Year B: Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Blind Bartimaeus
Mark 10: 46-53
They came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage; get up, he is calling you.” He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.
- Have you been approached by beggars? What is your first internal reaction and how do you respond to them?
- If Jesus asked you, “What do you want me to do for you?” How would you respond?
- Have you ever had an experience of physical or spiritual healing that led you to follow Jesus more closely? Explain
- Do you believe that you truly follow Jesus’ way as a disciple? If so, how has this affected your life choices?
- How has your faith helped to cure areas of spiritual blindness in you? Describe this
Mary M. McGlone CSJ
This is the last miracle in Mark’s Gospel — as long as we don’t count the anti-miracle of Jesus cursing the fig tree (11:12-14). While it is the last, and therefore by some measures, the greatest, what is more striking is the fact that this is the second time Jesus heals a blind man in this Gospel. These two healing miracles sandwich Jesus’ three attempts to get his disciples to understand who he was in the light of his upcoming passion.
The first healing (Mark 8:22-26) was also the only time Jesus’ healing power did not work immediately and totally; Jesus had to touch the man’s eyes twice before he saw clearly. The first blind man was very much like the disciples whom Jesus had to teach again and again before they began to see clearly who he was.
We first hear of Bartimaeus as he sits begging alongside the road Jesus was taking to Jerusalem. That position is important. He was beside Jesus’ “way,” but not yet on it. Bartimaeus heard the news that Jesus was near and began to shout and make a scene with a very specific and insistent exclamation: “Son of David, have pity on me.”
In Mark’s Gospel, Bartimaeus was the first person to speak of Jesus as a Son of David and his use of that title prepared for the way the crowds who would welcome Jesus into Jerusalem with that same title (Mark 11:10). By recognizing Jesus as the son of David, Bartimaeus was calling him to respond as a particular kind of royal savior. Isaiah had prophesied that the Davidic king would bring justice for the poor and needy (11:4). Psalm 72 describes the ideal king as one who rescues the poor when they cry out. Those allusions provide a backdrop to interpret Bartimaeus’ cry and recognition of who Jesus was.
Additionally, Bartimaeus called out a very specific request. He begged, “Have pity on me!” He wasn’t asking for the pity or compassion Jesus showed people like the hungry crowd of Mark 6:30. Bartimaeus used the Greek word eleeo which we repeat whenever we pray, “Kyrie eleison.” That word, often translated as mercy rather than pity, refers to an active desire to do something to alleviate the distress of someone who is suffering. It may, as in our penitential rite, include forgiveness, but it is more than that. Bartimaeus’ plea for mercy implied that he believed Jesus had the power and the will to change his condition if only he were made aware of his need.
Bartimaeus’ persistence paid off. Jesus heard his cry and called him forth. Then, inviting Bartimaeus to make his desire known as plainly as he had recently asked James and John to do, Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Mark designed the story of Bartimaeus to be a corrective alternative to the disciples’ attitudes and actions. Bartimaeus literally started as a beggar. He approached Jesus as someone who had no influence to recommend him. From that humble position, he beseeched Jesus to show him regard and give him the help implied by his plea for mercy.
When Jesus asked just what kind of mercy he wanted, Bartimaeus replied, “Master, I want to see.” In response, Jesus did nothing more than proclaim that Bartimaeus’ faith had saved him. With that, Bartimaeus received his sight and began to follow Jesus along the way. Mark no sooner ends this story than he tells of how Jesus prepared to enter into the city of Jerusalem. Bartimaeus received the vision that allowed him to join Jesus on the way at its most critical juncture.
Seeing Our Way to a New Life
Fr. Michael Marsh
“My teacher, let me see again.” It’s the obvious answer to Jesus’ question. What else would a blind man ask for? It may be the obvious answer but it is not always the answer given. No one wants to be blind. That’s not the question. The deeper question is whether we really want to see. Do we really want to see the reality of our lives, things done and left undone, who we are and who we are not? Do we really want to see the needs of our neighbor, the poor, or the marginalized? Do we really want to see the injustices of the world? Do we really want to see who Jesus is and not just who we wish or want him to be?
