Sr Louise O'Rourke
This Sunday’s Gospel has us continue the journey with Jesus. He has left Jericho and is en-route to Jerusalem. We are told that his disciples and a large crowd are with Him and as they journey, they encounter a blind beggar. The encounter takes place at the side of the road, ‘para ho hodos’ as the Greek text offers. The word ‘hodos’ in Greek means a path, a way, which gives us the root for words like ‘syn-odos’ (which we are hearing a lot about in these days) and ‘ex-odos’.
Often in life we can feel that we are sitting on the side of the road- stuck and not able to move forward. We can be like Bartimaeus, no longer moving toward goodness, fulfilment and fulness of life, but stuck in sin and death, that is, until we encounter Jesus. There is a new sense of hope for Bartimaeus, and he cries out to Jesus, not once but twice. The beautiful thing is that he is named- even though he is for many, a blind beggar, St. Mark names him and links him to his family, he is Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus. He may be ‘just’ a blind beggar to most people, but he is someone’s son, a brother, a child of God loved into existence, someone to be noticed. However, the crowd tries to silence him when he cries out to Jesus. Maybe they felt awkward, maybe he challenged their blindness which led them to hope that Jesus would be a triumphant and power-filled leader, crushing the opponents, not someone who would waste time with a beggar sitting in the dust. Jesus would show the disciples that He is a Messiah who hears the cry of the poor, sees those on the side of the road and on the margins. He is Christ the Healer who opens the eyes of the blind and heals the lame (2nd reading). Jesus uses the disciples as an instrument to call the blind man to him and they greet him with the words: ‘Courage’ or in other translations we read, ‘take heart’. Jesus always restores and uplifts and, in the words of the prophet He ‘puts a new heart and a new spirit within’ (Ezekiel 36:26). The response of Bartimaeus is instantaneous- he throws away his cloak away and jumps up. He is now upright. Jesus asks the blind man the same question which He posed to the rich man, which we read in the Gospel two Sundays ago: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man replies with a response which shouldn’t really surprise us: ‘Lord, that I may see.’
There are many kinds of blindness aside from physical blindness and too often, we humans are prone to be blind to our blindness. We all have a blind spot- something we don’t see in ourselves, but others can see. Biases which colour our lives where we wear blinkers which create distorted images of others, both as individuals and as groups or communities. One of the key moments of growth is when we can work on our blind spots, especially our spiritual blind spots. We can all carry feelings of inadequacy, incompetence, unworthiness, or rejection which are difficult for some individuals to face directly, and yet can be seen by others. In the spirit of Gospel humility and by creating trusting relationships, it is possible to arrive of new levels of awareness which allow us to truly see.
More than often our failure to move off the side of the road is actually a fear of being healed, that we might have to make drastic changes in our life, to leave behind what is familiar and embrace a new way, a new ‘hodos’. God asks us to have our vision restored so that we can enter God’s great vision. He does this out of love and in truth for it is the truth which sets us free. As Pope Emeritus Benedict reminds us: “Love without truth would be blind; truth without love would be like 'a clanging cymbal' (I Cor 13: 1).”
The Gospel concludes showing us that Bartimaeus (no longer named as the blind man) follows Jesus along the way after he is healed. So, are we ready to move off the side of the road and follow Jesus who is the Way, He is the ‘Hodos’ (Jn 14:6). As this Sunday we celebrate World Mission Sunday, may we each hear the words of the disciples: “Courage, get up, He is calling YOU!”