Today’s Gospel is a classic example of Mark’s use of miracle stories. He uses them to make a catechetical point, not to overwhelm the reader with Jesus’s power.
Mark does not deny the power, but emphasizes rather our desire to understand, to grasp, to find meaning.
If you want really to see who you are and what you’re life is about, you must listen closely to Jesus, not seeking words which will serve your own agenda, but rather words which challenge you, make you think, force you to reflect.
Once upon a time a very wealthy Yuppie and his girlfriend went on a trip to Africa to hunt lions – with a camera because they were politically correct Yuppies
They were shocked and disgusted by the poverty, the corruption, the hunger, and the sickness of the people in these countries. They told each other repeatedly how everything would be fine in Africa if the local people simply had a sense of initiative and responsibility and developed a work ethic something like the American one.
As a matter of solemn principle they refused to give money to beggars. When they came home they told everyone that they would never go back – the lions were as lazy as the rest of the people in Africa.
There was no point, they said in spending their tax dollars to help those who wouldn’t help themselves. Didn’t you have any sympathy with those poor people, another Yuppie asked them.
How can you sympathize, they said, with those who aren’t ready to help themselves?!
The story of the healing of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, brings to a close the section of Mark that began in 8:27 (the twenty-fourth Sunday of the year). As we have seen the focus has been on the meaning and demands of discipleship. Just prior to this incident Jesus has spoken to James and John saying to them, 'What do you want me to do for you?' Now he uses the same words, not to one of his closest companions but to a blind beggar sitting by the road who is crying out to him in desperation. James and John were seeking glory, Bartimaeus just wants to see and to gain that he throws away the only thing he owns, his cloak, lest it impede him in his journey to Jesus. His prayer is granted, he receives perfect sight and his response is to follow Jesus along the way. Jesus is leaving Jericho and heading for Jerusalem and so Bartimaeus is presented to us not simply as a recipient of the healing ministry of Jesus but as the model disciple who begs for sight so that he can follow Jesus to the cross and beyond. In the gospel, sight is often used as a metaphor for faith, being able to see God at work and to follow in the steps of Jesus.
Jesus’ attitude in this story is extraordinary. All his greatness, his divinity we might say, is expressed here. Follow every detail of St Mark's narrative and you will find yourself discovering new aspects all the time.
We can distinguish four stages in this encounter, and all of them contribute to the miraculous healing:
- he stops, in verse 49;- he says, "Call him here" in the same verse;
- "What do you want me to do for you?" in verse 51;
- "Go; your faith has saved you," in verse 52.
At each stage we can see the respectful love of Jesus, and we know from our own experience that this kind of love can work miracles.
The man's journey is also significant. Sitting at the side of the road, he is the model of all those who are marginalized, forced to beg for mercy while the great ones of the world pass by. But the faith which saves him is shown by his unconquerable spirit, his refusal to accept that he is destined to remain there for the rest of his life.
There are two groups of bystanders; the first - in verse 48 - scold the man for crying out. They are those who have grown to accept that his predestined place is to remain at the side of the road. Perhaps some of them were also beggars and they are genuinely angry that one of their number would want anything else for himself.
The second group of bystanders, mentioned in verse 49, are the opposite; they reassure the blind man, as if understanding how difficult it is for those who have been at the side of the road for a long time to throw off their cloaks and speak for themselves.
The climax of the story - "he followed him along the road" - is very touching, and you might like to enter into the metaphor of walking as a symbol of what happens when the marginalized take their place in the movement of history.
These readings are talking about salvation. It is one of those words much used in religious conversation but whose exact meaning is unsure for many. Probably most of us think of salvation as having to do with getting to heaven. However, the prophet Jeremiah only thought of God as saving his people in the here and now, offering them comfort, shade and fresh water. For him these are symbols of salvation. The author of Hebrews by contrast was very aware of heaven but for him salvation came about through the solidarity shown by Jesus who became the way we are so that we might become like him. What comes across strongly in the readings is that God never abandons us and that when we speak of salvation we are speaking of the ways in which God brings us to himself, a process which begins now. Lord, that we may see!
1. Blindness is terrifying. Darkness brings before us all our terrors. Not being able to see where we are going is the stuff of most human fears. The poverty and blindness of Bartimaeus speak to any human being of feeling — and, indeed, if there is someone to whom it does not speak, then that person probably would have no time for religion or things of the spirit as she/he would be insensitive to promptings in our imagination that lead us to faith.