“Do you really want to see?” That’s the question Bartimaeus must answer. True seeing is more than simply observing with our physical eyes. It implies relationship and a deeper knowing and understanding. This happens when we see with the eyes of faith. This seeing, however, is not without risk. If we really want to see, then we must be willing to change and be changed. We must be willing to leave behind what is to receive what might be.
Sometimes that risk is too much. We turn a blind eye and choose not to see. This is not about physical blindness. It is a spiritual condition. Peter rightly declared Jesus to be the Christ but when Jesus began to teach about his own suffering, rejection, and death Peter rebuked Jesus. Peter could not see how that could be the way of the Messiah, God’s anointed one (Mk. 8:27-33). The disciples argued among themselves about who was the greatest. They were unable to see that “whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (Mk. 9:35). The rich man wanted to inherit eternal life, but he just could not see his way clear to selling all his possessions and giving the money to the poor (Mk. 10:17-22).
For most of us life is neither all seeing nor all blindness. There are times when we get it and times when we do not. That’s how it was for Bartimaeus too. It wasn’t always darkness. Remember, Bartimaeus asks to “see again.” At the end of the story, we are told that he “regained his sight.” There was a time when Bartimaeus saw. There was a time when he and the world were filled with light. Bartimaeus has known darkness and he has known light. He has had vision and he has been blind. Both are a reality for Bartimaeus and for us.
Jesus offers a clear vision of what true life looks like. To the extent we do not share that vision we are blind. We live in darkness. As tragic as blindness is, the greater tragedy is when we do not even see that we are blind. We bump and stumble our way through life believing that this is as good as it gets. We are content to sit by the roadside and beg.
How and what we see determine the world we live in and the life we live. Bartimaeus knows this. He is a blind beggar. He is going nowhere. The world passes by but his life remains unchanged. Every day is the same. He sits by the roadside, holds out the cloak of his blindness, and begs. He lives in darkness. There is no illumination within him or around him. The darkness covers him like a cloak. At some point or another all of us sit by the roadside, a beggar, cloaked in darkness, unable to see. We are blind.
This blindness happens in many different ways. Sometimes it is the darkness of grief, sorrow, and loss. Sin and guilt blind us to what our life could be. Other times we live in the darkness of fear, anger, or resentment. Doubt and despair can distort and impair our vision. Failures, disappointments, and shattered dreams can darken our world. There are times when we hide amongst the shadows neither wanting to see nor to be seen. Perhaps the deepest darkness is when we become lost to ourselves, not knowing who we are or the beauty of our creation and existence. The list could go on and on. The darkness fills and covers us in a thousand different ways.
I do not know what caused Bartimaeus’ blindness. In some ways it does not matter. What matters more is that he knew he was blind. He held his blindness before Christ believing and hoping that there was more to who he was and what his life could be. It was out of that knowing, believing, and hoping that he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” That is the cry of one who abandons himself or herself to God. The one who cannot see cries out to be seen. It is the cry that stopped Jesus in his tracks. Mercy is like that.
“Call him here,” Jesus said. With that calling the depths of human darkness meet the heights of divine light, misery meets compassion, and what is meets what might be. Bartimaeus stands before Jesus. Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” That is not just a question for Bartimaeus. It is a question for everyone who has ever sat by the roadside of life, everyone who has ever lived in darkness, everyone who has ever begged for life. It is a question for you and for me. It is a question Jesus asks of us over and over, again and again. There is no universal answer. There is only our answer at this time and place in our life. Tomorrow’s answer may be different from todays.
Jesus’ question offers a turning point, a new beginning. It asks us to look deep within our self, to face what is, and name what we want. So, what do you want Jesus to do for you? I am not asking what would make you feel better, fix a particular problem, or make your life more comfortable.
What is the one thing you need today that will open your eyes to see yourself, others, and all of creation as beautiful and holy? What is the one thing you need today that will allow you to throw off the cloak of darkness? What is the one thing you need today that will take you from sitting and begging by the roadside to following on the way? They are hard but important questions. They are the questions that will change your life.
I do not know what your answer is. I cannot name it for you, but I can promise you this. He is listening, he is willing, and he is able.
Reflection excerpt from Interrupting the Silence; Fr. Michael M. Marsh