This is one of the great stories of the gospel and I thought we could walk through it together and see what it says and what it might mean for us.
First, we notice that Jesus is leaving Jericho. He is on his way to Jerusalem to confront the system of injustice and face his crucifixion, in other words, he is walking the way of the cross. This blind beggar calls out to him, and in one of the rare moments, we are told his name, Bartimaeus, which means “Son of the Unclean.” It’s a very loaded name, because the unclean were ostracized and excommunicated.
But unlike the rich man a few weeks ago who interrupted Jesus and called him “Good Teacher” and asked what he had to do to inherit eternal life, this poor, blind beggar, who has no home, no food, no family, and no security, cries out, “Jesus Son of David, have mercy on me,” which is an entirely different attitude. He identifies Jesus as the Messiah and begs for mercy. So the first lesson of the story is that the blind beggar teaches us how to address Jesus–as our savior–and to call out to him and beg for mercy. That is how we are to pray and come before Jesus from now on.
Second, we notice that the disciples are annoyed at the beggar and yell at him to shut up, like everyone else. They are not impressed with the poor blind beggar, but they were really impressed with the rich man. Nevertheless, the blind beggar calls out even louder.
Next, we notice that Jesus does something he rarely does. He stops in his tracks. Then he tells them to bring the blind beggar to him. Jesus stops what he is doing to put himself at the disposal of someone in need, especially those who call out to him for help.
Now here’s the clincher. What does the blind beggar Bartimaeus do when he is told that Jesus is asking for him? It says here that he throws aside his cloak, jumps up and runs to Jesus. What’s so important about that? If he’s a homeless, blind beggar, and is sitting there on the ground at the gate, he would lay his cloak on the ground in front of him so people could throw a few coins at him, so that he would have a few dimes to buy a piece of bread. In other words, that cloak contained his alms, all the money he had in the world. And at the call of Jesus, he instantly throws it all away. He cares nothing for money, and everything for Jesus.
Bartimaeus is the model disciple. And the question is: Dare we have that same devotion to Jesus? Can we give throw away all our money and worldly concerns, perhaps give our alms to charities and those in need, and run after Jesus?
The plot thickens. What does Jesus say to Bartimaeus? He asks one of the most beautiful questions in the scriptures: “What do you want me to do for you?” The God of the Universe, the Creator, stops what he is doing and gives himself to us. Jesus places himself completely at the service of those in need. It’s just wonderful. We have such a good God.
How does Bartimaeus answer? Notice that Bartimaeus doesn’t ask for eternal life, like the rich man did. He asks for vision, which Jesus grants. Suddenly his eyes open and who does he see? He sees Jesus, standing there before him, and Jesus affirms him saying, “Be on your way, your faith has saved you.” And we are told in passing that Bartimaeus followed Jesus “on the way.” In other words, Bartimaeus becomes a disciple and fearlessly follows Jesus on the way to Jerusalem, to the cross. He is the perfect disciple, totally dedicated to Jesus, following Jesus no matter what.
So what does this story mean for us? You could say that though it’s nice, it really has nothing to do with us. We’re not blind. We’re not beggars. It doesn’t apply to us.
I think that would be a mistake. We are all blind. In the eyes of God, we are all beggars. We are all in need of God’s mercy. We are all just like Bartimaeus.
Each one of us needs Jesus, just as Bartimaeus did. This Gospel calls us to learn from Bartimaeus–to call out for mercy from our God; to turn away from money and possessions; to run after Jesus; and to ask Jesus for the gift of vision, so that we too can begin to see Jesus standing in our midst. We need the gift of vision to see Christ in one another, and then to see clearly how to follow Jesus on the way, even to the cross. We need vision so that we can see Jesus in the homeless and hungry as Mother Theresa did; so that we can see Jesus in people who are different from us as Martin Luther King, Jr. did; so that we can see Jesus in our enemies, as Mahatma Gandhi did; so that we can see Jesus in one another, in those we dislike and marginalize, in our enemies, in everyone we meet, for the rest of our lives, just as Dorothy Day and St. Francis and all the saints did. From now on, we are a Bartimaeus people, following Jesus on the way.