"Take heart! Get up! He calls you!" The wonderful story of the healing of Bartimaeus, my favorite in all of scripture, comes at a climactic moment in Mark's gospel. It brings to a close the public ministry of Jesus and is immediately followed by Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, his entry into the long-predicted passion. There is an earlier healing of a blind man in Mark's chapter eight. Remember, that's when Jesus has to struggle to gradually restore the man's sight. "I see people looking like trees and walking." "Here, let me try it again; how's that" Jesus says. In between the two healings Mark dramatizes the blindness of the skeptical crowd, the plotting Pharisees and the thickness of Jesus' own dull disciples. Bartimaeus is the one blip of hope in the whole sorry scene.Joe Nolan in his Good News notes tells of the preacher who on this Thirtieth Sunday had the congregation close their eyes while he led them in an Ignatian contemplation of the story of Bartimaeus. At the conclusion when they opened their eyes, they found the sanctuary filled with brightly colored balloons that had been quietly placed there during their prayer. Surely the change for Bartimaeus was even more dramatic than that, but that's the kind of change our sacraments want to work in us, by freeing our eyes from the scales that cloud our vision of the beauty of God's engagement in our world. At the communion time each person picked up a balloon and took it back to the pew. So, by the closing hymn the church was a sea of colorful balloons that flowed out the church door to fill the parking lot so the balloons could be taken home or given to friends. It sounds a little much, but actually it's not so different from what the Church really tries to make happen for us each time we gather for the sacraments, a new vision that transforms us that we then take to our world. What was it like for that blind man of Jericho sitting by the side of the road, hearing snatches of conversation, being brushed by the garments of passers-by, receiving the occasional coin, waiting, waiting for something, sight, light, salvation? Just waiting. Bartimaeus waited for the moment and when he heard a certain step, a tone of voice, a word of peace, he knew for sure, "Now is the moment to call out: 'Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.'" All his life as a blind beggar he's been calling out to people for alms, but this moment is singular and no matter how people scold him he must continue to call out to Jesus the healer. As people of faith we call out for healing of our own elective blindness and for the blindness of our world. How hard I find it to recognize God's goodness in some people and how much harder I often find it to recognize God's goodness in my own heart. Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me. And Jesus, of course, hears the call. He had picked out the little tax collector up the sycamore, felt the desperate touch of the woman with the hemorrhage, and could look through everything into the loving sinless heart of the woman who washed his feet. He healed them all. "Call him to me," Jesus said. And the same folks who had been scolding Bartimaeus deliver the message of salvation. "Take heart! Get up! He calls you!" Mark was speaking to his faith community about her mission to faithfully speak Christ's healing message. "Take heart! Get up! He calls you!" This is the Church's only true message. Hear that message spoken to you today. Take that message to the people of your life. And what a response! Bartimaeus threw off his cloak scattering the coins he had collected, jumped up and came to Jesus. The sacrament of Reconciliation invites us to throw off the cloak of the past. The prodigal son didn't pack his pigs for the long trip home. What hobbles our steps, makes heavy our hearts, keeps us from jumping up and coming to Jesus the healer? Throw it off. The dialogue between Jesus and Bartimaeus encapsulates the healing transaction. "What do you want?" "I want to see." "Your faith has healed you." What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asks us right here and now. It's the same question he asked James and John a few verses earlier. They asked for seats of honor on Jesus' right and left. Well, what they wanted was not what they needed. The Syro-Phoenician woman knew what she wanted, what she needed. "Have pity, Lord, and heal my daughter." Neither Jesus' silence nor his ridicule could turn her aside from what she wanted, what she needed, what she would have. "Oh, woman, great is your faith. Let it be done as you wish." In the Spiritual Exercises Ignatius insists that the retreatant constantly ask for the grace that is wanted and needed. To do that one must recognize one's hunger, one's woundedness, one's blindness. Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees who see and know and understand everything and still close themselves to the new vision Jesus offers them. For it's only with eyes of faith that we can see the world as Jesus sees it. Faith leads to healing and healing leads to discipleship, and Bartimaeus restored started to follow Jesus up the road to Jerusalem and to Calvary and to glory. In the traditional spiritual terms of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, this is the meaning of our faith journey. What do we want? What will get us into Easter space, the upper room where Jesus can breathe his Spirit into our hearts to open our eyes and open our lives? "Peace be with you. Do not be afraid. Receive the Holy Spirit. Forgive and be forgiven." How can we experience the Risen Jesus walking with us along the road of our lives, in struggle and disappointment, love and alienation, joys and addictions, to warm our hearts and break the bread of recognition for us? This is where our prayer is focused. Whatever holds us back from getting there, we fast from. Negativity, rehearsing old painful memories, prejudice, give it up! Throw off the cloak. Whatever moves us forward, connecting with old friends, taking time for a quiet walk, this is our truest investment in our faith journey. This is our genuine almsgiving. Mark gives us Bartimaeus as our model of faith to lead us to healing. "What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asks. "Take heart! Get up! He calls you!"
This page was updated September 2009