On Seeing Clearly
(Jer.31:7-9; Heb.5:1-6; Mk.10:46-52)
Our eyesight is such a precious gift; we often take it for granted. But having good eyesight doesn’t always mean we see well, for there are different kinds of blindness.
Helen Keller was only 19 months old when she became deaf and blind. But she still learned to read, write and speak, and she lived a full life.
One day, when a friend returned from a long walk in the woods, Helen asked her what she had seen. Her friend replied, ‘Nothing in particular.’
Helen couldn’t believe it. ‘How is this possible,’ she asked herself, ‘when I who cannot hear or see, find hundreds of interesting things through mere touch? I feel the delicate shape and design of a leaf. I pass my hands lovingly over the rough bark of a pine tree. Occasionally, I place my hand quietly on a small tree, and if I’m lucky, I’ll feel the quiver of a bird in full song.’
‘The greatest calamity that can befall people,’ Keller said, ‘is not that they should be born blind, but that they should have eyes, yet fail to see.’ [i]
In Mark’s Gospel today, Bartimaeus is a blind beggar, sitting on the roadside in Jericho, some three hours’ walk from Jerusalem. He may have had conjunctivitis, for it was common in those days.
Jesus of Nazareth walks by with his disciples, and Bartimaeus calls out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!’ The crowd tries to keep him quiet, but Bartimaeus keeps calling out. And then, when he’s invited to approach, he throws off his cloak, he jumps up and goes to Jesus to be healed.
Now, some points in this famous story are worth noting.
Firstly, Bartimaeus lives in darkness, yet he can see the truth, unlike the crowd that tries to keep him quiet. Today, something similar is happening in our own world. There’s a large crowd out there, still trying to keep Christians quiet; still trying to separate us from Jesus. Like Bartimaeus, we must ignore them and stay faithful.
Secondly, Bartimaeus’ cloak is a powerful symbol. It’s all he owns. He sleeps in it; he uses it to collect coins and he uses it to protect himself. And yet, he leaves it behind. That takes great faith, because he might not find it again.
Compare that to the story of the rich young man who was too scared to leave his possessions to follow Jesus (Mk.10:17-31). Bartimaeus trusted Jesus; the rich young man did not.
And did you notice how Jesus calls Bartimaeus? He doesn’t do it directly. He gets his disciples to call him. That’s an important detail, because Jesus often works through his disciples. Today, we are his disciples. Do we allow Jesus to work through us?
And finally, did you notice how Jesus responds to Bartimaeus? He doesn’t toss a few coins at him, which many of us might do. Rather, Jesus asks, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’
That’s the same question Jesus asked James and John in last week’s Gospel. Jesus doesn’t guess what’s in our hearts. He wants us to talk with him personally, to share our deepest hopes and fears with him.
Bartimaeus answers that question by saying, ‘I want to see’. Jesus then says, ‘Go your way; your faith has saved you.’ But Bartimaeus doesn’t go his own way. Instead, he follows Jesus. He becomes a disciple.
Of all the people Jesus helps in the Gospels, Bartimaeus is one of the very few we actually know by name. We should remember him, because at every Mass we say ‘Kyrie eleison’ – ‘Lord have mercy on me’. These are Bartimaeus’ words.
Like Bartimaeus, there are times when we, too, are weak and helpless and simply cannot see what we need to see. Yet, where it counts, Bartimaeus actually sees more clearly than anyone else.
The great gift of faith is that it allows us to see things that even healthy eyes often miss.
As a young man living in Spain, St Josemaria Escriva knew that God was calling him to do something special, but he couldn’t see what it was. However, he was inspired by Bartimaeus’ story, and for years he prayed Bartimaeus’ prayer: ‘Lord, that I might see!’
God heard his prayer and gave him a clear spiritual vision. St Josemaria went on to accomplish many great things in his lifetime.
Today, Jesus is asking us the same question: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’
Tell him that you really want to see.
[i] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies, Year B. Dominican Publications, Dublin, 2017, p.346-347.