30th Sunday Ordinary Time 2012 Mass and Reflections Bartimaeus The Blind Man

Scripture readings for Sunday's Mass are here.

Psalm 126

Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus,
sat by the roadside begging.
On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth,
he began to cry out and say,
"Jesus, son of David, have pity on me."

And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.

But he kept calling out all the more,

Son of David, have pity on me."

Jesus stopped and said, "Call him."

So they called the blind man, saying to him,
"Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you."

He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.

Jesus said to him in reply, "What do you want me to do for you?"
The blind man replied to him, "Master, I want to see."

Jesus told him, "Go your way; your faith has saved you."

Immediately he received his sight
and followed him on the way. 


 Sitting on the margins listening for Jesus, desperately wanting his attention. Crying out , struggling not to give up for years until that moment when Christ comes alongside and asks, " What do you want me to do for you ?"

Maybe no-one had ever bothered to ask Bartimaeus that.
  He is able to say exactly what he wants; he want his blindness cured, to see.
He was healed, and then he followed Jesus.

 We all want to be like Bartimaeus.  

At some point in life we all fall into our own gutters,  but some of us are gazing at the stars, "sending up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of life's tears."

We want to see , to have that kind of perseverance and courage of faith. We want to be healed of our blindness.

When Bartimaeus had his sight restored, he followed Jesus.
But the very next verse in Mark recalls the entry into Jerusalem, so the road  Bartimaeus followed quickly led to Gethesemane and  the cross.

Many people have followed the call and have been led to see sights of suffering in the poor and lost and forgotten. Their stories ask me to listen to their stories, to see the things no-one else can see to sit beside them on the wayside. These people have asked me to pray for them, sometimes with them, often for others. 

Bartimaeus is alive and well today just as much as he was then and he will always keep shouting from the gutter.  His story will continue to be told. 

But if Christ has no body on this earth but ours then we have to be the ones that are prepared to say to Bartimaeus: What Can I Do For You ?

 This is one of the most powerful reflections I have found on this gospel entitled Surviving Seeing.

This is the extract that struck me most. " It's much easier to focus only on the happy parts of faith--God's love for everyone, God's desire for our well-being, the hope we find in God.  But faith doesn't involve only the happy parts, does it?  A mature faith also engages the hard things...things like suffering, betrayal, and death, and poverty and human trafficking and corporate corruption and climate change and hunger and domestic violence.  All faith looks on the happy parts of life.  Mature faith dares to look at the hard parts, too.
But really seeing the hard parts of life exacts a price, doesn't it?  When we see the world's brokenness, we lose some of our innocence.  When we see the world's brokenness, we suffer.  When we see the world's brokenness, we feel compelled to change our lives.

Author Nora Gallagher puts it this way:  "I remember thinking as I worked in the soup kitchen that I didn't want to know what I was learning.  Because then my life couldn't go on in the same way as it had before:  driving around in my nice red Volvo, thinking about what new linens to buy.  What we learn we cannot unlearn," she says.  "What we see, we cannot unsee."  (The Sacred Meal, Nashville:  Thomas Nelson, 22.)

Yes, it's easy to criticize Jesus' disciples for not seeing the truth he was showing them...but maybe their not seeing was protective, a defense.

  Maybe deep down they knew that once they really saw what Jesus was showing them, they wouldn't be able to unsee it again.  Once they got what he was saying about the reality of the world, their lives were going to have to change.  Once they got that following Jesus would lead them to suffering, betrayal, and death, their rose-colored-glasses faith would no longer sustain them.  Maybe the disciples avoided seeing what Jesus was showing them because deep down they knew--seeing can be dangerous.

Consider photojournalist Kevin Carter's story.  In 1993, while covering the famine in the Sudan, Carter took a picture of a small girl who had collapsed while walking to a food station.  Just a few feet behind the starving girl, a vulture stalked her.

In May of 1994, Carter won a Pulitzer Prize for the photograph.  Two months later, he committed suicide. A close friend of Carter's said that after shooting the photo of the starving girl, Kevin "sat under a tree and cried and chain-smoked" and could not distance himself from the horror of what he saw.  He could not unsee what he had seen. (http://www.nytimes.com/1994/07/29/world/kevin-carter-a-pulitzer-winner-for-sudan-photo-is-dead-at-33.html)

Yes, seeing can be dangerous.  It can call into question everything we've ever believed.  It can dismantle our faith, our theology, our worldview.  Seeing can devastate us.

And yet...and yet...a big part of following Jesus is seeing things as they really are.  Why else would he try to show his disciples not once, not twice, but three times what was going to happen to him in Jerusalem?  Seeing must be important to the life of faith. 