2. But thinking of poor, blind, ignored Bartimaeus can distract us. We can listen to this gospel but only hear it in the way we hear a 'news item': another detail, a bit of information about someone far away which we might simply believe, or refuse to believe, or simply note that we know it.
'Oh yes, Bartimaeus, is that not the guy Jesus healed near Jericho or 'Yes, wasn't he a lucky guy: right place, right time!' or 'That story of Bartimaeus: shows how gullible people were in those days and the power of religious preachers to get their followers to accept accidents or falsehoods as miracles!'
3. Much as these are interesting approaches, all three miss the point, for Mark's story of the incident of sight being restored is intended to alert everyone who hears the gospel to the nature of the work of Jesus.
4. Recall the proverb: 'There is none so blind as him who will not see.' Likewise we say that 'Greed is at the root of all evil,' but we could also say that blindness is there as well. We have all met people who are blind to the crassness of their actions or statements. We have all met people who are blind to the consequences of the actions or blind to their bigotry or blind to their prejudices. Dare we admit it: our own eyesight might just be a little dim also!
5. We live in a world of blindness. There is the blindness of world leaders who press forward policies that are so short-term that we have whole regions that simmer with unrest. We have blindness that prevents us seeing how policies create injustice and stop development. We have the blindness that sees global warming yet refuses to take action in time.
Closer to our localities we have blind spots about what is really of value in society: we may prefer a motorway to our heritage or we may prefer our holidays to a just wage for workers. Greed finds blindness a steadfast ally.
Then in our lives we can find blindness to those around us, blindness to the community, blindness to the needs of those who need us. Blindness can be a great help in avoiding awkward questions of conscience.
6. Asked would we like to leave our blindness behind, to be- come aware of our prejudices, to have our blind spots treated, we all respond with an emphatic 'yes' — few of us willingly seek darkness, carelessness, destruction. But it is not as simple as opening our eyes: we need also the gift of new sight. This gift is the 'enlightenment of faith', it is the' grace of God', it is the gift of the Spirit.
7. If we would see our lives, see those around us, and see our world, we must cry out: 'Master, let me see.' Then in the face of our need of forgiveness, we have to cry out: 'Master, let me see again.' Then knowing that we must grow in our discipleship, we cry out: 'Master, let me see more.'. We want the Lord's gift of sight and enlightenment - this is our prayer every Sunday. We want to follow the Master along the road - we are a pilgrim people. But it is worth remembering that when Mark said that Bartimaeus set out along the road following Jesus, that road led towards the cross.
Lord, send us leaders like Jesus who,when they are surrounded by disciples and large crowds
and some blind beggar sitting at the side of the road begins to shout for help,
will not continue walking but will stop,
and not merely throw a hand out in his general direction
but call him to come forward and stand in the centre of everybody;
and they will not take for granted that they know what this man wants,
but will take the trouble to ask him "What do you want me to do for you?"
And when the man has begun to see again they will not take any glory for themselves
but will say to all that it was his own faith that saved him
so that he may take his place as a free member of the community
and follow them along the road.
Lord, there are many people sitting at the side of the road,
shouting to us to have pity on them,
but they often shout in strange ways:
* by behaving badly in the classroom;
* by taking drugs and alcohol;
* by sulking, remaining silent or locked up in their rooms;
* sometimes by insisting that they are happy to be at the side of the road
while others pass by.
Lord, like Jesus, we need to stop all that we are doing
so that we can hear them express their deep longing
to have their sight restored to them.
Lord, the people of the third world have been a long time at the side of the road,
begging, while the wealthy nations in a large crowd make their way
to ever greater prosperity.
When these people begin to shout, asking others to have pity on them,
many scold them as if they are wrong to shout,
as if it is their perpetual destiny to remain at the side of the road and beg.
But you, Lord, have put in their hearts an unconquerable faith
that they too can take their places on the road to prosperity,
and this gift of faith will eventually save them.
Lord, when we have been a long time at the side of the road
it is not easy to stand in front of everyone
and express what we really want for ourselves.
We thank you for those who say to us
"Courage, get up, the Lord is really calling you."
An Indian sat silently wrapped in his blanket. The leader asked him what he thought of a particular point. No response; the man did not even look up. He asked again; again, there was no response. Again - and the man burst into tears. Eventually, comforted, he said, 'This is the first time in my life anyone has asked me what I think.' Then he proceeded to say what he thought for four hours." Report from a church meeting in Latin America
Lord, we thank you that Jesus is still leaving Jericho with his disciples
and walking along our roads.
