In today’s Gospel we are given the story of Blind Bartimaeus for our consideration. This is the last incident to occur on Jesus’ journey up to Jerusalem for the Passover where he is to meet his fate on the Cross of Calvary. But despite the fact that Jesus knows that this is the most important journey of his life and that he is shortly to face his own death he still is able to find the time to heal Bartimaeus. This shows us where Jesus’ priorities truly lie.
Actually, there were a lot of people on the road that day as they were leaving Jericho; they were all going up to Jerusalem early so that they could be ritually purified before celebrating the feast of Passover. Jesus too goes there some days before the feast so that he can spend time in the Temple to prepare for the events that were to lead to our salvation.
Bartimaeus hears that it is Jesus who is passing and so shouts out asking Jesus for mercy. The people around who thought that Jesus was too important a person to have anything to do with an insignificant and blind beggar tell him to shut up, but he shouts all the more.
When Jesus asks the people to call him they, who were previously so anxious to shut Bartimaeus up, change their tune and in what sounds like a very patronising way say to him, ‘Have courage.’ One thing Bartimaeus was certainly not short of was courage.
Of course, we could also see this matter of needing courage to approach Jesus in the light of the group of people to whom this Gospel was addressed. In the early days of the Church when its members faced frequent persecution it took real courage to become a Christian. Seen in this light, these words about having courage are filled with meaning and significance. Those words, ‘Take courage, he is calling you’ would have been frequently on the lips of Christians in the first couple of centuries.
Bartimaeus threw off his cloak and jumps to his feet and comes directly to Jesus. One might ask why he was wearing a cloak when the climate of Jericho was noticeably warmer than that of Jerusalem. The answer is that he probably was not wearing the cloak at all but that it was spread on the ground to catch the coins people might throw to him.
Bartimaeus casting aside his cloak is probably a reference to him leaving aside all his worldly possessions to follow Jesus. The cloak and the rest of his clothes were probably the only things he actually possessed and indeed the cloak was an indication of his dependence on begging. It should be seen therefore that he was giving up his livelihood in order to follow Jesus.
He calls Jesus ‘The Son of David’ and by this he surely means not just that Jesus is a descendent of King David but that he is undoubtedly the Messiah, the one who was to save Israel. Addressing Jesus in this way is an indication of his faith in him.
When Jesus asks what he wants him to do he says, ‘Let me see again.’ Of course, we ought to recognise the double meaning here. Yes, Bartimaeus wants his sight back but he also wants to see with faith. He wants insight, he wants to have deeper faith than he already has. In recognition of the faith he has already shown his sight is instantly returned and he follows Jesus along the road. He moves then from someone who has faith but who was completely stuck because of his blindness to someone who is now a disciple of Jesus and who follows him along the road.
Jericho is seventeen miles from Jerusalem and interestingly it is far and away the lowest city in the world and also incidentally one of the oldest. A wall has been uncovered there which is dated at about 8,000 years old. It is believed to have been first inhabited in 9,000 BC.
Jericho is actually an incredible 850 feet below sea level, Jerusalem, however, is 2,500 feet above sea level and so although it is only seventeen miles away it is a very steep climb from one to the other. This journey that Jesus undertakes that day is therefore very much an uphill climb in all senses of that expression.
When Jesus says to Bartimaeus, ‘Your faith has saved you,’ we should note that the word saved has two meanings both of which are forms of healing. His faith has resulted in his restored eyesight which is a physical healing but it has also meant that he has won salvation in the spiritual sense. By this we mean that his soul is healed.
Salvation is most definitely healing of the profoundest possible kind. It is a wiping away of sin and a reconciliation of the individual person with God. Salvation ought to be our chief goal in life. Our deepest desire is to be restored to the Father and invited to share his life in the Heavenly Kingdom. This is healing in a total sense, a healing of both body and soul. From this story of Blind Bartimaeus we learn that Jesus is willing to offer us salvation, all we have to do is to express our faith in him.
Another interesting insight is that Jesus tells the people standing around to call the blind man to him. He could have called Bartimaeus himself since they were in earshot of each other. But I think Jesus asks the surrounding people to call Bartimaeus in recognition of the fact that the call of Christ normally involves other people.
Most of us do not ever hear the voice of God ringing in our ears telling us what to do. Usually God’s call is mediated through another human being. It might be the priest who preaches the Gospel to us at mass, it might be a Catechist who explains the words of Jesus, or it may be our parents who teach us to pray. It could actually be anyone, even someone who is not really conscious of what they are doing. Quite often, it is the quality of our listening that makes the difference.
This is an important point, Jesus uses us to communicate his call to others. We should be aware of just how vital this role is and whenever we find the opportunity we should not be afraid to use those words of the bystanders in today’s Gospel, ‘Take courage, he is calling you.’
Father Alex's sermons are now available as a Kindle e-book: 'Sermons for the Christian Year.'
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket