Fr. Charles Irvin
Jeremiah 31:7-9; Hebrews 5:1-6; Mark 10:46-52
This year’s gospel accounts have been taken from St. Mark’s Gospel. Three Sunday’s ago St. Mark tells us of Jesus, while on His way up to Jerusalem, encountering a rich young man. Jesus deeply cared for him and invited the young man to follow Him. He, however, turned away from following Jesus because he was captivated by his wealth, because he was blinded by his possessions.
Last Sunday St. Mark tells us of Jesus dealing with James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who asked Jesus for the privileged positions of sitting on glittering thrones next to Him when He entered into glory. They were bedazzled and blinded by their visions of power.
In today’s gospel account we find Jesus at the threshold of Jerusalem. He’s about to climb on to a donkey and ride into Jerusalem, an event we celebrate every Palm Sunday as we begin Holy Week.
Bar-Timaeus, the son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting there begging along the way. We don’t know for how many years he was a beggar but evidently it was many because he was well known by the local citizens. He was regarded as a nobody, so much of a nobody that he wasn’t even called by his own name. He was known only as Bar-Timaeus, the son of a man by the name of Timaeus.
Evidently his cloak was his house, his shelter, his only protection against the sun and the rain, along with the dogs and the street urchins who, no doubt, tried to vex him. Beggars like Bartimaeus don’t move; they stay in one place so they can develop a regular clientele, people who come to know them and care for them, however minimally, over the years. Their dependency immobilizes them.
Bartimaeus had heard about the miracle worker, Jesus of Nazareth. And here was Jesus, entering into Jerusalem, with the crowd shouting and singing hosannas, alleluias, and such. Amidst all of this din and commotion Bartimaeus shouts out to Jesus.
How annoying! Here was Jesus entering Jerusalem in triumph and this nobody, this blind beggar, this interloper, makes his need felt right at this most critical moment in Jesus’ life. “Keep quiet!” he was told. “Hush up! Don’t you know what’s happening? The Messiah of Israel is about to enter Jerusalem to throw out all of those rich politicians and members of the elite, to organize an army to throw the Roman soldiers out of Israel, and bring God’s freedom and peace to His Chosen People. Keep quiet – don’t bother Him! He’s got our entire future on His mind.”
“Jesus, Son of David,” he shouts even louder, “have pity on me!
Suddenly with his cry the entire redemptive activity of the Messiah stops. Jesus brings everything to a halt. It’s hard to even think of an analogous picture. Yet it happened: Jesus stopped everything for this one, blind, nameless, beggar. Incredible!
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks, knowing full well what Bartimaeus wants. But he wants Bartimaeus to recognize what his real need truly is. So Jesus asks him the question.
Bartimaeus responds from a depth and with a meaning which only Jesus could know. Evidently, in Bartimaeus’ s heart there was a request to see more than simply with his eyesight. Evidently Bartimaeus wanted his soul to have eyes. He came to recognize that truth, and so he asked Jesus, in full expectant faith, for that gift of vision, the gift of that inner vision known as faith.
Asking for it, he receives it instantly. And with it he sees what the rich young man we heard about two weeks ago did not see. And he sees what Christ’s own apostles, James and John, did not see. They were blind, but Bartimaeus sees, and that’s the point of this week’s gospel account. Jesus then says: “Be on your way, you faith has saved you.”
We need to note the lovely little twist at the end of today’s passage. Bartimaeus did not go off on his own way, as did the rich young man. No, instead he followed the way of Jesus… followed Him where? And into what? Well, into Jerusalem, and into the awful passion, torture, bloody crucifixion, and death of Jesus. It was the cup of suffering from which James and John, the sons of Zebedee eventually came to drink.
Can you imagine what Bartimaeus must have experienced? There he was, living for years on the outskirts of Jerusalem as a blind, immobilized, no-name beggar, with nothing but a big cloak for protection. He throws it off. The equivalent for us would be to give away our homes away, abandon our jobs or careers, and follow some religious zealot who was speaking about the end of the world.
Bartimaeus cast away all of the securities that he had in the world. He threw himself upon the mercy and power of Jesus of Nazareth. Then, instead of going off on his own way, he enters upon the way of Jesus; he follows Jesus’ path as one of His companions and disciples. And immediately after having received his sight and after having followed in Christ’s footsteps, the first things he sees with his newly sighted eyes are the sights of Jesus being spit on, wearing a crown of thorns, beaten, mocked, and dying a slow, agonizing death while nailed to a cross.
We can now begin to realize the message St. Mark is presenting to us. We now have a glimpse into the length and breadth, height and depth of faith… and what it is that faith in Jesus Christ requires of us.
There’s one other thing that we should realize…. something of the highest importance that we should see with our eyes, wonder about, and then take into our souls. Jesus asked Bartimaeus to tell Him what he wanted. We have to name what it is that we lack. We have to own it, acknowledge it, and then ask our loving, caring, and provident Christ just what it is that we really need and want.
You are here at Mass today to come into contact with Jesus Christ. He has done everything He possibly could for you, having been crucified, suffered, and died – and then, by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, having been raised from the dead in order to be here on this altar for you and for me. You are here, today amidst the busyness, noise, and din of this crazy world of ours, cloaked in whatever protections that cover you to keep you safe and to shield you from all that’s going on out there. Jesus is truly here in His Eucharistic Presence. And just as He asked that no-name, blind, beggar called Bartimaeus to name what it was that he wanted, so also Jesus asks you, just as truly and just as really, precisely what it is that you want from Him.
Do you and I have an answer? Can we identify what we really want? For unless we know exactly what it is, and unless we can specifically name it, we won’t receive it. He can’t give it to us unless we really want it. No gift can be given to someone who really doesn’t want it.