Lord, we remember the day when, through your grace, our sight was restored.
For many years, while other passed us by, we sat at the side of the road,
* lost in drink or drugs;
* refusing to forgive someone who had hurt us;
* making money and success the goals of our lives.
There came a time when we knew that we were blind,
but we felt that we could do nothing about it.
Then came a day when we knew you had sent a Son of David into our lives
- a bible reading, a preacher, one of our children, a friend -
and we shouted to them to have pity on us.
There were loud voices within us scolding us and telling us to keep quiet:
it was too late, people would never understand, we were too far gone.
But we shouted all the louder
until eventually the moment came, and we knew it,
so that we threw off all our fears, jumped up and went to Jesus.
It all happened so simply: we just asked to be able to see again
and immediately we saw clearly what we had to do,
and we followed you along the road.
We thank you for the deep conviction that the time of grace had come
for it was that conviction that saved us.
1) An ancient eye test for spiritual blindness: Fr. De Mello tells a story which can help us to check our spiritual blindness. A hermit asked his disciples: “When do you say that the night is ended and it is morning?" The first disciple said: “I say that it is morning when I can distinguish an oak tree from a maple tree.” The hermit said: “No." The second disciple answered: “I know it is morning when I can distinguish a cow from a sheep at a distance.” Once again the hermit disagreed. The third disciple replied “It is morning when no star is visible in the cloudless sky.” “That is also a wrong answer,” said the hermit. Then he explained:” I know it is morning when I can recognize a person as a son or daughter of God, and, hence, my own brother or sister.”
2) Two famous prayers for spiritual vision: Cardinal Newman prays for clear vision in his famous poem, “Lead Kindly Light”:
Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom; lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
“Amazing Grace,” As the captain of a British slave ship, John Newton regained his faith during a storm at sea (1747) and became an ordained minister who was very active in the abolitionist movement. He explains how he gained his spiritual eyesight in his famous hymn, Amazing Grace.
How sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found,
was blind but now I see.
Today’s gospel, which tells of the healing of the blind man, Bartimaeus, challenges us to strengthen our faith in Jesus, the healer, and invites us to gain true spiritual vision.
3) “I wish to be able to see my children eat off gold plates.” According to a Jewish legend there was once a blind man who was married but had no children. Although his life was hard, he never complained. One day as the blind man was sitting by a river, the prophet Elijah came to him from heaven and said, “Even though your life has been hard, you never complained, and so God will grant you one wish.” The poor man frowned. “Only one wish!" he said. “I’m blind, I’m poor, and I’m childless. How will one wish satisfy all my problems? But give me twenty-four hours and I’ll think up a wish.” He went home and told his wife what had happened. She smiled at him and said, “Eat well and sleep soundly, for I know what you should wish.” He came back the next morning and said to Elijah as he appeared again, “I wish to be able to see my children eat from gold plates.” The wish was granted and the man and his wife lived happily for the rest of their days. Today’s gospel presents another blind man whose wish was to regain his sight. Jesus restored sight to his eyes and to his spirit, and Bartimaeus immediately began to follow Jesus as a sighted, witnessing disciple.
4) Two Polish men were taking their first train trip to Warsaw on the train. A vendor came down the corridor selling bananas which they'd never seen before. Each bought a banana. The first man eagerly peeled the banana and bit into it just as the train went into a dark tunnel. When the train emerged from the tunnel, he looked across to his friend and said, "I wouldn't eat that if I were you." "Why not?” asked his friend. “Because, it makes you temporarily blind.”
5) A motorist with poor eyesight was driving through a dense fog and was trying desperately to stay within range of the taillights of the car ahead of him. As he squinted and worried his way along, trying to stay on course with those taillights, the car in front suddenly stopped, and his car hit the car in the front. The driver of the rear car got out and demanded to know why the other driver came to such an abrupt stop. "I had to," he replied, "I'm in my own garage!"
6) Helen Keller, so brave and inspiring to us in her deafness and blindness, once wrote a magazine article entitled: "Three days to see." In that article she outlined what things she would like to see if she were granted just three days of sight. It was a powerful, thought provoking article. On the first day she said she wanted to see friends. Day two she would spend seeing nature. The third day she would spend in her home city of New York watching the busy city and the workday of the present. She concluded it with these words: "I who am blind can give one hint to those who see: Use your eyes as if tomorrow you were stricken blind.'
