The story of Bartimaeus rings with a familiarity of the plight of many people today. He once had a family, a job, a house, kids, the whole works. He was active at the local synagogue. He would tell his children stories of their ancestors. Then things started to change, he started to get these real bad headaches and his vision would become blurry. At first he did not allow this to bother him but kept on working and living, but eventually the blurred vision got worse and worse and eventually he could barely see his wife and children. He told them to leave because he wouldn’t be able to support them or protect them. Then things went black and that’s the way it was.
He would lay his cloak on the ground so people could throw their loose change on the ground next to him. Most people avoided him altogether because in those days many people felt that blindness was caused by sinfulness either by the person or by their parents, so they were avoided. That’s the way it was for years. He struggled to survive, always hungry and thirsty and everything always black.
Despite all the hardships that he faced he still loved God. He remember the stories that he told his children and he saw in his mind the people in those stories and how God always came through for them in the end. Now Bartimaeus sat daily next to the road listening to the people passing by. The conversation lately had been about this guy named Jesus who had healed people, even blind people. Some had even said that he was the messiah that had come to redeem Israel. Bartimaeus thought, “Wow, if only Jesus would come around here.”
Then one day there was a commotion. There were more people on the road than usual and then he heard the name, Jesus. He was coming. Should he say something? Would Jesus come to him? Could he restore his vision? Something deep inside said “Yes, call out the name.” Bartimaeus opened his mouth: the crowd around him tried to silence him. Yet Bartimaeus persised, calling out more loudly and with greater urgency. He will not be silenced or deterred from getting Jesus’ attention. We notice how quickly the crowd’s reaction changes when Jesus calls for Bartimaeus. Those who sought to quiet him now encourage him.
Bartimaeus recognized power and authority when he saw it. We do the same thing. If we had a broken leg we wouldn’t go to AutoZone to have it fixed. If the doctor came in overalls, we might have a few questions, but if he was in a white coat, with a stethoscope and a pocket protector we would have no problem. Even though it might be some Joe Schmo from the street dressed as a doctor, we recognize the uniform as power and authority; we don’t ask for credentials or references, we simply accept what experience told us was the situation.
Bartimaeus recognized Jesus’ authority. Jesus didn’t have on a uniform, even if he did Bartimaeus was blind he couldn’t see him anyway. He had heard stories, but he had heard false rumors, too. This recognition came from a place deep within him.
We have that some recognition of Jesus. We have never seen Him. We’ve see artistic renditions of Jesus but our recognition originates from a different sense than sight.. It comes from a spiritual sense. It comes before anything. It is grace that allowed us to have that first moment with God, when God was not just a figure in religion classes or in the Bible but God became personal, a friend.
When Bartimaeus recognized Jesus, he still had a choice to make: act on that recognition or let it pass by. Bartimaeus cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” He addressed Jesus by name and by title, Son of David, the messianic title reserved for the redeemer of Israel. We cry out as well when we get to the last point, the straw that breaks the camel’s back. We cry, “Help me, Jesus.” “Have mercy, Jesus” Or simply, “Jesus” “Got in Hiemel.” “Mi Dios!” We realize that only God can help us in whatever situation we are in. God’s grace not only gives us the ability to perceive God’s power and love. It also gives us the strength to respond to it. Unlike Bartimaeus however, we are not limited to a once in a lifetime response. We must continually respond to the gift of grace and power in our lives.
What is Jesus’ response to Bartimaeus? “Go; your faith has made you well.” It is interesting to see that Jesus says that it is Bartimaeus’ faith that produced his healing not Jesus’ faith that made him well. Bartimaeus’ faith, and ours too, is not born out of nothing, it does not come out of thin air, but it is a response to the love and grace of God. It was Bartimaeus’ response to God’s initial contact through grace that made him well – restored his sight. Our response to the power or grace is also a restoration and a reconnection. We might not be blind, physically but spiritually we may be walking around aimlessly. Our spiritual vision may be black as night, but God still initiates the reconnection through grace and gives us the freedom to respond or reject His gift.
That’s the end of the story, right? Not quite. What does Bartimaeus do once he has been restored? Immediately he follows Jesus on the way. It is not the end, but the beginning of a journey. We don’t receive the fire of the Holy Spirit, the connection with God, only to sit it in the corner or in the closet, or even the chapel. Instead we must take up the invitation and follow Jesus on the way. The question facing us is: Am I going to do for God today, or for myself? Am I going to spend today in connection and in conversation with God or am I going to satisfy my own selfish wants and desires? Our blind eyes opened, we have a unique opportunity to spread God’s love in the world. Lord, we pray: open our eyes and strengthen us to following your prompt to be an expression of your compassion and mercy in our world.