He replied, “Lord, please let me see.”
Jesus told him, “Have sight; your faith has saved you.”
Our Gospel is magnificent. It’s right smack in the middle really of Luke’s gospel. And it’s a a hinge story. Much will turn on this tale that Luke, Mark and Matthew tells. A tale undoubtedly based upon something very real.
The fact that the person Jesus heals in the story is named. Not always the case. But in this case the person is named. Indicates it’s probably a story very vividly remembered. In fact, this person in question was probably around for some time after the Jesus’ death and resurrection and probably there telling and correcting this story, a point of reference for it.
And so it’s very much a real tale. At the same time I think it is a beautifully elaborated tale. What I mean, is the Gospel writers brings out the theological and spiritual significance of this healing of Jesus. That’s what I think it makes it powerful for us even 2,000 years after the event. Listen to how the story begins, “as Jesus approached Jericho” with his disciples and a sizable crowd. Now Jericho was a city in Jesus time, in fact, one of the oldest cities in the world. A city you can visit the ruins the ancient city today. But for any biblical person Jericho meant much more than a city east of Jerusalem. For Jericho was a city that the Israelites destroy when they came into the Promised Land, led by Joshua. Hence the famous parading around the walls of Jericho, the trumpet blast, the walls come tumbling down, Jericho then comes to symbolize sin or dysfunction.
If the Israelites symbolize God’s way in the world, then Jericho is the enemy of that, what stands in the way of it. Therefore, any bionically mindful person, reading this story and hearing about Jesus near Jericho has all kinds of associations. Jericho lying in a sort of lower area, the city of sin, symbolizing the fall away from grace, the fall away from the ways of God. Well sitting next by the wall of that city is a blind man the son of Timeaus, hence Bartimaeus, a blind man who’s by the wall of Jericho begging. Now to this day, you can find street people and beggars, some physically impaired who sit or stand outside of famous places and they beg. So that is the image we are meant to get here. Of this blind man who is begging. But, he is much more than that because of this spiritual overtone that Luke has. He is blind. Why? Well, he symbolizes all of us who to varying degrees live in the city of sin, who live in this dysfunctional place, perhaps violence, hatred, self-absorption, all those things opposed to God. As a result we are blind spiritually. We don’t see what we are meant to see. We don’t see the ways of God. We are blind to them. Furthermore, Bartimaeus is a beggar. Here’s a very deep spiritual truth. But our spiritual problem is not like that. It is not a problem that we can solve. Robert Barron explains, “ sin is a problem with the will and with the mind. They become perverse and twisted. Therefore if the mind and the will are the problem then more mind and more will ain’t going to be the solution. That’s why spiritually speaking all of us are beggars. Beggars, we’re blind, and we have to beg, to be saved. So, we are meant to identify with Bartimaeus. All of us are meant to identify with this blind beggar by the wall of Jericho.”
Bartimaeus, began to cry out and say, Jesus son of David have pity on me.” “Lord, have pity. Christ, have pity.” Lord have pity on me. We put ourselves ritually in the place of Bartimaeus, acknowledging as the Mass begins that we are blind, we have lost our way, we are beggars and we not able save ourselves. This by the way, is Bartimaeus’ great virtue, his great grace, is that he realizes he’s a beggar. He realizes he has to beg. Many don’t realize that. They think “all is well.” Or all can be made well by our own efforts. Yes, the secular culture teaches that, but not the Bible.
“Many rebuked him telling him to be silent.” Well people are kind of embarrassed by this display. Here’s the famous preacher going by and here is this embarrassing street person, this blind beggar and he’s crying out like a lunatic. So the people are embarrassed, you know, and they tell him to be quiet. The same way we probably would today, if a famous person was going by and there was some poor soul some street person and they cry out. Would probably get embarrassed too. Symbolically speaking we are on very holy ground here, because Luke is telling us, even to this day, when you acknowledge your blindness, and you acknowledge your incapacity to save yourself don’t expect a lot of support. We live in a culture that is very me-centric, we love people that are powerful, that are self-reliant. Who likes someone who is a beggar? Who acknowledges his powerlessness? No one likes that. We celebrate, we hold up people who have it together. Who can solve their problems? I’m OK you’re OK. I’m the King of the World. But in the spiritual order it does not work that way. Bartimaeus is the one here who’s seeing clearly. But the world is not going to stand with him. And it won’t stand with us either, when we beg the Lord for pity, Beg the lord for mercy. Don’t expect a lot of support.
Now his great virtue. But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David have pity on me” Good for you, Bartimaeus, despite the crowd, despite this lack of support you keep begging. Its good advice forever one of us. We are not going to get allot of support from the crowd today, But keep asking, Keep asking. Keep begging. How often, by the way, in the Gospel the perseverance in prayer is recommended. Stay at it. Seek and you will find. Knock it will be open. Ask and you will receive. Don’t give up.
So Bartimaeus persevered. Jesus stopped. And Jesus said, call him. Jesus stopped. He is the still point. And they called him. Bartimaeus is being called out of his blindness. Out of Jericho. into a new way of being. Which means friendship with Jesus Christ. He’s a prototype here, of every one of us who are members of the Church. We have been called by Jesus out of Jericho into this new friendship. Take courage get up Jesus is calling you the crowd said, So he threw away his cloak. Sprang up. This is a baptismal image isn’t it.
Here Bartimaeus throws off his cloak. It’s symbolic of his old life. He springs up and comes to Jesus.
He says, The Lord says “What do you want me to do for you?”
Then the magnificent answer, “Master I want to see.”
What’s his problem? Blindness. Born of sin, born of self-absorption. What’s the solution? Sight. How do you get it? Not by your own efforts. You cannot make yourself un-blind. But you can come now into relationship with Jesus Christ. Who then gives you sight. So immediately he received his sight. And then what, the story ends with this, “he followed him” on the way.
Bartimaeus began stuck in the city of sin, blind and a beggar, but now called into the church, into friendship with Jesus Christ, he is now given his sight and then able to walk in the path of discipleship.