For thus says the Lord: "Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, "Save, O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel."
See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here. With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.
Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people.
And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, "You are my Son, today I have begotten you;" as he says also in another place, "You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek."
They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"
Jesus stood still and said, "Call him here." And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart; get up, he is calling you." 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." Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
Contrasting previous blindness with the sight of faith — the metaphor is ancient (Plato's cave) and takes us beyond religion only. We all have blind spots, some minor, others not so minor. Usually, it takes some event to trigger the recognition that we are not seeing with 20:20 vision. The same can be true at the level of faith. Perhaps we could make our own the request of Bartimaeus: Let me see again!
There are many stories in the gospel about blind people being healed, but the one about Bartimaeus is told in the liveliest way, and it has a practical lesson for us. The poor man had lost his sight, and when he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, he had to make a choice, quickly. He could just sit there and let Jesus pass him by, or he could grab the moment, and ask to be healed. Jesus was said to have the power to heal, but you had to get his attention and ask to be healed.
In an American cartoon series called Snoopy, a sharp-tongued little girl called Lucy was trying to reform her schoolmate Charlie Browne. She glared at him critically. "Do you know what's wrong with you, Charlie Browne?" she said. "What?" he asked nervously. Lucy fumed at him and said, "What's really wrong with you is that, well, you don't want to know what's wrong with you!" Bartimaeus was not like that, for he was well aware of what was wrong with him, and was determined to have it cured! When he called out to Jesus, people around him tried to get him to stay quiet. But he just shouted louder, and kept shouting until Jesus stopped and called him over. Although Bartimaeus was blind, Jesus stayed where he was and let the blind man come to him. If he really wanted to be cured, he would find a way to get to Jesus.
It was obvious that the man was blind, and yet Jesus asked him "What do you want me to do for you?" The man had to clearly name his problem, and do so himself. If one of us needs to be cured of something, whether blindness, alcoholism, depression or any addiction, then we need to come to Jesus and tell him what's wrong. We need to NAME it. Of course he knows our needs, and yet he says "Ask and you will receive." "Your heavenly Father will surely give to those who ask."
Bartimaeus's words were simple and uncomplicated. There was no long speech, no haggling or wheedling. "I want to see" was his direct reply. And Jesus told him that his faith had healed him. Rightly, this blind man knew that Jesus would not turn away from the cry of the poor. Just think of what he did: he threw aside his old cloak, got up, and ran to Jesus. The old cloak may be a symbol for his past, his darkness, his despair. He made an act of hope-filled faith, and Jesus did not disappoint him. All attempts of the bystanders to silence him made him more determined. He was clear about what he wanted, and knew who could help him. That's why Bartimaeus has a lesson for us all, here and now.
A blind man was invited to attend a wedding. The young couple were being married in a village church well known for its architecture and its beautiful grounds. The guests were commenting on all of this at the reception afterwards and how they were struck by how well the church, the grounds and the setting all looked. When the blind man heard all this he thought to himself, 'But didn't they hear the bell?' For him, the church bell that pealed to welcome the bride and groom had been magnificent. The air was filled with its vibrating jubilation. He was amazed at the atmosphere of joy and celebration the bell had created for the occasion. Everyone else seemed to have missed that element. Although he could not see, perhaps because he could not see, his hearing was very alert. He heard the beauty that others missed. The sounds that passed others by touched him very deeply.
Today's gospel is the story of a blind man, a blind beggar. Although he was blind, his hearing was very sensitive, so he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. Although he could not see Jesus, he made contact with him through his sense of hearing. His finely tuned hearing to the presence of Jesus led him to using another sense to make contact with Jesus, his sense of speech. He cried out, 'Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.' Even when people around Jesus, including perhaps some of Jesus' disciples, told him to keep quiet, he shouted all the louder, 'Son of David, have pity on me.' Even though he could not see Jesus, he was determined to make contact with him through his gift of speech, through his urgent prayer from his heart. His prayer was an act of faith on his part. He recognized Jesus as 'Son of David' which was one of the titles for the Messiah, and trusting that Jesus could heal his blindness. His making contact through his hearing and his speaking revealed that he had an inner sight. Even though he was blind, he saw Jesus with the eyes of faith. Even when he was rebuked by the crowd for confessing his faith out loud, he refused to be silenced. He had the courage to keep professing his faith, in spite of the hostility and scorn it brought upon him. This man's courage faith and the quality of hearing, and speaking and seeing it gave rise to may have something to teach us when professing our faith publicly can invite scorn.
This man's faith literally brought Jesus to a standstill, in spite of the fact that at this point in his ministry he was hurrying from Jericho to Jerusalem. The gospel says simply, 'Jesus stopped.' Jesus' response to the heartfelt prayers of this man was in complete contrast to that of the people around him. Rather than telling him to keep quiet, Jesus told those around him to call him over. Jesus is portrayed as the champion of those not considered worthy enough to come near to God. Again we witness the extraordinary responsiveness of this man to Jesus' presence, to the call of Jesus. When he heard that Jesus was calling him, he first of all threw off his cloak. His cloak, no doubt, served many purposes. He sheltered him from the weather; it was his bed; it was in a sense his home. Yet, he abandoned it, and having done so, he jumped up and went unerringly to Jesus in his blindness. Nothing was going to hold him back from connecting with Jesus, not even his precious cloak. He speaks to all of us of our own need to free ourselves of the binds that stifle our faith and keep us from approaching the Lord.
The question Jesus asked that man when they came face to face was not the kind of dismissive question of one being interrupted, 'What do you want?' Rather, it was a very personal question 'What do you want me to do for you?' It is a question that we can hear as addressed to each of us personally, and how we answer that question can reveal who we are and what we value. A little earlier in Mark's gospel Jesus asked the same question James and John, 'What do you want me to do for you?' Their answer revealed a self-centered ambition, 'Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory?' The blind man's answer was altogether more straightforward. Aware of his blindness as a severe disability, he asked simply, 'Master, let me see again.' In answering his prayer, Jesus addressed him as a man of faith, 'your faith has saved you.' He was already seeing Jesus with the eyes of faith before he received back his physical sight. Once he received back his physical sight, we are told that he followed Jesus along the road. He immediately used his newly restored sight to walk after Jesus as a disciple up to the city of Jerusalem, where Jesus would be crucified. His faith had shaped his hearing and his speaking, and now it shaped the path he would take. We could do worse than take this man as a model of faith in our own lives. Like him we are blind beggars who need to keep on calling out to the Lord who passes by so that we can see him more clearly and follow him more nearly.