Thirtieth Sunday of the Year B
28th October 2012
Vigil Mass, Cathedral
Brothers and sisters in Christ,
Helen Keller went blind and deaf when she was nineteen months old. One day she asked a friend of hers who had just returned from a long walk in the woods what had she seen. She replied “nothing in particular”. Helen said to herself, “How is this possible when I, who cannot hear or see, find hundreds of things to interest me through mere touch. I feel the delicate shape and design of a leaf. I pass my hands lovingly over the rough bark of a pine tree. Occasionally, I place my hand quietly on a small tree, and, if I’m lucky, I feel the happy quiver of a bird in full song. The greatest calamity that can befall people is not that they should be born blind, but that they should have eyes, yet fail to see.
There are different kinds of blindness. In a book called The Road Home we find the stories of five Catholics, estranged from God and the church who find, as they put it, ‘the road home’. It’s amazing the instruments God used to make the way easy for them to return to him. One of them read the autobiography of Thomas Merton ‘The Seven Story Mountain’ and was so moved that she travelled with a friend to Gethsemane Monastery where her re-conversion began. Another had a chance encounter with two Mormons on her doorstep and this started her thinking again about faith and God.
In this evening’s Gospel reading we find Jesus nearing the end of his journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. He is leaving the last town he was to pass through,Jericho, which is only 24 km from Jerusalem. On his journey south, Jesus has tried to open his disciples’ eyes to understand his teaching and the true meaning of his role as Messiah. He has not been entirely successful. They are still having difficulty in coping with the idea of a suffering Messiah. They still seem to be thinking in terms of a reward for service which would bring them seats of power and privilege. As often happens, their families appear to be encouraging this. So they may still have their vision clouded by less noble drives such as ambition. At the start of his journey Jesus healed the blind man of Bethsaida. Now he heals Bartimaeus. In between he tried to heal his disciples’ spiritual blindness.
Bartimaeus is probably sitting at the city gates, begging, as pilgrims to Jerusalem pass along the way. When he hears that Jesus is passing by, he makes sure he is heard when he cries out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me”. The term “Son of David” was used by Jewish people of the time to refer to the Messiah. Efforts to silence the blind Bartimaeus were unsuccessful. His need is great, he appears totally determined and he obviously has a strong belief in the power of Jesus to heal him. The fact that he
jumps up and flings off his cloak indicates his faith in Jesus. His actions compare with the strength of response of the first disciples in Galilee who let go of their trades, possessions and families to follow Jesus.
When Jesus stopped and asked Bartimaeus what he wanted him to do for him, the blind man asked for his sight back. His request could not be called trivial or ignoble. Jesus told him to go, that his faith had saved him. He received his sight back and experienced the salvation that Jesus offers. He had come to Jesus with nothing but his faith and his faith saved him. He is now free to go and no longer is a slave to sitting by the roadside begging. But Bartimaeus does not go away; he recognises the source of life. We are told that he followed Jesus along the road. This would seem to indicate that he became a disciple and was prepared to follow Jesus on the pilgrim way to Jerusalem. Bartimaeus could be described as a model of faith and discipleship. He was on the road home, liberated.
We are told that in making his way to Jesus, Bartimaeus threw aside his cloak. He may have had the cloak to give him warmth or he may have been trying to cover up his wretchedness as he felt it. We can all feel the need to cover up and hide behind various screens and masks. Pride can urge us to put on an outward show. There are many people who sit at the roadside of life begging, waiting for someone to offer them attention, acceptance, affirmation, guidance, forgiveness, encouragement or some other expression of love. Many of them are too proud or too embarrassed to ask for help. They may be too afraid of the hurt which an indifferent or a negative response would bring. Bartimaeus took the risk of asking for healing and seemed to have found purpose, energy and meaning in following Jesus. Lord help us to see you and respond; help us to see our needy brothers and sister and respond to their silent cries. We are all blind until you bring us and we accept your enlightment and your healing.
+Liam S. MacDaid
28th October 2012