Today’s Gospel may seem to be only telling of an encounter between Jesus and a blind man called Bartimaeus outside of Jericho almost two thousand years ago, but, in fact, it has much to say to us about encountering God in our own time and in our own culture. For the Jews Jericho was a city that symbolised the world and sinful humanity. When Joshua and the Israelites had crossed the Jordan to enter into the Promised Land, Jericho had resisted them; and it was only conquered by an act of God when the walls fell down after the Israelites had marched around it seven times in a liturgical style procession. In other words, it was God who had conquered it in response to the people’s prayers. Now outside the walls of the new Jericho this blind man was calling on Jesus to have pity on him, and calling in the same words we use at Mass: Christ Eleison – Christ have mercy. Bartimaeus is blind, but he recognises in Jesus someone who could heal him. In the same way our modern secular culture is blind to the deeper spiritual realities of life, but it doesn’t recognise that there is a Light that can guide our lives and heal us if only we call upon it. Instead, secularism tries to silence anyone who strives for the light, the Light of God’s truth and love. In the same way the crowd in today’s Gospel try to silence Bartimaeus. His cries to Jesus are an embarrassment to them.
But Bartimaeus doesn’t give up, and because of his persistence his cries eventually reach Jesus. Jesus is constantly telling us that we too should persist in our prayers and that we too will be answered. St. Augustine says that persistence in prayer serves to widen our hearts and to make them capable to receive God’s gift. St. Mark then tells us in today’s Gospel that Jesus stopped. St. Mark often portrays Jesus as stopping or as being asleep. It is as if Jesus is the still point in a hectic world, the point around which everything else revolves, and the point that we need to get to. Jesus then calls Bartimaeus to him. The greek word to call is “kaleo”. From this comes the greek word “ecclesia” which means the assembly of those called, and which is another name for the Church. The Church is the assembly of those whom God has called. So when Jesus calls Bartimaeus he is also offering him membership into God’s family, the Church. We can also see this by the fact that Bartimaeus immediately throws off his cloak, which is what also happened in the early Church when a person came to be baptised. We have continued this tradition, which symbolises new life, by clothing the newly baptised in a white garment after their baptism.
The fact that the crowd, who so recently scolded Bartimaeus, is now encouraging him, always amuses me. It shows how fickle they are, and how crowds always do the popular thing.
Jesus now asks Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?” This is a question that we should also ponder. What would we respond if Jesus asked us the same question? Bartimaeus’ answer is quite clear: “Master, let me see again.” And yet, in the context of the symbolism of this Gospel, this answer is also one that we should ponder. Spiritually speaking do we really see our darkness, our need of repentance, God’s offer of forgiveness and healing, and his call to be part of his family. Do we really see what a privilege it is to be called into the light by God?
Jesus then says to Bartimaeus: “Go; your faith has saved you.” And Bartimaeus, his sight restored, follows him along the road. We also pray for the gift of saving faith and for the light of truth so that we also can follow our loving Lord, Jesus Christ.