30th Sunday in Ordinary Time October 25th 2015
A Prayer for Sight (Origen, 185-253)
May the Lord Jesus touch our eyes,
As he did those of the blind.
Then we shall begin to see in visible things
Those which are invisible.
May He open our eyes to gaze not on present realities,
But on the blessings to come.
May he open the eyes of our heart to contemplate God in Spirit,
Through Jesus Christ the Lord,
To whom belong power and glory through all eternity. Amen
Seeing is believing and believing is seeing
We hear this week from the 10th chapter in the Gospel of Mark, the curing of Bartimaeus, the blind man. The story undoubtedly preserves the memory of a real event. When the name of a particular person is retained in one of these biblical stories; “it signals the dense facticity of the story”. (Biblical scholar Richard Bauckham).
It’s based on something that really happened. Bartimaeus was probably still around when Mark wrote this. Early Christians began to tell their stories and he was one of those who probably said; “Well here’s the way it happened”.
But these stories that contain a real story are included in the gospels because they also have a powerful spiritual message. The gospel writers aren’t just journalistic recorders, they are great theological artists. So as they tell the story they are also speaking at a symbolic and spiritual level, that’s meant to apply to all of us. Today’s gospel is a great example of this principle.
Bartimaeus is blind. Blindness in the bible is very often a symbol of spiritual blindness. The incapacity to see God’s hand at work. The incapacity to see the big picture. Blind people find it difficult to walk confidently. This is true of the spiritually blind. Which means all of us, to one degree or another. What is the goal of my life? What is the path I should walk? What are the obstacles I should be avoiding? Many of us are lost, we stumble about. That’s why all of us are meant to identify with Bartimaeus, precisely in his blindness.
Bartimaeus, sits by the walls of Jericho, an ancient city, one of the most ancient on earth, as far back as 7800 BC! Jericho is a city which has rich symbolic overtones for biblical people. Why? It was the city that the invading Israelites had to destroy, when they came into the Promised Land. Remember they marched around it and blew their trumpets and the walls came tumbling down. Not through military might but through the power of God. Therefore Jericho stands for the city of sin, the power of sin, that way of organizing ourselves that is opposed to God’s way. It’s the fallen city. It represents all those institutions, marked by corruption and injustice.
Then we see his great virtue, he is a “beggar”. The problem today is that most people are blind but they don’t know it. They are blind spiritually but they act as though they can see. They are focused on worldly goods, wealth, pleasure, honour, power… they don’t see how blind they are to the truly important things; giving oneself to the grace of God, living a life of love and service….they tend to say, “I’m ok and you’re ok”, they fall into a self-complacency. It doesn’t matter how much you have got in the eyes of the world, how rich, famous, popular or successful you are, if you have not surrendered to the grace of God, you are blind.
How wonderful it is that Bartimaeus, a blind man, begs.
“Jesus, son of David, have pity on me”.
He has probably heard of Jesus, there must have been a huge popular buzz around Him. Bartimaeus has heard about this famous person and has heard that he is in his city. Just as Jesus is leaving the city, he calls out to Him.
Notice that Jesus is leaving Jericho, now Jericho as we have seen is the city of sin, but also geographically Jericho is in a very low place. One of the lowest places on the planet, the lowest town in the world, over 250m below sea level.
Jesus symbolically is God having gone into that lowest place, having gone into our sinful condition, and now is going up to Jerusalem. And geographically this is literally true, you go up from Jericho to Jerusalem, a 35km climb. But read it symbolically, Jerusalem is the city of grace, Jerusalem is heaven, it’s the rightly ordered city, Jesus has gone down into our sinful condition and now leads us out and up.
Bartimaeus is calling out to Jesus as he goes up to Jerusalem, well that’s all of us; sinners blind, begging, that he might take us with him, on his upward journey. But what is going to happen in that city? The passion and death of Jesus. He is going up to Jerusalem, which means up to the place of his glory. Which paradoxically means the place of his suffering and death. What an important spiritual truth is being revealed here. The way to satisfy the deepest spiritual hunger, is to walk the path of self-emptying love.
You got to move from Jericho to Jerusalem. But you have to have sight in order to make that journey. You have to know where you are going and how to get there. That’s why Bartimaeus, standing here for all of us, begs for vision.
We echo his words at the start of every liturgy; “Kyrie eleison…”.….“Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy…”
What Bartimaeus says is “Jesou eleison ” in the Greek, same thing, “Jesus, have pity on me”. We are reminded at the beginning of every mass that we are sinners, we don’t have it in our power to save ourselves, we have to beg.
The desert fathers used to pray all the time this simple prayer, like a mantra, “Kyrie eleison”… breathing in while saying “Kyrie”… filling up our lungs and our whole being with God’s presence…. And breathing out with the word “Eleison”… as if emptying ourselves of all sin and negativity. High degrees of sanctity were achieved in just reciting this simple prayer.
What happens when Bartimaeus begs? Everyone around him tells him to keep his mouth shut. You are embarrassing yourself. Don’t expect a lot of support when you assume the stance of prayer, dependence upon God. That is just not a popular stance in our society of control and autonomy.
The spiritual life begins in the attitude of the beggar.
Then Jesus calls to him, this is the all-important moment, Jesus heard his cry, and he always hears our cry. Jesus stopped and said“Call him here”. Notice how Jesus gets the disciples to go towards the poor, to be at their service.
He summoned him from the crowd, to come closer to Him, to be near Him. The word for “Church” in Greek is derived from 2 words, to “call”, “out of”. We the church are those spiritual beggars, who have been called out of the complacency of Jericho, to walk now in the company of Jesus. From darkness to light. Actually the word “Jericho” means“moon-town”, city of the night, darkness. What an important move that is. We affirm it every time we come to Church.
“So throwing off his cloak, he jumped up and went to Jesus”.
Bartimaeus then throws aside his cloak, that’s a wonderful baptismal image. In the ancient church when you were baptized, you took off your street clothes, you were plunged into the water, brought back up and they clothed you in a white garment. In every spiritual journey there has to be a “letting go”, a death, a death to the old ways, the old attitudes, the old behaviours, there’s got to be a death to our blindness. When we are letting go usually it means space is being created in us for God.
Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Imagine the Lord right now, right in front of you, asking the same question. This is not a worldly figure offering you success, not a genie offering you the fulfilment of 3 wishes. This is the only person that finally matters asking you the only question that finally matters. What is it that you want from the deepest part of your soul?
And what a brilliant answer Bartimaeus gives, “Master I want to see”. It is of course a petition for physical healing, but it is much more than that. Its asking for that one thing that finally matters; Spiritual vision, to know what my life is about, to know the big picture, to know where I am going. You can have all the wealth, honour, pleasure and power you want, all the worldly goods you can desire, but if you don’t see spiritually, it will do you no good. It will probably destroy you.
Bartimaeus asked to see. That’s why at the end of the story he knows where to go. He follows Jesus up the road from Jericho to Jerusalem, he begins to walk the path of salvation, that will culminate in that great act of self-emptying love. That is the whole spiritual life, our good friend Bartimaeus shows us the way.
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