I was delighted to have Bartimaeus pop up in the gospel reading at daily Mass the other day. Why? Because I’ve long considered the blind man from Jericho to be one of my best buddies in all of scripture.
This affection for Bartimaeus dates to 2003, the year I was preparing to lead an ACTS retreat for the first time. I remember feeling wholly inadequate to the task—so overwhelmed, in fact, that I was actually moved to read the instruction book: the ACTS Director’s Manual. It told me to begin the leadership process by looking up the gospel passage we’d be scheduled to hear at Mass on the Sunday of our retreat weekend.
It took a little digging. I’ve since discovered a few web resources that make it easy to research the liturgical calendar many months in advance of a given date. But back then, I was pretty much groping in the dark…like a blind man.
When I did finally manage to track down the reading for that October Sunday in 2003… well, you guessed it: There was Bartimaeus, waiting to make my acquaintance. And not only Bartimaeus…but some onlookers, offering a word of encouragement.
So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”
It would not be inaccurate to say I was gob-smacked in that moment of discovery. Astonishingly, the Lord had managed to speak to my heart…as well as to Bartimaeus’…even across the centuries, through the lips of those anonymous onlookers. It seemed like they were giving me—the reluctant retreat leader—marching orders:
‘Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.’
This week’s encounter with the gospel story proved no less fruitful for me, thanks to the observation made by our celebrant in his homily. He zeroed in on the question that Jesus asks of Bartimaeus—a query that seemed to me to have an obvious answer:
Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Well, duh: Whaddya mean, ‘what do you want me to do for you?’
A blind man would be seeking a cure, right? But Fr. Binu noticed something different. He suggested that the obvious reply to Jesus’ question would have been “Money.” That’s what beggars do, after all. They ask for money.
Money would have helped Bartimaeus, of course, at least in the short term. It would not have had the power to transform him, however—not like the gift of sight.
But if you think about it, Bartimaeus really did need a measure of courage, in order to ask Jesus for everything that the Master was able to give. Bartimaeus had to be willing to give up his habits of living. He had to ready to leave Jericho behind.
The better I get to know Bartimaeus, the more I realize that he’s still teaching me important spiritual lessons after all these years. He challenges me a bit, like any true BFF.
He encourages me to listen attentively for the Master’s voice.
You might even say he begs me…to keep my heart open for the invitation to receive all that the Lord is ready to offer.
In case you’d like to spend a little more time with the story, here’s the entire text of the gospel reading, Mark 10: 46-52…
As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, 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.
And if you’re wondering: Yes, we did manage to have a pretty remarkable retreat way back in October of 2003, the leader’s shortcomings notwithstanding…
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.