I COULD HAVE, BUT WOULD I?
There are people today, like Bartimaeus in this Gospel, who sit by the wayside and cry out for help. 24-hour news channels, Instagram, Facebook and other social media illustrate, with varying details, the kinds of horrific stories we too often hear that viewers weary of the repetition and harden their hearts.
The stories caught on cell phone video could happen anywhere. Shock waves of horror rock the world and put us to shame. The scene may be a toddler struck by a van in a hit and run accident and left to die on the pavement, a home break-in turned murder, or a teen-age boy gunned down while walking home after dark on a lonely stretch of roadway. You can imagine it – you’ve probably seen it in reality. They are all victims of violence of one sort or another! Many left dying unattended except by doorbell security cameras or gawking on-lookers. On film you can see people passing by, some going out of their way to avoid involvement.
Later in interviews, we can hear passersby make remarks like “But, it wasn’t my child. I didn’t know him. I didn’t want to get involved. Why should I bother?” A columnist shouts in print, “Shame on us!” A young student leader digs deeper, expressing a measured degree of hope that this untimely and inhumane death will cause an ever greater stir in regards to the value of human life. Reporters and commentators plead about the responsibility of families and society to care for their children, for each other in a way more powerful than any video could arouse. If one video of a dead toddler on a side street can cause millions of people around the world to stop and rethink their own morals, why can’t it spur others to craft legislation that may save lives in the future? What sort of change is possible? What about videos of young mothers leaving their newborn on the steps of a local fire station with a note saying she lives in a “food desert” and did not have a bus pass. And anyway, the fact is she could not afford to feed her baby? Would this cause a commotion and stir to action our society where one in six children go to bed hungry every night?” It does require that we each ask ourselves, “Would I have stopped to care for that abandoned person in the street?”
It is not only stories of horrific violence that can cause us to hang our heads in shame. Inspirational stories, too, of everyday heroic deeds can bring us to tears and evoke recognition that we probably would not have had the courage for similar acts of compassion. Such “warm, fuzzy news” may bring tears of emotion and waves of shame. Would I have cared enough to rescue a helpless toddler? Could I have braved jumping into the fray or the freezing water or moved between the bully and the victim? Are there times I could have, (but would I have) spoken up to divert the direction of a racial bias comment or harsh exchange of words? Did I miss the chance to welcome the person being ignored?
There is one thing I DO KNOW: Jesus would, and Jesus did! How do I know? A poor blind beggar named Bartimaeus tells us so! His friends who at first had shushed him, now encourage him – “Take up your courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.” Bartimaeus was dependent upon the eyes of his friends and the sound of Jesus’ voice beckoning him, as he made his way through the crowd. Jesus asked him, ”What is it you want of me?” “Master, that I may see.” “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”
And, don’t be mistaken, this time Jesus didn’t say: “Follow me or come my way or go away.” There’s the lesson for us. Bartimaeus did not linger when Jesus said “Go your way.” That is exactly what he did. “He followed Jesus on the way.” That was his way. And in this process, Bartimaeus and his friends demonstrated for us what it means to “be a slave to all,” to serve those who cannot do even one thing in return for your loving them enough to stop and help. May we each have the sight and courage to lead those who are blind to Jesus that they, too, may see.
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress