Updated: Oct 27, 2021
(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
Often, when we listen to the Bible, we hear about Jesus healing people. Jesus becomes known as a miracle-worker; people gather around him to see more. But why does he perform miracles? What are they for? Who are they for? He does not heal everybody. In our time today, we have many people who need healing. So what is the point? In the Gospel for this Sunday, we hear about the healing of Bartimaeus, a man who once could see, but who is now blind. We consider what this miracle means.
As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.
In the time of Jesus, each city has a wall built around it to keep it safe. As Jesus and the people following him leave Jericho on the final stage of their journey to Jerusalem, they encounter Bartimaeus. It seems that he sits at the outskirts of the city, possibly outside the city wall. St. Mark tells us that he is a beggar. Why does he have to beg? We are not given the details. We do not know his story. All we know is that he cannot see, he begs, and he sits at the outskirts of the community. We can imagine what this would be like.
When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
When Bartimaeus calls out for mercy, St. Mark uses the Greek word, ἐλέησον
(eleēson). This is the same word we repeat at the beginning of Mass when we say, "Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy." We speak using Bartimaeus' words. Why? What is he asking for? What are we asking for?
Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Okay, this is interesting. Why do the people following Jesus want Bartimaeus to be quiet? How is he disturbing them? The people are trying to silence his voice. They are trying to prohibit him from calling out to Jesus. Do they know that they are working to prevent him from receiving mercy?
But Bartimaeus does not waver, does he? He continues to call out to Jesus. Even though his eyes are blind, we could say that he keeps them firmly on the One who has mercy to give.
Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.”
Jesus, who travels the countryside teaching about the Kingdom of God, stands still.
Jesus, who has been walking towards Jerusalem to fulfil God's dream of the Kingdom, stands still.
Jesus who suffers, dies, and rises, all for the sake of the Kingdom of God, stands still.
It is as if time has stopped.
And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”
Again, the crowd of followers is very interesting. First, they try to prohibit Bartimaeus; now, they encourage him. What has changed them?
So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.”
Springing into motion, Bartimaeus enters Jesus' stillness. Face-to-face, Jesus asks him a question. It is the same question we heard him ask James and John last week. They want to sit at Jesus' right and at his left in all his glory. They ask ask about a time that is yet to come.
What does Bartimaeus ask for?
He wants to be able to see.
He wants his sight restored.
He wants to be whole.
Perhaps, then, Bartimaeus is also asking about a time that is yet to come, about the fullness of the Kingdom, about the time when all are whole.
Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
He can see.
His sight is restored.
He is whole.
No longer on the outskirts, Bartimaeus follows right behind Jesus, on the way to Jerusalem.
It is as if time is full.
In this moment, when Bartimaeus is made whole, we see, for an instant, the fullness of the Kingdom.
What does this mean? What is this fullness? In the 1st reading for this Sunday, the prophet Jeremiah gives us a clue. In a time when the people of Israel are scattered in foreign lands across the earth, he hears God speaking:
“See, I am going to...gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them those who are blind and those who are lame...
a great company, they shall return here...
“I will lead them back,
I will let them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble..."
Jeremiah speaks of gathering a great company of people together, including all those who are blind and lame, and leading them all back to Jerusalem, the holy city.
Here in this Sunday's Gospel, Jesus gathers a great company of people together, including Bartimaeus who once was blind, and leads them all to Jerusalem, the holy city.
And in the fullness of time, in the fullness of the Kingdom, what then? Is it not the Plan to gather all people into God's company, including those who most desire God's mercy, and lead them all back to the most holy city, the Kingdom of God?
This is a beautiful thought, but what does it mean for us now? Can we experience the fullness of the Kingdom? How can we live this miracle today?
What happens when we call out, like Bartimaeus, "Christ, have mercy!"?
What happens when we continue to call out, even louder, when there does not seem to be an answer, or when others try to silence us?
God stands still and speaks.
People listen and are changed.
We are made to see; we are made whole.
We are returned from the outskirts to the very centre, together with Christ, following right behind him on the way.
The Kingdom, in all its fullness, comes near.