Be Bartimaeus.

A homily for the 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B

El Greco, Christ Healing the Blind (1575)
El Greco, Christ Healing the Blind (1575)

Be Bartimaeus.

The Gospel presents Bartimaeus to us to show us that this is what it looks like to follow Jesus. This is what we’re called to. So what can we learn from him? I would propose three things: (1) see your blindness; (2) beg boldly; and (3) make Jesus’ Way your way.

What’s the first thing we hear about Bartimaeus? That he’s a blind man. He needs help. But at least he can see that he needs help.

He can’t ignore the fact that he’s disabled, that he’s in need of assistance. We’re often blind to this about ourselves, thinking that we can do it all on our own. We think that we don’t need Jesus, or at least, we think this until things go so badly that we have nowhere to turn but Him.

It’s why He says in John 9, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind. […] If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”

And it’s why God promises in the First Reading to come and gather up and heal all of the broken people of the world, the blind, the lame, the mothers and children who need consolation.

For Bartimaeus to be healed, he’s go to first see that he’s blind. He’s got to acknowledge what needs healing. What do you need healed? Where are you wounded? Maybe it’s by your own sins, your own addictions, maybe it’s by the way that others have hurt you, maybe it’s by the fact that you can’t do it all on your own. See your blindness.

But that’s not enough. Next, you’ve got beg boldly. Bartimaeus has the humility to sit by the road and beg for help. He knows that in doing this, other people are going to be judging him. Maybe they’ll be rude to him to his face, maybe they’ll just think ill of him behind his back. He does it anyways. He suffers all of this because he knows he needs help.

You know who begs boldly? Children. Jesus tells us that “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” What does He mean by this? He doesn’t mean “don’t think” or “don’t ask questions.” Nobody asks as many questions as a child, and they’re constantly trying to understand our world better.

But think about the absolute trust with which they act. When they’re in pain, or sad, or need something, what do they do? They cry out for help. When they’re too young to speak, they just scream and cry, because on some level they know that if they do this long enough, someone bigger than them, someone who loves them, will come and help them.

We need to do this with God. Cry out to Him in prayer, scream if you have to, and if you don’t get an answer, keep doing it.

Now part of begging boldly means being willing to receive what you’re asking for. Jesus asks Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” And what does Bartimaeus reply, “Master, I want to see.”

You might be thinking: obviously. Obviously he wants to see. But what does that entail? What does that mean for Bartimaeus? It means that his whole life is about to change. After Christ heals a blind man in John’s Gospel, it says that “the neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar, said, ‘Is not this the man who used to sit and beg?’” So Bartimaeus’ life of sitting there as the blind beggar outside the city is over. People might have compassion on the blind guy sitting on the roadside, but as an able-bodied man? Good luck.

Bartimaeus risks all of this: he knows that his old life will be over, and he says, ‘Yes, this is what I want! I want to leave behind my life of blindness and go in a new way.’

Bartimaeus isn’t afraid to follow Jesus along the way.

In Isaiah 55, God says to man, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” It’s a good reminder that God has a plan, even though we can’t always understand it.

But sometimes, the plan is just too inscrutable for us. And so we can doubt that God has a plan; perhaps we can even doubt if there is a God. The philosopher and atheist Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “‘This is now my way, where is yours?’ Thus did I answer those who asked me ‘the way.’ For the way, it doth not exist!” And that’s exactly what our culture teaches: you’ve got your way, I’ve got my way, and there’s not such thing as “The Way,” there’s no right way.

What can we say to this? Jesus Christ answers, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Once He says this, He’s taken an important possibility off the board. No longer can we just treat Him like some helpful guru or life coach. He’s either much less, or much more, than that.

So what do we make of this? Is He some sort of egomaniac? He is lying about being God? Is He utterly insane? Or, and this is perhaps the most startling possibility, is He telling the truth? Look at the evidence. Look at His beautiful teachings: they seem sane and compassionate. Look at His miracles: they point us towards the incredible truth that He really is Who He really He is. And most of all, look at the historical fact of the Resurrection, God’s ultimate stamp of approval of Jesus Christ.