But...if seeing is important to the life of faith and also has the potential to devastate us, what are we to do?  Do we keep our hearts open but our eyes closed?  Do we keep our eyes open but our hearts closed?  Is there some way as a person of faith to keep both our eyes and our hearts open?  What I'm asking is, "How do we survive seeing?"

Here's how Bartimaeus survived it:  He started with Jesus.  "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"  First Bartimaeus acknowledges Jesus; then he is healed.  First Bartimaeus trusts in Jesus; then he sees.  Before Bartimaeus looks at anything, Jesus becomes the context for everything he will see.  After his healing, Bartimaeus won't see anything without thinking of the one who healed him:  Jesus.  

Before the first ray of light hits the first molecule of either retina, Jesus becomes the context in which Bartimaeus will see everything.

What does it mean to see everything in the context of Jesus?  When we look at the world in the context of Jesus, it's true--we will see suffering.  We'll see betrayal.  We'll see death.  It's unavoidable.  The world is broken in so many places.  A mature faith looks at those places.  And sees them.

But, as Jesus tried to show his disciples time and time again, when you look at the world--even at its ugliest, hardest, and most fragile--when you see the world in the context of Jesus, you also see resurrection.  Now, you might have to look at the ugly, hard, fragile things a long time before it happens, but eventually, always in the context of Jesus, you will see resurrection.

How do we people of faith survive seeing?  We follow the example of Bartimaeus:  We begin with Jesus.

Holy One, we do believe that your love extends to the whole world, to every person, and into every situation.  We believe that you are everywhere present, working with all creation for its redemption.  Help us to see, God.  Help us to see--with open eyes and open hearts--help us to see the broken places of the world.  

And at the same time, help us to see--always--resurrection.  Amen."

Edge of Enclosure has reflections on the various readings.

 Iglesia Descalza has some great reflections on the Gospel and its contemporary meaning in this post ," With New Eyes" from here by Fr. Jose Antonio Pagolo.

Taize Chant  O Lord Hear My Prayer

Various Reflections from St Louis Centre for Liturgy here.

My previous reflection on Jesus curing blindness (albeit from a different gospel), is here 
Ron Rolheiser has a fine reflection here titled "Seeing Spring and Easter."

A few extra thoughts
The crowd tried to ignore Bartimaeus and to keep him quiet.  There are so many that have needs in this world that are being ignored - in my own community, in the world at large. 

 Individuals, churches, organisations often work tirelessly to bring such issues to light. 

God works through our own ordinary living and personal histories.  

We can step on a bigger stage to see the action of God in the history of the world , sometimes through miracles, through enlightened prophets , political forces, courageous workers for social action and justice and through ordinary everyday living where acts of kindness and compassion are often unacknowledged.

All are examples of where God has picked us up from the gutter of blindness where we have fallen, to touch us and restore us.

But how do we come to the point of return? Sometimes we make it sound easy and quick. I’m fairly skeptical of the 180 degree, born-again, overnight kind of return. 

Fast easy fixes and immediate 180 degree overnight changes do occur. Perhaps I am a little too sceptical of these, and my own blind spots constantly need looking at in prayer.

 In my own experience the changes that endure in life are the result of a much longer process

I vacillate again and again, trying to shed the cloak of fear that clings, finding myself blankly staring sometimes in dark shadows, towards the cross, and then, always and unexpectedly, catching a glimpse of the bright sun of Christ's resurrection on my face.

Fr. John Predmore S.J at Ignatian Spirituality posted this stark prayer today.

I know times when this is what I shout out too.
And Where In The World Are You ?

Why then endure,
why thirst for justice?
Your kingdom come -
a mirage which never comes.

I sweat like a beast,

my nightmare is long,
and where in the world
are You?

"Uncommon Prayer" by  Daniel Berrigan, S.J. 

and then this one by Thomas Merton ...

  My Lord God, 
I have no idea where I am going. 
I do not see the road ahead of me. 
I cannot know for certain where it
will end. 

Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I
think I am following your will 

does not mean that I am
actually doing so. 

But I believe that the desire to please
you does in fact please you.

 And I hope I have that desire
in all that I am doing. 

I hope that I will never do anything
apart from that desire. 

And I know that if I do this you
will lead me by the right road, 

though I may know nothing
about it. 

Therefore I will trust you always though I may
seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

 I will not fear,
 for you are ever with me, 
and you will never leave
me to face my perils alone. 

and this, known as the Franciscan Benediction reminds me never to get complacent !

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