7) As bad as blindness is in the 21st century, however, it was so much worse in Jesus' day. Today a blind person at least has the hope of living a useful life with proper training. Some of the most skilled and creative people in our society are blind. But in first century Palestine blindness meant that you would be subjected to abject poverty. You would be reduced to begging for a living. You lived at the mercy and the generosity of others. Unless your particular kind of blindness was self-correcting, there was no hope whatsoever for a cure. The skills that were necessary were still centuries beyond the medical knowledge of the day. Little wonder then that one of the signs of the coming of the Messiah was that the blind should receive their sight...
8) I Heard My Brother Crying
Some years ago in a small village in the Midwest, a little twelve-year old girl named Terri was babysitting her little brother. Terri walked outside to check the mail. As she turned back from the mailbox, she couldn't believe her eyes. The house was on fire. So very quickly the little house was enveloped in flames.
Terri ran as fast as she could into the flaming house only to find her baby brother trapped by a burning rafter which had fallen and pinned him to the floor. Hurriedly, Terri worked to free her brother. She had trouble getting him loose as the flames were dancing around their heads. Finally, she freed him. She picked him up and quickly took him outside and revived him just as the roof of the house caved in.
By this time, firemen were on the scene and the neighbours had gathered outside the smouldering remains of the house. The neighbours had been too frightened to go inside or to do anything to help, and they were tremendously impressed with the courage of the twelve-year old girl. They congratulated her for her heroic efforts and said, "Terri, you are so very brave. Weren't you scared? What were you thinking about when you ran into the burning house?" I love Terri's answer. She said, "I wasn't thinking about anything. I just heard my little brother crying."
Let me ask you something? How long has it been? How long has it been since you heard your brother or sister crying? How long has it been since you stopped and did something about it?
James W. Moore, Collected Sermons,
9) Humor: The Most Difficult Case
Two psychiatrists were talking and one asked the other, "What was your most difficult case?"
His colleague answered, "Once I had a patient who lived in a pure fantasy world. He believed that a wildly rich uncle in South America was going to leave him a fortune. All day long he waited for a make-believe letter to arrive from a fictitious attorney. He never went out or did anything. He just sat around and waited."
"What was the result?" asked the first psychiatrist.
"Well, it was an eight-year struggle but I finally cured him. And then that stupid letter arrived..."
Some people are afraid to open their eyes. And some just keep their eyes closed no matter what.
Billy D. Strayhorn, From the Pulpit
10) Releasing the Pain, Spreading the Message
A young seminarian who lost both her parents at an early age shared a way of praying that helped her through the worst of times. She shared that in those most painful of days, she used to sit with her grandmother. Together, they would read the Bible, focusing on two particular passages.
First was the one that follows directly after the Bartimaeus story we heard this morning -- the story of Jesus approaching Jerusalem, when he asks two of his disciples to go ahead and find a colt for him, on which they place their cloaks.
The second is Jesus' invitation in Matthew 11: "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
The woman used these two images together to prayerfully imagine Jesus inviting her to take his yoke of love, in exchange for the heavy load of grief, loss, and doubt that she carried. She pictured releasing the pain she carried, which was placed by Jesus on the back of the young colt in exchange for the yoke of spreading the message of Christ's love in word and action.
11) The Blind Pastor
Pastor Steven E. Albertin told the following story. He said, in my church secretary's office there hangs a modernistic picture composed of a maze of colors and shapes. I realized these sophisticated, modern, and abstract pictures were supposed to contain some profound artistic or philosophical message, but I never was able to figure it out. It just looked like a jumbled mass of confusion. If there was a message there, I was blind to it.
One day while I was standing in the office, waiting for the copier to warm up, one of the congregation's kindergarten-age boys, Adam, stood beside me and said, "Do you see what I see?"
"Do you see something in that picture? I sure don't." Adam looked at me with glee in his eye, "Pastor, can't you see him? It's Jesus hanging on the cross." I stared as hard as I could, until my eyes actually hurt from staring. I wanted to believe Adam and that there actually was the image of Jesus hanging on the cross hidden somewhere in that mass of color and shapes, but I couldn't see Jesus anywhere. "Adam, I'm sorry but I must be blind. You will have to help me see."
Directing his finger to a mass of color in the center of the picture, Adam said, "There, Pastor. Do you see what I see? There is Jesus, his face, his arms outstretched on the cross." And then, like an epiphany, the image began to appear. Yes, there hidden somehow "behind" the colors and the shapes was the barely visible image of Jesus, hanging with arms outstretched on the cross. "It's amazing, Adam. You have helped one blind pastor to see Jesus. Yes, I can see what you see, Adam."
Steven E. Albertin, Against the Grain,
12) Define the Problem
Thousands of years ago a young Chinese emperor called upon his family's most trusted advisor. "Oh, learned counselor," said the emperor, "you have advised my father and grandfather. What is the single most important advice you can give me to rule my country?" And Confucius replied, "The first thing you must do is to define the problem."
Many unhappy people cannot put their finger on what is really causing their distress. Many unfulfilled people cannot even tell you what it would take to satisfy them. Many of us have no clear idea or conception what our real needs, our real desires, and our real priorities are. And because we have never defined the problem or clarified our goals, we spend a lifetime anxiously wandering with very little to show for the pilgrimage.
King Duncan, Collected Sermons,
13) Some People Are Never Satisfied
It is like the beggar in the movie "Monty Python's Life of Brian." Brian and his mother are walking through town and get hit up by a beggar. "Alms for an ex-leper. Alms for an ex-leper, please." And Brian says: "What do you mean an ex-leper?" And the leper says: "Well I was cured" "Who cured you?" Brian says. And the leper says: "That Jesus fellow." He says: "Now I have a hard time making a living, all I've ever known how to do is beg." And Brian says: "Well why don't you go back and ask him to make you a leper again?" And the leper says: "Well, I might not like that. Maybe he could just make me a leper during working hours or something."
So Brian just sighs, drops a coin into his cup and walks away. And the ex-leper looks into his cup and says: "A half a dinari! Look at this - he only gives me a half a dinari!" And Brian says: "Some people are never satisfied." To which the leper replies: "That's just what Jesus said!"
Now Monty Python might be on to something. Jesus may not have said exactly these words but he certainly ran into people who were unappreciative. Blind Bartimaeus was not one of them. Upon receiving his sight he immediately began to follow.
Brett Blair, www.eSermons.com. Adapted from The Catholic Apologetics Network
14) Meeting Christ
History records a time when two people met each other on July 25, 1807, at a spot in the Tilsit River in Prussia. It was a dramatic meeting to discuss matters which carried serious consequences. In the middle of that stream Napoleon and Alexander held a much publicized private conference. It was widely described in advance as a meeting which would "arrange the destinies of humankind." Cannons boomed, and the shouts of thousands of soldiers gathered on each side of the river added to the noise as the conference began. There the Treaty of Tilsit was drawn up which allied Russia and Prussia with Napoleon. World history and millions of lives were forever changed.
Bartimaeus had an opportunity to meet Christ, one on one, and took advantage of it. As a result, he was greatly blessed. You and I have the same privilege of meeting with Christ, one on one. Christ is calling you. Will you come? Such an encounter, for each one of us, is by far the most important in our lives, for it will arrange the destiny of your life.
Brett Blair, www.esermons.com, Adapted form Harold H. Lentz,
15) Born of the Spirit Not the Process
Duke University psychiatrist Redford B. Williams has written a book called The Trusting Heart (New York: Random House). What he has discovered is that Type A behavior will not kill you. Grueling schedules, workaholism, stress, hurriedness - all these "Type A" personality syndromes are not predictive of early death. Only hostility, cynicism, aggression, and orneriness - these are the killers. People who cannot trust, people who can only control, are in more than spiritual jeopardy. Their health is on the line as well.
The crowd that tried to quiet the boisterous blind man was evidently embarrassed by Bartimaeus' loud, direct method of expressing his needs and petitioning his desires. There were established channels by which to petition the Lord for healing or forgiveness - why didn't Bartimaeus submit to them? The crowd, like so many of us, preferred to put its trust in the Process instead of in the Spirit. But Jesus did not say to Nicodemus, "You must be born of the Process." In fact it is only when we free ourselves from the deep ruts that "following the process" has carved into our lives that we become able to trust in and follow the wings of the Spirit, wherever it may lead.
a) Pregnant woman and sonogram-ultrasound – monitor
b) Upset executive and water hose – snake
c) Blocked/stopped by people – TV, Internet, prejudice, gossip, carrying tales
d) Jesus stops to ask him
e) I want to see: Jose Andre Montano – 7 year old blind Bolivian boy – jazz sensation; Helen Keller, Nickie, Korean 3 year old blind girl; Bk yoon Korean Pregnant woman going to the hospital….