If we want to get to Heaven, Jesus is the Way. Bartimaeus, who doesn’t know about the Resurrection, who hasn’t even seen a miracle yet, he gets this. He cries out in faith to Christ. And what happens next? After Bartimaeus tells Jesus that he wants to see, Jesus says to him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” And then it says that Bartimaeus “received his sight and followed him on the way.” Bartimaeus’ way is Jesus’ way now.

This is where it all leads. Once we see that we’re blind, we need to have the courage and the humility to boldly beg for healing. We need to be willing to leave that old way behind, the way that left us blind, and walk in a new way in the light of Jesus Christ.

9 Comments

  1. I’ve been surprised by the depth of that line of the gospel account, too. “And he followed Jesus along the way.”

    Jesus gives a remarkable gift: he heals the man born blind. This is an unparalleled act. “Never since the world began has it been heard that any one opened the eyes of a man born blind.” (John 9:32 RSV) But even more remarkable, to me, is the direction, “Go your way.” What freedom this God has given us! Even when He displays His power, He reaffirms our freedom. And the key, for me, is that Bartimaeus “followed him on the way”. He followed Jesus’ direction: he did go his way. He had made Jesus’ Way his way.

  2.  “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind. […] If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”
    So if i may show my ignorance: why are we told to be blind? Blind to what?
    This passage needs some s’plaining.

    1. Regarding the meme, God also gave man ‘free will’ in which to choose to accept that grace, or not.

      I think it is somewhat futile to be investigating deeply into the origins of grace as it is really the Almighty Father’s prerogative and domaine. But our particular concern, as creatures, should be to seek the Lord’s will on a daily basis, and particularly follow the first commandment to ‘love the Lord with all of our heart, with all of our soul, with all of our mind, and with all of our strength’ and then ‘our neighbor as our self’.

      Spending a lot of energy and time studying the origins of grace is somewhat similar to attempting to draw conclusions about the ‘big bang’. Why waste the time? There are far more important things to focus on in this life. Why is the study of the primal origin of our physical life so important if we are sick, weak or dying, and can hardly maintain the physical life as it presents itself to us on a daily basis? And, if we indeed ‘can’ maintain our physical life, then how about taking care of our neighbor who, like the poor man ‘Lazarus at the gate’, cannot do so? And, likewise, why should we study the ‘origins’ of grace so minutely, and scrupulously, or make detailed conclusions about it, if we don’t maintain, or be protective of, the little graces and gifts that God actually offers to us to live spiritually? Jesus also teaches something similar when He says, ‘sufficient for the day is the evil thereof’. That is, we don’t need to think, or worry, too much about tomorrow, when we aren’t even certain about making it through the present day in a way that pleases the Lord. We should take care of our spirituality on an hour by hour basis, and not put too much attention to the future.

      And this saying of the Lord also stresses that we must out of our own free will participate, and work, and pray, to maintain God’s grace in our lives. That is, we must not only listen to Jesus, when He teaches us such lessons in the Gospel, but also be obedient to what He says, and put His lessons into practice. We need to make the ‘choice’ to follow His teaching on a day by day, hour by hour, basis; and thereby conquer the evil that presents itself to us on a day by day, hour by hour, basis.

      Just a reflection.

      1. Why do people go on this free will kick? I made no mention of the will, I simply said that apart from the grace of God man is spiritually blind, deaf, and dumb and so he can want to will something but find himself unable to have the aptitude apart from the grace of God.

        1. I think Tim Staples, an excellent Catholic apologist, can reply better than me, so as to save you time:

          “God’s will is immutable; therefore, God’s will is always accomplished. The mistake is to reject free will because of this truth. We have already seen that it is God’s will for all to be saved (2 Pt 3:9, cf. 1 Tm 2:4, 1 Jn 2:1-2). But it is also true that some men will not be saved (cf. Mt 7:13, 25:46; Rv 21:8). This implies the freedom to choose to serve God or not (cf. Dt 28:15, Mt 19:17-22). All of this must be understood within God’s predestined plan. How do we reconcile all of this? We conclude that God’s will has an antecedent and a consequent nature. It is God’s antecedent will that all be saved. However, as a consequence of God’s gift of free will, some reject God’s antecedent will. It then becomes God’s consequent will for that soul to go to hell. God’s will is accomplished and our free will, which is revealed in Scripture, is preserved. It is God’s predestined plan for us to have free will (CCC 600).”

          His whole article is here, if you are interested in learning more of the Catholic position:

          http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/predestined-for-freedom

  3. I have always loved this story from Mark. Unless I’m forgetting something, Bartimaeus is the only person Jesus healed whose name we know (unless you count Lazarus, who was raised from the dead, as a “healing”). And not only do we know his name, we know his father’s (Timaeus)! And this utterly destitute, blind beggar was not only wise enough to discern just who Jesus was, he had the guts to say so. My impression has always been that the crowd was telling him to shut up, not because he was causing a disturbance, but rather because he had the courage to speak aloud what they silently suspected, but had not the nerve to admit publicly (that Jesus was the “Son of David” with all that would imply to a 1st Century Jew).

  4. I like the title of this post “Be Bartimaeus”. But I think we also need to ‘Be Bartimaeus’ on a continual basis. Since God is Eternal, we will always have the ability to understand Him, ‘to see Him’, better and more clearly. It’s like ‘Jacob’s ladder’, we can ascend to a higher rung closer to Heaven, that provides a clearer understanding of God, or we can also go back, and descend a rung, or two, or more, and maybe forget the inspiration, or wisdom, that was provided on the higher rungs.

    But to ‘Be Bartimaeus’ continually, is to always be ‘desiring and striving to see’ and, as Joe stresses, even ‘begging and pleading for it’. And Jesus stresses the point also, when He teaches through a pertinent parable on the necessity of begging:

    “And he said to them: Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go to him at midnight, and shall say to him: Friend, lend me three loaves,[6] Because a friend of mine is come off his journey to me, and I have not what to set before him. [7] And he from within should answer, and say: Trouble me not, the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. [8] Yet if he shall continue knocking, I say to you, although he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend; yet, because of his importunity, he will rise, and give him as many as he needeth. [9] And I say to you, Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you. [10] For every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.”

    So, Christians need to follow the Lord’s counsel, and to use their free will to ‘beg’ for the graces to know God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, better. We must ‘Be Bartimaeus’, and moreover, ‘Be Bartimaeus’ CONTINUALLY. In this way, we will always be growing closer to the Lord, closer to Heaven. We will always be advancing from Earth to Heaven on ‘Jacob’s ladder’.

  5. Anyone seeking with all his heart to “Be Bartimaeus’ and to flow intently Joe’s three proposed things: (1) see your blindness; (2) beg boldly; and (3) make Jesus’ Way your way, should take a good look at a famous treatise of St. John Climacus(525-606) titled:

    “THE LADDER OF DIVINE ASCENT”. It is available, online, here:

    http://www.prudencetrue.com/images/TheLadderofDivineAscent.pdf

    And here is a sample of this excellent spiritual work from a very famous early Father of the Church:

    Step 1

    On renunciation of the world

    1. Our God and King is good, ultra-good and all-good (it is best to begin with God in writing to the servants of God). Of the rational beings created by Him and honoured with the dignity of free-will, some are His friends, others are His true servants, some are worthless, some are completely estranged from God, and others, though feeble creatures are equally His opponents. By friends of God, dear and holy Father,1 we simple people mean, properly speaking, those intellectual and incorporeal beings which surround God. By true servants of God we mean all those who tirelessly and unremittingly do and have done His will. By worthless servants we mean those who think of themselves as having been granted baptism, but have not faithfully kept the vows they made to God. By those estranged from God and alienated from Him, we mean those who are unbelievers or heretics. Finally, the enemies of God are those who have not only evaded and rejected the Lord’s commandment themselves, but who also wage bitter war on those who are fulfilling it.

