The story of the healing of the blind Bartimaeus in today’s gospel challenges us in different ways. It highlights Christ’s mission to save humanity and significantly to elevate human dignity to the status intended by God at creation. Bartimaeus described Jesus as “Son of David,” pointing out his authority as both king and messiah. Jesus comes to heal broken humanity and to free us from physical and spiritual entanglement of which Bartimaeus is an example. He is high priest of the order of Melchizedek as seen in the second reading. This bestows on Christ the role of mediator, one who stands on behalf of his own. As high priest, Christ is God’s Son as echoed in the Psalms, “this day I have begotten you.” He is “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” The name Melchizedek, means “king of justice” or “king of peace.” He is the Canaanite priest who blessed Abraham in the Old Testament thus performing his priestly duty. Christ is the eternal high priest who stands as a representative for his people. The high priest feels what his subjects feel and desires their freedom. That is what he offered to the blind man on his way from Jericho to Jerusalem as he frees him saying, “Go your way, your faith has saved you.”
The blind man, Bartimaeus, stands by the roadside begging. He is not privileged with physical vision like others, so, possibly not recognizable. We know how much limited a blind person can be. The Jewish mentality places some stigma on such persons because of their deformity. Scripture records another incident about the man born blind this way, “And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” (Jn. 9:2). Treating individuals with deformity poorly still happens in our time. I had a cousin who was born blind who would sit dejectedly by himself all day. My cousin was apparently treated differently from all his siblings because he was blind. My uncle and aunt did not seem to find him as worthy of the same love as their other children since the others had no physical disabilities. Each time we visited my uncle’s house, this blind kid just sat beside the fireplace, rarely talked to anyone, and rarely had company. He was lonely and unkempt. This is the image of Bartimaeus in my head, sure, there are several Bartimaeus’s out there. But Jesus comes to free them, to hear their cry for help since no one else would help them. In this gospel passage, the same people who abandoned him tried to shut him up. The world shuts people like Bartimaeus up, rebukes them, and commands them to be silent. Bartimaeus is undaunted, would not be silent.
Placing this in the context of faith, Bartimaeus provides several lessons for us from his actions:
Lesson against self-pity
Self-pity means being excessively self-absorbed in unhappiness over one’s problems. Self-pity creates a negative self-image of the individual, attacks the individual’s mental capacity and prevents the individual from seeking solution to the problem. You just feel excessively sorry for yourself. Self-pity arises from a feeling of rejection. It can lead to despair and self-destructive attitude. Self-pity results in depression. Being rebuked by the crowd, Bartimaeus has reasons to dwell in self-pity. He feels dehumanized, trying to reach out, he is made to feel not qualified to call on Jesus for help. He is presented with a low self-worth and just asked to be silent. He would not succumb. Bartimaeus confronts his negative side with courage. He knows what God can do at such a critical moment. Are there factors that threaten your self-worth -health challenges, addiction, finance, family challenges? How do you respond to such? Are you able to reach out to Jesus?
Lesson on perseverance
After Jesus had given the example of perseverance with the importunate friend who would persist on his request from his friend in the gospel, he says to his disciples, “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Lk. 11:9). Bartimaeus does just that. He teaches us great lessons on the importance of perseverance. The blind man is resolutely focused on Jesus and not deterred by the intimidating crowd. He insists on getting his request met by Jesus. Bartimaeus is determined, that way, he attracts the attention of Jesus. Scripture says of him, “he kept calling out all the more.” Are there times you feel like giving up? Are you able to shove distractions aside? Are there times you feel like you’ve asked for the same things over and over again? Do you think you really have asked enough?
Lesson on conviction
Perseverance and conviction are not exactly the same but conviction can be the end product of perseverance. Conviction provides an awareness of the result that awaits persistence. Bartimaeus is convinced that his request will yield a positive outcome. For that reason, he calls with clarity and assertiveness, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” Bartimaeus is sure of who Jesus is and calls on him louder. When Jesus asked that he be brought to him and asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” his answer is, “Master, I want to see.” Bartimaeus knows exactly what he wants from Jesus and he goes for it. What would you say is your attitude towards sin and forgiveness? Are you able to reach out for God’s mercy? Are you able to say with humility, “Son of David, have pity on me?” How often do you make use of the sacrament of reconciliation offered freely for you? Are you convinced about going to confessions?
Lesson on faith
The faith of Bartimaeus humiliates those who claim to see. He does not have the ability to see, yet he is able to identify who Jesus is. In that passage, we read that Jesus is followed by a “sizeable crowd,” with each person possibly trying to get close to the Master. Bartimaeus expresses his faith from a distance without seeing. After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples twice, the first time Thomas was not there. At his second appearance, Jesus revealed himself to Thomas with these words, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn. 20:29). In Bartimaeus, we appreciate the meaning of having spiritual vision. He is a man of faith. Scripture scholars maintain that Bartimaeus is one of those whose names are identified after their healing because such individuals have been definitely saved and served the Church in their lifetime unlike those whose names the evangelists did not disclose. In another instance, there was a man who had been incapacitated for 38 years who waited for the movement of the water in a pool in the Gospel of John (5:2-15). This man’s name remains unknown, Jesus cures that sick person and warns him about the consequences should he revert to doing things that brought him to his sick condition of which he's now restored (5:14). But having been healed, Bartimaeus follows Jesus immediately. Bartimaeus teaches us the importance of faith in Jesus Christ.
Are you aware that faith gives you a clear identity before God? Do you have the spiritual vision to see what God can do amidst obstacles in your life? Are you bold enough to call on God, to approach Jesus in the Blessed Eucharist? Yes, you are not blind, but are you really able see God’s power at those ugly challenging moments?
Lesson on discipleship
The underlying goal of every miracle performed by Christ is witnessing to God’s love and mercy. Jesus’ mission is to make disciples of all nations, to spread the good news to God’s people. Bartimaeus teaches us what true discipleship entails. His resolute mindedness stands out from the beginning of his appeal. First, “he threw aside his cloak, sprang up and came to Jesus.” Then, “Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way” (Mk. 10:52). He is eager to carry this message of the gospel forward and does with both excitement and courage.
We can ask ourselves today, how much we are like or unlike Bartimaeus in the way he approaches his faith. A blind man has such a courage to speak up! Imagine that, a blind man identifies the authority of Jesus. He understands clearly what God can do despite opposition to his chances. In today’s world, many forces try to silence us, tries to shut us down from professing our faith. We encounter several strong factors who control power -the rich, the media, the politicians, authorities in the school system, vehement enemies of truth who kick against the good of family life, who stifle human dignity, who threaten the good news of the gospel. These forces rebuke us and command us to be silent. What do we learn from Bartimaeus? Are we able to speak up and to defend human dignity from conception through natural death? Have we been cowed to give our voice away in defense for the voiceless? Think about it today, and ask yourself, can be truly determined as Bartimaeus?
Readings: 1st- Jer. 31:7-9; 2nd- Heb. 5:1-6; Gospel- Mk. 10:46-52