October 24, 2021
When I was a young child, I would go with my mother shopping in downtown San Antonio, where I lived for the first nine years of my life. I remember sometimes seeing someone sitting on the sidewalk holding a cup, asking for a handout. Occasionally, there would a blind person selling pencils. All of that seemed a part of urban life and it got my attention.
Nowadays, whenever I turn off Interstate 20 onto Maynard Terrace in order to go to our house in Decatur, there is always some one at the stop sign asking for help. Usually the person is holding cardboard sign. Drivers either ignore the person or lower their window and hand over an offering.
Today’s gospel reading deals with a similar situation. A blind beggar sitting by the roadside in Jericho. Both blind and begging. This account may seem like a typical miracle story, yet the dynamics it presents have a lot to say.
We quickly learn that there are other actors in the account. Jesus, his disciples and a large crowd. The beggar is causing a scene, crying out to Jesus. The crowd responds by telling him to shut-up. But the beggar won’t. His voice is his only power. This is disturbing to the crowd that wants to keep the blind beggar in his place. The beggar is interrupting the status-quo. He is resisting the reality that has been assigned to him. He will not be silenced.
The blind beggar, whose name is Bartimaeus, has been empowered by his faith. He sees Jesus as Son of David, someone who represents hope, the Messiah who comes with the promises of God. The man’s only resource is his faith. As the book of Hebrews states, Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. This is Bartimaeus’ resource. This is his power.
Jesus takes note of the beggar and calls him to come over. Bartimaeus throws off his cloak, the garment that protected him and identified his status, springs up and comes to Jesus.
This is a poignant moment. The blind man can’t be sure of how Jesus will respond. His faith drives him on. His hope gives him courage. He is no longer willing to live a life defined by others.
What do you want me to do for you?, Jesus asks. Bartimaeus doesn’t hesitate. He says, Let me see again. Give me vision. Give me sight. Jesus looks at him, takes him seriously. Something the beggar isn’t used to. Jesus doesn’t do any magic tricks, but says simply, Go, your faith has made you well.
Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann maintains that this healing happens only with Jesus as the partner in dialogue. The narrative makes this point in a quite understated way. It is the key presence of Jesus that evokes the hope and that gives the beggar the nerve and the occasion to speak (v. 47). The outcome, in spite of the resistant crowd, is that the beggar receives his sight.
Even though the community had rendered the beggar powerless, his hope led him to speak out, which was an act of social subversion. His partnership with Jesus led not only to his transformation but, moreover, to the transformation of others.
Bartimaeus was made well, made whole, in this story. We are not told exactly how wholeness comes, but the concluding message is: “Your faith has cured you.”
Brueggemann says we need to relearn the healing process, because it is different from a magical conversion. It does not rely on technical solutions alone, as if it were no different from fixing a lawn mower. Brueggemann maintains that the hard issues in healing are not technical but political.
So Bartimaeus through his faith and the presence of Jesus moved from a status assigned to him by society to a new role as one who lived by faith, and in so doing, revealed both the wonder of faith and the wonder of God’s love revealed in Jesus. This is a story of liberation.
Moreover, the story is interesting in that so much attention is given to the blind beggar. The disciples, in particular, play a minor role. Some have suggested that the beggar was held up as one whose eyes were opened readily while the disciples were much slower to have their eyes opened. Perhaps he was a model of faith in the early church.
Today, whenever the status quo is used to disempower people, whenever it is used to render people helpless, it is important that the Church be engaged in this kind of healing. The Church, as the Body of Christ, is called on by the gospel to be a partner in dialogue. Our presence is a part of Christ’s ministry of healing, a part of the ministry of opening blind eyes even if it is deemed subversive.
Bartimaeus went on to join Jesus’ band of followers. His eyes had been opened, and he had seen reality from a different perspective. He was changed, and he wanted to be a part of the change Jesus was making. Bartimaeus saw what a partnership with Jesus could mean not only for himself but for many others as well.
The gospel reading leaves us with that invitation. With Jesus and with faith and hope, we, too, can not only have our eyes opened, but can also support the opening of other people’s eyes. We can see and support redemption because of the one called Son of David.
There will always be a part of the gospel that is socially subversive. It will always take faith and courage to speak out as did Bartimaeus. The promise is that blind eyes will see. And what is seen will not be constrained by social convention or conspiracies or efforts to maintain the status quo, but will be full of truth, wonder and grace.
Let me see. Open my eyes. My faith will not let me be silent. Kudos to Bartimaeus who refused to settle for blindness…who threw off his cloak and followed Jesus.