By Gayle Somers
Gospel (Read Mk 10:46-52)
As Jesus, His disciples, and “a sizeable crowd” were leaving Jericho (a city about 17 miles northeast of Jerusalem), they encountered a blind beggar, Bartimaeus, sitting by the roadside. The buzz from the crowd told Bartimaeus that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. He began to cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” This was a very unusual way for a person who didn’t know Jesus to address Him. It was full of Messianic significance. The Jews believed that the Messiah for whom they waited would be a descendant of King David and his rightful heir (see Isa 9:7; Ezek 34:23-24). In addition, Jewish tradition expected the Messiah to heal and exorcise demons, as it was believed that King Solomon once did (see Wis 7:20). So, in one loud cry, the blind beggar identifies Jesus as the One for whom all Jews longed. The crowd wasn’t amused: “And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.” This raises two questions: (1) How did Bartimaeus know who Jesus was? (2) Why was the crowd so impatient with him?
Because he was blind, Bartimaeus had to rely on what he was hearing from others about this Jesus of Nazareth. Had he heard stories from people who had seen Him? There was plenty of talk about the miracle-worker from Galilee. Notice that even here there was a “sizeable crowd” with Him. People who are blind rely on their other senses to learn what they need to know. Bartimaeus was a beggar, unable to work to support himself because of his blindness. His hearing must have been acute, and he had lots of time on his hands. As he listened to what people were saying about Jesus, did he become convinced that the Messianic prophecies he had known all his life were being fulfilled in this remarkable rabbi? Even without being able to see Jesus, was he confident that he should make the most of this moment and cry out for pity from the Son of David, the new King of Israel?
Why did “many” in the crowd try to silence him? Did they think that calling Jesus “Son of David” was wildly over the top? Were they convinced that a marginalized beggar like Bartimaeus should not accost someone as important as Jesus? Were their sensibilities offended on both counts? If so, then Bartimaeus could “see” Jesus much better than they. Their rebuke, coming from their blindness, made Bartimaeus all the more determined. No matter how hopeless and unlikely it seemed, he was not about the let this moment slip away from him.
His perseverance paid off: “Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’” We are not surprised to see the blind man’s response: “He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.” He was so eager to take his need to Jesus! It would seem obvious what Bartimaeus needed from Jesus was for his vision to be healed. Why didn’t Jesus just reach out and do that? Why did He ask the man, “What do you want from Me?” Perhaps Jesus wanted this encounter with the needy Bartimaeus to be personal (we have so often seen this in St. Mark’s Gospel). Jesus wanted a conversation with the man who already knew and believed so much about Him. Notice the humility in Bartimaeus’ response: “Master, I want to see.” He didn’t demand to be healed. He simply stated his deepest need to the One he believed could satisfy it.
Once this personal exchange has taken place between Jesus and the blind man, the miracle has already happened: “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Jesus tells him that his faith—his belief that all God’s promises to the Jews were summed up in Jesus—has been the cause of his healing: “Immediately he received his sight…” The first healing Bartimaeus received that day was not in his eyes but in his soul: “…and [he] followed Him on the way.” The blind beggar became a follower of Jesus. Thus, he becomes an illustration of all that the Son of David came to do, first for the Jews and then for the whole world. Sin makes all of us blind beggars, unable to see Truth and utterly unable to help ourselves. A cry of faith in Jesus as God’s promised help means a personal relationship with God’s own Son and a brand new life. See how Bartimaeus “threw aside his cloak,” which is a picture of shedding an old way for the new. When our faith takes us to Jesus, we are healed. The autonomy of sin that leaves us on the side of the road is no longer appealing. Our feet find a better path, following Jesus “on the way.”
Physical sight is a blessing, but the opened eyes of the soul, as Bartimaeus teaches us, is a much greater gift.
Possible response: Lord Jesus, I know that all my needs can lead me to You, if only I let them. Please help me hear when You call me to come.
First Reading (Read Jer 31:7-9)
We can see that long before Bartimaeus’ day, God promised, through the prophet, Jeremiah, to one day restore His exiled people, who were then like blind beggars in a foreign land, to great joy. “The blind,” as well as others in need, would return “as an immense throng” (recall that St. Mark noted the “sizeable crowd” with Jesus in our Gospel). God said, “I will lead them to brooks of water, on a level road, so that none shall stumble.” Recall that Jesus offered living water to those who believed in Him (see Jn 4:14;7:38). Bartimaeus found that living water sitting by “the roadside.”
When the blind man remembered promises like these and heard the report about Jesus, he cried out for pity. Thus, he is a living example of those who “departed in tears” but whom God promises to “console…and guide.”
No wonder he wouldn’t shut up!
Possible response: Heavenly Father, the world today is full of people living like exiles from You. Help Your Church announce the Good News of reconciliation in Jesus to them.
Psalm (Read Ps 126:1-6)
The psalm deepens our appreciation of how our Gospel episode is an iconic fulfillment of God’s promises to His needy people—the Jews first, then the whole world. It describes the ecstasy of God’s people who, after being exiled from their homeland because of sin (as Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden), were returned by God and reconciled to Him (as He has done for us through Jesus and Mary). The psalmist says “…our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue was rejoicing.” He tells us that when “the nations” heard of God’s merciful work for His people, Israel, they said, “The Lord has done great things for them.” This reminds us of when the crowd in the Gospel, upon hearing that Jesus actually wanted to speak with the blind beggar, says to Bartimaeus: “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.” God’s restoration and gift of new life has only one appropriate response, then and now: The Lord has done great things for me; we are filled with joy.”
Possible response: The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings. Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.
Second Reading (Read Heb 5:1-6)
The author of Hebrews is writing here about the humility of Jesus, Who did not “glorify Himself” by taking the honor of priesthood upon Himself. Rather, He waited on God to appoint Him “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” Even God’s own Son did not make demands on the Father; He waited to be “called by God.”
This reminds us, again, of Bartimaeus. As Jesus passed by, he cried out for pity. However, he didn’t take a step towards Him until Jesus said, “Call him.” Once the call went out, the blind man had a ready, joyous response. When Jesus asked what he wanted, he made no demands; he simply stated his desire: “Master, I want to see.” In this, he becomes for us an example of humility.
In humility, Jesus received His call to be our High Priest. In humility, He offers Himself to us in the Eucharist. As we stand before Him, in answer to His call, we can say with Bartimaeus, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus never grows weary of healing our blindness.
Possible response: “Master, I want to see.”