As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging.
This Sunday allows us to consider the story of one of the most fascinating characters of the Gospel. Of Bartimaeus, we don’t know much, except that he was blind, and that he is identified only in relation with his father, Timaeus. The episode of this Sunday’s Gospel affords us with a lot of avenues for contemplation, doors through which we are able to encounter Christ and listen to his words, and allow our daily lives to be transformed by his Word. Nobody may know exactly who Bartimaeus was, how he was before Christ walked into his life that day as he sat in his usual place outside Jericho. What we know certainly, however, is that in his story we see our own reflected. For though all of us are able to see and are well off because of it, nevertheless, we know that we too are handicapped at some point. Looking deep into our personal life, we can see that we ourselves are in darkness; there are some dark areas of our life which we dare not enter, areas which are touched by our rejection of God’s love. We know all to well that our lives are painfully touched by sin, by that darkness that comes from our willful rejection of God’s love and his plan for our life. it is a darkness that blinds us to what is true, that which is truly good, truly beautiful.
But we too are aware that like Bartimaeus, we are identified because of our relationship with our Father, whose name is beyond any other, and whose face shines in the human face of Jesus. Thus, the person of the blind man of Jericho brings out to us two important things about ourselves: our personal blindness and our need for light, for someone to take us by the hand, and the fact that our personal identity is marked by our relationship with our Father.
In Bartimaeus, this need for healing, this need for freedom from the darkness that enfolds him pushes him to cry out: Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me! Having heard of Jesus’ approach, the blind man saw in his heart that it was precisely this person who could save him from his darkness. Looking back into our own lives, the consideration of our own wretchedness, of our own sinfulness, of our own darkness, should not push to despair and self-pity; rather, the knowledge of our sinfulness should push us to conversion, to tend toward Christ, to ask for his divine mercy, to grasp his hand, asking him to make us whole. The blind man was not content to remain in his blindness; we should not be complacent in our own sinfulness. This is true even when the world, the “crowd” pressures us to shut up, to desist in our struggle to respond to the call to conversion, to give up in our tending towards God. Bartimaeus was told to shut up by the crowd, but far from doing what they wanted him to do, he cried out all the more, calling out to the One who could save him: Son of David, have pity on me!, clearly alluding to his firm faith than the one who stood before him was the Christ, despite of the fact that he could not see Jesus.
The attitude of the blind man should inspire us to cry out, even though circumstances (and even persons) would tell us to give up. The chief enemies of our move towards holiness (the world, the flesh and the devil, and, also most often, the “old man” in us) would tell us that everything is futile, resistance to the force of gravity (that pulls us to the depths of our sinfulness) is useless. Sometimes we may even consider that they’re right, because we don’t seem to see Jesus with us. We might think that there’s no point in smiling on a cold, rainy day; why should we, since the sun hadn’t come out anyway?
But then the truth is, the Lord hasn’t abandoned us to our darkness. This is the same Lord who in the First Reading we see delivering his people, gathering them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst. He is the God of Israel consoles and guides them, leading them to brooks of water, and leading them on a level road, so that none shall stumble. This is the same Lord who says: For I am a father to Israel. How can he not hear the cry of the heart that is crushed by its sins, the cry of the sinner who has placed himself at the Master’s feet, asking for freedom? When Jesus asks the blind man what was it that he wanted, was it because he didn’t know? What more could a blind man ask, but that he be delivered from his blindess? What more could we ask from the Lord, but that we be brought back from the darkness of sin into the light of day, Jesus, the Day that knows no night?
The blind man pushes forward in his desire, despite of the fact that he does not see. This is what faith means: to move forward, not because we see clearly and are convinced of the way, but because we trust in the hand and in the voice that leads us on. What moves us to believe is not the fact that the revealed truths appear as true and intelligible in the light of our natural reason: we believe “because of the authority of God himself who reveals them, who neither deceive nor be deceived” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 156). In the end, it was the faith of the blind man that allowed him to recover his sight. Faith is the condition that allows the grace of God to enter into our lives, transforming it, filling it with life. As the letter of the Holy Father at the start of the Year of Faith would suggest, faith is a door (porta fidei) that allows us to feel the caress of God. It is the sine qua non, that without which we cannot have a relationship with God. In the end, what is true is that to believe is to see, and not much seeing in order to believe.
The experience of Bartimaeus, and the incidence of this Year of Faith, invites us once again to be well-grounded in our faith in Christ. It is through faith that we are able to touch the face of God in Jesus Christ; it is through faith that we are able to see and contemplate the loving smile of the Father, through the human face of Jesus. It is only through faith that we can show it likewise to the world, in much need of the new evangelization.
In the Gospel we hear the words of the crowd surrounding Jesus: “Take courage, get up, Jesus is calling you”. We too have the responsibility of inviting those around us to see Jesus, that they too may be touched by his grace. This is what our role in the new evangelization entails: to show that face of Jesus, to encourage others to come into contact with him, and to live with the very life which the Lord gives as a gift. But this is only possible if Jesus has touched us ourselves. We can only make Jesus transparent to others, if our own eyes have seen him.
May Mary, Queen of the Holy Rosary, who constantly gazes on her Son, help us to be renewed by the freshness of the Gospel, so as to be evangelizers in this modern age, as each of us need to our part in the new evangelization. AMEN!