When Jesus made Bartimaeus see again

Published 1:28 pm Friday, October 23, 2009

Well there certainly is a lot of excitement these days!

As I write this, Florida’s lottery is worth more than $25 million and Georgia’s is $18 million. It is the hope of many that winning that much money will fulfill a lifetime of dreams and solve all problems. But there is that old adage, “Be careful what you wish for.”

About a year ago I read a story in the newspaper about past lottery winners.

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Apparently there are a good number of winners who, instead of enjoying a life of unbounded happiness with all their wishes fulfilled, have experienced quite the contrary.

The stories of some were very tragic: There were divorces, conflicts arose with other family members, friends were lost, some winners committed suicide, others received threats of violence, and a few even faced bankruptcy!

People just couldn’t handle their new-found fortune, everything changed for them. More than one “lucky winner” lamented, “I wish I had never won anything! I wish I had my old life back again!”

Bartimaeus is called “the blind beggar,” but that is not his whole identity. In fact, it is a partial condition for him—he already sees a lot. He sees his needs, he knows he is blind and he knows where help lies. He isn’t discouraged by the surrounding voices of the crowd who want to hush him up. In fact, the opposition seems to make them bolder. In his case, the Persian proverb is true,

“A blind person who sees is better than a seeing person who is blind.” Bartimaeus may lack physical sight, but he has spiritual insight since he calls Jesus by the messianic title, “Son of David.”

Bartimaeus asked for sight; for some of us that would be considered a very brave request. Some people don’t want to see what lies right before their eyes—marriage problems, addictions to work to the detriment of their families, their children secretly addicted to drugs, friends with questionable values, etc. It takes courage to ask for sight because it will require changes—perhaps profound changes that some may be unprepared or unwilling to make.

Our needs

I went to our neighborhood drugstore the other day and the Christmas decorations shouted at me!

The season starts earlier and earlier and the dazzling lights and advertisements are blinding. It’s not just children who get seduced by the advertising; all of us somehow are drawn into it and discover needs we never thought we had.

“Needs”—we really don’t need it all!

Bartimaeus knows his needs and when Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” he responds succinctly, “Master, I want to see.”

Bartimaeus’ request of Jesus could be our prayer as the Christmas season heightens and the distractions become more intense: “Master, I want to see!”

It’s a prayer we can say at other moments of our lives as well, when we are struggling through a family crisis, trying to make a decision about how to care for a very ill friend or parent, facing a moment of tension in our marriage, involved in a heated discussion with our friends, searching for a way to simplify our lives so that we can respond more to the needs of others, etc.

Bartimaeus’ words can become our prayer at a crossroad moment in our lives. At those times we join Bartimaeus in his prayer, “Master, I want to see!” The daily decisions we make at home, school, work or in the parish, can seem mundane and, if truth be told, insignificant. Still those decisions add up and, over a period of time, set a pattern in our lives—”Master, I want to see!”

We have enough experience by now to acknowledge that in our past some of our decisions were blind. We look back and consider their consequences, we wish we had acted more wisely, had seen more clearly.

If only we could go back in time and redo what we have done; take a different path; make better choices.

Well, there is no guarantee that we won’t make foolish decisions again, we probably will. But it makes sense to include God in the big and even smaller decisions that affect our lives and the lives of those around us. The Bartimaeus prayer, “Master, I want to see!” is a daily admission that we don’t see clearly on our own, and so we need God’s light in our lives!

Jesus placed a potent question to Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” It is a question he asks us now—hear it? It’s an invitation to believe, and trust the promise: That if we ask for vision and insight to guide our lives, we will get it. Maybe quickly—but usually, over the course of our lives—day by day, one step at a time, little by little.

Jesus meets Bartimaeus on the road into Jerusalem. Which is where we meet him—as we travel through our lives, sometimes finding our selves in our own personal Jerusalem, a place of suffering and endings. There, confused and disoriented by the sudden changes we face and collapse of our plans, we cry out again our prayer, “Master, I want to see!”

We want to see Jesus in this new place; we want to know that we are not abandoned to face fearful endings alone.  The ending of today’s story gives us hope.

After Bartimaeus received his sight, he followed Jesus “on the way,” the road that led into Jerusalem.

“The way,” was the earliest term used to describe Jesus’ disciples.

“The way” was shorthand for Jesus’ way. Mark is suggesting that the blind man has become a disciple through the sight Jesus gave him. We disciples believe that, no matter what we face in our life’s journey, Jesus has gone before us, knows our pain and journeys with us each step of “the way.”

As we travel we pray over and over,  “Master, I want to see!”

But be prepared! Remember that old saying, “Be careful what you ask for?”

Well we can say, “Be careful what you pray for.” If we ask for sight, it will be granted. But we will need courage and determination to do what our, “God-given-vision” reveals and what changes our new sight requires of us. That is something to ask for at this Eucharist—sight—and then ask for the courage and determination to follow through on what we now see needs to be done in our lives.

Bartimaeus is our patron saint today if we are: Sitting by the side of the road, leaning forward, not afraid to acknowledge our needs for sight in this complex world.

We who have faith have the sight that Bartimaeus received, like him we follow Jesus on “the Way.” A way of welcoming outsiders, forgiving those who have offended us, accepting one another as equals, being a community in which we see each other as brothers and sisters, as disciples together on “the way.”