Homily: Take Heart
Jeremiah 31: 7-9 Hebrews 5: 1-6 Mark 10: 46 -52
At first glance, or taken out of context, this story about a blind beggar being restored to sight may appear to be simply another miracle story in the ministry of Jesus the healer. Encountering it within the larger narrative, however, we hear more clearly how God is speaking to our hearts today through this simple story of mercy, blessing and change.
The cluelessness of the disciples is a theme one perceives when reading the short Gospel of Mark. They have been, in their own way, blind. Not long after they have been bickering over their places in glory, a blind man by the side of the road, hindered rather than helped by those around him, instantly recognizes Jesus for who he is.
The disciples don’t seem to object to a beggar being pushed to the edge of the scene, to the end of the line of people waiting to receive mercy from Jesus. Not one of the disciples speaks up for blind Bartimaeus when the crowd hushes him. We wonder, is anyone paying attention here?
Despite the crowds that try to hush him, Bartimaeus cries out even more loudly. You see, Bartimaeus, like many people with disabilities, sees himself as much more than simply a blind man, and he resists the disciples’ attempts to dismiss him or to speak for Jesus in this situation.
Fortunately, unlike many others in the Gospels (especially women), Bartimaeus is actually named. In a way, it seems to give him more individuality, more personality. Isn’t it nicely symmetrical that his name identifies him as someone’s son, “the son of Timaeus,” since he addresses Jesus as “son of David”?
Jesus, of course, notices the man on the margins and hears his cry for help (Jesus always notices the people on the margins, and the ones in need). Ironically, he asks the man the same question he asked James and John when their minds were on their own power and glory: “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus not only knows what to ask for, he also grasps more fully who this man is who stands before him, and shows the insider-disciples how they should have acted themselves.
It is the physically, literally blind who lead the figuratively and spiritually blind. Remember the rich man two weeks ago who could not give up everything and follow Jesus? While Bartimaeus doesn’t possess much, the little that he has, his humble cloak, is something that he needs to survive, It Gospel tells us, “Casting it aside, he sprang us and came to Jesus.” His casting his cloak aside is a sign of his complete trust, his whole-life faith in Jesus. He knows that he won’t need it again; he’s confident that he won’t be returning to his spot by the side of the road, begging in order to live. Faith sits, leaning forward, ready to leap at the opportunity to answer God’s call.
Jesus tells him, “Go on your way.” Ironically, the man’s response is not to ‘go’ but to ‘follow’, an interesting contrast to Jesus’ invitation earlier in the same chapter to the rich man, to “come, follow me.” In fact, many scholars claim this is just as much a ‘call/’ story as a ‘healing’ one. One man, the rich one, is explicitly invited to let go of what holds him back, and to follow Jesus, but he declines, with great sadness. The other man, poor but in a deeper sense, spiritually rich, is freed of what holds him down or keeps him out, and he decides, presumably with great joy and gratitude, to “come, follow” Jesus, even on the way to the suffering and death that will come before the glory. In Mark’s Gospel, Bartimeaus is the only one of the people healed by Jesus who then followed him on that way
The disciples, in their own time, would have to travel the road to the cross, too. Jesus, living out the things he’s been teaching his followers about true discipleship, ‘serves’ the needs of the blind man, and the disciples, eventually, “get it,” too, that is, except for one.
Where are the places and situations in your own life where God is at work, even if you don’t recognize it? What is the connection between healing and faith? What are the things that keep us from perceiving the presence of God or God at work in our lives? Would we recognize Jesus if we ‘saw’ him? Bartimaeus adds ‘son of David’ to his naming of Jesus; he sees quite a lot for a blind man.
It makes you wonder about the people on the margins of our churches and our communities who ‘see’ the truth more clearly than we in the center of church life do. How much time do we spend either jockeying for position, or blocking the path of healing for those with different sexual orientations, for example, or those with different political opinions, or those in any way – racially, religiously, culturally — in need?
We need to check our own vision and our attention, and consider who we might not be seeing, or on whom we might prefer not to focus, or whose voices we may be silencing, in faraway lands and right under our noses, or better, under our radar. Out of sight, out of mind, and despite our modern communications and news reports, we can distract ourselves with the ‘more important’ matters, from our perspective, of our own lives.
Ironically, the things that keep us busiest may actually be what we think are marks of faithfulness, the busy-ness of church and family life, or of a specific moral or political opinion. The church itself may have lost its way because it’s preoccupied with rules, and sexuality, and morality and members and dollars, culture wars and church divisions and imposing our way on others in order to get everyone pointing the right way on morality or doctrine or piety or liturgy — all as though we have not all been called to depend on God’s mercy. What would it look and feel like for the church to ‘take heart’, as Jesus commanded Bartimaeus?
Christians especially who are secure and even comfortable are called by this Gospel story of the blind man. We might say that they, like Bartimaeus, have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Bartimaeus didn’t care what people thought, and didn’t let anything deter him from reaching Jesus. For him, following Jesus wasn’t just a good idea, a fad, or a nice self-improvement program. It wasn’t “the thing to do,” or a good habit to form. For Bartimaeus, as for so many others, trusting that Jesus cares about them and wills good for them is indeed a matter of life and death. If this is a story about values, as all stories of discipleship might be described, then finding our place in this story means asking ourselves what /we/ truly value, what we would be willing to leave everything behind for. What’s the cloak we need to abandon? Who, or better, what, is keeping us from reaching Jesus?
And one final thought. God tells us that all those who received mercy are formed into a new community. That would be us, in the church, a community of people who have received mercy and now have the opportunity, the responsibility, the call, to extend mercy to all of God’s children in need, That’s what Catholic Social Teaching is all about; it is the call to extend God’s reach from a center of strength to a center of need. That changes everything; it makes ‘all things new’. Mercy makes all the difference in the world, whether the world knows it or not. But still, the world, waits for this tender mercy, even as it falls apart in greed and anger and anxiety.
Writers and thinkers can argue all they want about the existence of God (check out the bestseller list), but the naysayers themselves may be transformed by the mercy of God, a mercy extended by those who have already received it themselves, extended and shared and multiplied right before their own eyes, our own eyes, a miracle, a great wonder to behold. Will our eyes, and our hearts, be open to see? Kathryn Matthews Huey