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Way simpler

Gospel Commentary Mk 10:46-52


What would we learn if we simplified this Sunday’s Gospel story of the healing of the blind man, Bartimaeus? Suppose, for example, we just leave out the part of the “many” who try to keep the man in need from Jesus. Without them, the story becomes more straightforward. In fact, if we leave out everyone else in the story we would have a simple story of Jesus responding to a man who sought his help. It would be something like this: As Jesus left Jericho he saw a man begging along the roadside. The man, who was blind, cried out to him. Jesus called the blind beggar over, asked what he wanted, and, recognizing the faith in the request, restored his sight. After the miracle, the man became a follower of Jesus. 

In a way, that is the essential part of the story. Miracles occur in very personal ways. Jesus interacts with the person in need who seeks help. After hearing from the person, Jesus responds to the faith he finds. The needy person becomes instead a blessed person with a better situation than he or she had before the exchange. We all need encounters with Jesus. We have needs, big and small. Maybe most importantly, we have a need to discover and believe that Jesus is the answer to our needs. His response teaches us and gives us more than we sought from him. The insistent and convinced faith of Bartimaeus brings about the life-changing moment with Jesus. But the whole story highlights clearly the importance of Bartimaeus’ insistent faith.

When we add the other people back into the story we find another layer, a layer that complicates things. The “many” on the road to Jerusalem with Jesus or at least on the road at the same time with Jesus going to the feast are also part of the story. We can sense a certain spirit among the people walking that day. Is it enthusiasm? Or unity of purpose? Or, is it a prayerful kind of atmosphere? Whatever it was, the cries of Bartimaeus seem to be an interruption. If we consider his position as a seated blind beggar we can imagine the preference of people to leave him there, to leave him out. Aren’t his life problems the result of a punishment from God for his sins they may have thought? When he cries out to Jesus, the “many” rebuke him and tell him to be silent. But he calls out all the more. 

Bartimaeus’ insistent cries flustered the “many” managers. Maybe we could call them the “many mini-managers” because their desire to control the moment and “protect” Jesus from this man seem small and petty. Jesus, who came to save the world, person by person, changes the world again in the way he reacts to them. Rather than call Bartimaeus over, Jesus asks them to call him. He says simply “call him.” Still trying to maintain some control over things they edit Jesus’ simple call: “Take courage; get up. Jesus is calling you.” Does it seem to anyone that the confident and insistent beggar needed courage? Hearing that Jesus is calling him, Bartimaeus throws aside his cloak, springs up, and comes to Jesus. We can imagine him stumbling and running into people but not because of a lack of courage. His blindness is an affliction but he quite evidently sees more than the “many” see. And finds himself face to face with the One we all should want to see — Jesus, the answer to our needs. 

Can it happen today? Can the people who cry out with many needs teach us something? Is their cry actually an expression of faith? If they cry first to us will they find through us an open road to Jesus? Gospel stories about blindness teach us important lessons about what it really means to see. Believing is seeing. Jesus’ personal encounters with each of his people shouldn’t be hindered by the rest of his people.

Fr. Zuberbueler is pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018