    2. Each of the classes mentioned above might well have a special treatise devoted to it. But for simple folk like us it would not be profitable at this point to enter into such lengthy investigations. Come then, in unquestioning obedience let us stretch out our unworthy hand to the true servants of God who devoutly compel us and in their faith constrain us by their commands. Let us write this treatise with a pen taken from their knowledge and dipped in the ink of humility which is both subdued yet radiant. Then let us apply it to the smooth white paper of their hearts, or rather rest it on the tablets of the spirit, and let us inscribe the divine words (or rather sow the seeds).2 And let us begin like this.

    3. God belongs to all free beings. He is the life of all, the salvation of all—faithful and unfaithful, just and unjust, pious and impious, passionate and dispassionate, monks and seculars, wise and simple, healthy and sick, young and old—just as the diffusion of light, the sight of the sun, and the changes of the weather are for all alike; ‘for there is no respect of persons with God’.3

    4. The irreligious man is a mortal being with a rational nature, who of his own free will turns his back on life and thinks of his own Maker, the ever-existent, as non-existent. The lawless man is one who holds the law of God after his own depraved fashion,4 and thinks to combine faith in God with heresy that is directly opposed to Him. The Christian is one who imitates Christ in thought, word and deed, as far as is possible for human beings, believing rightly and blamelessly in the Holy Trinity. The lover of God is he who lives in communion with all that is natural and sinless, and as far as he is able neglects nothing good. The continent man is he who in the midst of temptations, snares and turmoil, strives with all his might to imitate the ways of Him who is free from such. The monk is he who within his earthly and soiled body toils towards the rank and state of the incorporeal beings.5 A monk is he who strictly controls his nature and unceasingly watches over his senses. A monk is he who keeps his body in chastity, his mouth pure and his mind illumined. A monk is a mourning soul that both asleep and awake is unceasingly occupied with the remembrance of death. Withdrawal from the world is voluntary hatred of vaunted material things and denial of nature for the attainment of what is above nature.

    5. All who have willingly left the things of the world, have certainly done so either for the sake of the future Kingdom, or because of the multitude of their sins, or for love of God. If they were not moved by any of these reasons their withdrawal from the world was unreasonable. But God who sets our contests waits to see what the end of our course will be.

    6. The man who has withdrawn from the world in order to shake off his own burden of sins, should imitate those who sit outside the city amongst the tombs, and should not discontinue his hot and fiery streams of tears and voiceless heartfelt groanings until he, too, sees that Jesus has come to him and rolled away the stone of hardness1 from his heart, and loosed Lazarus, that is to say, our mind, from the bands of sin, and ordered His attendant angels: Loose him2 from passions, and let him go to blessed dispassion.3 Otherwise he will have gained nothing.

    7. Those of us who wish to go out of Egypt and to fly from Pharaoh, certainly need some Moses as a mediator with God and from God, who, standing between action and contemplation, will raise hands of prayer for us to God, so that guided by Him we may cross the sea of sin and rout the Amalek of the passions.4 That is why those who have surrendered themselves to God, deceive themselves if they suppose that they have no need of a director. Those who came out of Egypt had Moses as their guide, and those who fled from Sodom had an angel.5 The former are like those who are healed of the passions of the soul by the care of physicians: these are they who come out of Egypt. The latter are like those who long to put off the uncleanness of the wretched body. That is why they need a helper, an angel, so to speak, or at least one equal to an angel. For in proportion to the corruption of our wounds we need a director who is indeed an expert and a physician.

    8. Those who aim at ascending with the body to heaven, need violence indeed and constant suffering6 especially in the early stages of their renunciation, until our pleasure-loving dispositions and unfeeling hearts attain to love of God and chastity by visible sorrow. A great toil, very great indeed, with much unseen suffering, especially for those who live carelessly, until by simplicity, deep angerlessness and diligence, we make our mind, which is a greedy kitchen dog addicted to barking, a lover of chastity and watchfulness. But let us who are weak and passionate have the courage to offer our infirmity and natural weakness to Christ with unhesitating faith, and confess it to Him; and we shall be certain to obtain His help, even beyond our merit, if only we unceasingly go right down to the depth of humility.”…

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