I want to draw your attention to the dialogue between Bartimaeus and Jesus because it speaks to us and our relationship with God. Bartimaeus is at once a famous figure and at the same time an anonymous man. We don’t know his name, we only know he is the son of a man named Timaeus, and we know he was a blind beggar. He is famous for his cry, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” This is the Jesus Prayer, a prayer very popular in the Eastern Orthodox tradition and used as a mantra much as we use the Rosary in the Western Church. Repeating a familiar prayer like the Jesus Prayer or the Hail Mary keeps part of our mind busy so that the rest of our mind can be free to contemplate the fullness of God.
century. Bartimaeus cannot see, but he is constantly alert. He is aware of the sizable crowd and learns that at the center of that crowd is the holy man known as Jesus of Nazareth. That’s all he needs to spring into action. He immediately begins calling out to Jesus, and he knows that Jesus of Nazareth is descended from the line of David that comes from Bethlehem.
Bartimaeus knows what is important about Jesus. God promised Abraham and the prophets he would put a son of David on his eternal throne, and Bartimaeus is going straight to the top to get help with his problem. His problem is not blindness, even though he cannot see. His problem is sinfulness, which the sighted often cannot see. Son of David, have pity on me. These are the words of man who sees what is important even if his eyesight is not functioning. We should all pray to see as Bartimaeus saw that day. “Lord, let me see what you want me to see.”
Bartimaeus was persistent in his prayer. When many rebuked him, he just kept on asking the Lord for salvation. Illness and disfigurement back then was often understood as on account of sin or God’s disfavor. Thus, it would not have been appropriate for a sinner to address a rabbi. Bartimaeus did not let conventional thinking stop him from the healing he sought. He just kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.”
Jesus hears us when we call to him. He wants us to be persistent in our calling, just as Bartimaeus was persistent. Jesus doesn’t care about conventional thinking. Every time we call out to God, we are acknowledging his power and authority. We are admitting our own inability to fend for ourselves. We are saying, no matter what our particular prayer is, that we need God to help us, and we know God can help us. As Jesus did with Bartimaeus, God will do with us: he will ask us to come over and tell him what it is we want.
Bartimaeus wanted to see. Yes, he wanted to see what you and I can see: the sun and the flowers and the people and the animals. But he wanted to see more deeply, or more fully, and we should be asking to see what Bartimaeus ultimately wanted to see: the Kingdom of Heaven in our lives on earth and the Beatific Vision when we get to Heaven after our death. We want to see peace and justice directing the affairs of the world, but we want even more to be with God in Heaven and look upon him fully.
We cannot do that now, of course. And I will use sunlight as an analogy. Consider how you react when the sunlight is reflected off the car in front of you while you are driving around town. It’s so sharp you have to squint or turn away. You have purple areas in your sight where your retinas have taken in more than they can handle. It’s even worse when you try to look directly at the sun. You will burn the retinas and be blind like Bartimaeus.
The glory of God is even brighter than the brightest sunlight we can imagine. But when we are in Heaven with Christ victorious on his throne, we will be able to look directly at Him and behold him. In a few minutes, Father will hold up the consecrated host and say the words of John the Baptist: Behold the Lamb of God. When we are in Heaven, we will really be able to do that. Here, we see dimly as through a glass says St. Paul (1 Cor 13), but there we will see face to face.
That’s the sight Bartimaeus really wanted, and that’s a sight worth asking for persistently. We should be persistent in our prayer to God. But what is prayer? It is indeed what Bartimaeus did: asking God for things. But it is also every kind of communication necessary for what Bartimaeus also did: he followed Jesus on his way. That means listening and being in addition to asking. We should be with Jesus, and we should listen to Jesus. He will show us the Way. He will show us himself as we walk on the Way following him. He will show himself to us through other people, if we keep our eyes open as Bartimaeus’s eyes were opened. With the sight that Bartimaeus wanted, we can see the Light of Christ even in this present darkness.
The darkness of today is not unlike the darkness at the time of Jesus in the gospels. The crowd was following Jesus but it did not see him as the blind beggar Bartimaeus saw him: the true descendant of David who would reign forever. Bartimaeus saw Jesus as the one who could restore his eyesight, who could heal him, who could save him. The crowd saw Jesus superficially, but Bartimaeus saw him deeply. The crowd saw a powerful speaker and a knowledgeable teacher, but Bartimaeus saw a Savior. We should see what Bartimaeus saw.
We can see that way if we dare to do so. There is nothing special about Bartimaeus except his willingness to admit his own dependence on God. We are all like Bartimaeus, for we all are utterly dependent on God. But we don’t always own that reality. We think we are in control of things, that we determine our lives. God gave us the freedom to choose, so we do control many things, but he is the one who gave us our lives, our very being, and he is the one who will judge us at the end of our lives. We answer to him, not to ourselves.
Like Bartimaeus, we are invited today to throw aside our cloaks and to follow Jesus. We come to Mass to receive the sacraments from men who have chosen to follow Jesus in a particular way, but our path on the way is completely ours. As the writer of the letter to the Hebrews reminds us, our priests are “beset by weakness” just as we are. That means we should never assume their holiness is sufficient for our salvation. We are accountable for our own salvation. Only the priest can offer the sacrifice of the Mass, but everyone must answer the universal call to holiness.
Let us be taught by the blind beggar Bartimaeus. Let us be humble enough to shout out our prayer to Jesus: have mercy on me, a sinner. Let us come to Mass and be renewed by the grace of the sacraments. And after Mass, let us go out and follow Jesus on the Way.