was deeply aware of his need for God. Having been blind much of his life, he had no other hope than that God would some day restore his sight. We have to always remember when we read about sick people in the Bible that illnesses were considered punishments by God. Not only did Bartimaeus want his sight restored so that he could be a part of human society, he was also longing to be reconciled to his heavenly Father. Love as much as hope spurred Bartimaeus to cry out to Jesus. And so, when Jesus asks him, "What do you want me to do for you?", he could respond without hesitation, "Master, I want to see."

If Jesus were to ask us, "What do you want me to do for you?", would we be able to respond without hesitation as Bartimaeus did? Do we know what our most pressing and urgent need is? What weighs most heavily upon our hearts as we listen to God's word today? Do we believe that Jesus is willing to carry our burden with us and able to take it away completely if it be his will? The story of Bartimaeus serves as an example of just such faith that is willing to hold out hope in God alone.

Secondly, Bartimaeus serves as an example of perseverance. When he realizes that it is Jesus who is passing by, he shouts out at the top of his lungs, "Son of David, have pity on me." The people around him waste no time telling him to shut up. They tell him that he's a nuisance, and that Jesus would not be interested in helping someone as wretched as he. But he doesn't listen to them and shouts out all the louder, "Son of David, have pity on me." He recognized that, in Jesus, God was visiting him, and he would not allow his only opportunity for healing to pass him by no matter who tried to discourage him. Bartimaeus persevered, and Jesus rewarded his great faith.

Very often, Jesus delays in answering our prayers. That is because he wants to build our faith by, first, helping us to recognize our need and, second, training our hearts to continue seeking him no matter how desperate our situation becomes. For this reason, persevering in prayer is central to our friendship with God. When others are discouraging us, when people tell us to "face the facts" and give up hope, we need to shout out all the more to God. As he did with Bartimaeus and as he has done with countless others, Jesus will reward our faith if we continue to reach out to him.

Thirdly, Bartimaeus teaches us that we must leave behind our former way of life if we are to follow Jesus. It might not mean much to us to read that Bartimaeus threw aside his cloak when Jesus called him. But, in Jesus' day, only the wealthy would have had more than one cloak. And for a beggar who was most likely homeless, that cloak would have been his only protection against the cold and the rain. So when Bartimaeus throws his cloak aside, he is declaring that now that he has met Jesus, his life cannot be the same. He will no longer be a beggar. His world will no longer be the gutter of a road in Jericho. His life will not longer be characterized by his disability but by his identity as a believer in Christ. Leaving the cloak of a beggar behind, he will now wrap himself in the Lord Jesus Christ.

By faith and baptism, each of us has been healed and wrapped in the mantle of Christ. Nonetheless, we may be holding on to some vestige of our former way of life. What are we still keeping as a souvenir of the sinful way we lived before we knew Jesus? Can we cast those things aside as Bartimaeus cast aside his cloak so as to follow Jesus unburdened by the skeletons of our past? Jesus wants us to be free of such things so that we can serve him joyfully.

The gospels hold up for us the person of this humble beggar to give us an example of faith, of perseverance and of the willingness to cast everything aside for Jesus. Though he was blind, he saw better than anyone else who it was who was offering his sight back. And once he recognized him, he was eager to follow Jesus wherever he went, even to Jerusalem, the place of his crucifixion. At this Eucharist, we will be approached by Jesus present in the sacrament of his Body and Blood. Do we know what it is we need from him? Are we ready to ask him with faith to be healed? And are we willing to cast aside our former way of life to follow him wherever he may lead us?

No comments: