“Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.” This word, spoken by unnamed bystanders in today’s Gospel, is God’s word to us today. As with all Scripture, we can and should personalize it. We can each insert our own name in this verse: “Take courage, (add your name); get up, Jesus is calling you.” Indeed, our God speaks personally to us; he calls us.
What does God say? Part of his intention in speaking to us is to reveal what he is like. In the first reading, God describes himself as a Father to his people. Like any good father, he consoles and guides his children. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God speaks to us of a joyful deliverance and restoration. The Israelites who first heard this prophecy understood it to apply to the rebuilding of Jerusalem, but the Lord has something more in mind: the rebuilding of our hearts through conversion and a return to true worship. It is God himself who brings about this change in our hearts. Our responsibility, like that of the Israelites, is to turn away from sin and respond with faith to the mercy of God.
What else does God say to us? Today’s second reading reveals that in Christ he has come among us as our High Priest, to offer sacrifice for sin. Christ is a Savior who has come not to glorify himself, but to perfectly fulfill the Father’s plan for our salvation. Because he is “a priest forever,” we can always turn to him seeking the salvation he has won for us.
As an example of turning to the Lord, today’s Gospel gives us the story of Bartimaeus, a blind beggar. It is, on the surface, a very simple story: Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus; Jesus cures him; then he becomes his follower. It is a revelation of the High Priest’s power to heal, a sign that Jesus himself is the fulfillment of what we read in the first and second readings.
The story seems straightforward enough, but we can find much more if we look deeper. Let us step past the shallow objection one might raise at first, “I’m not blind or a beggar; what does this story have to do with me?” It has everything to do with us! Bartimaeus is not only a blind man from a long time ago; he is also a representative of every one of us. We may be able to see physically, but there are many kinds of blindness. There is so much that we simply do not “see” – for example, the blessings we receive each day, the marvels of God’s providence as it unfolds, the pressing needs of those around us, the meaning of our trials, and the ways we interfere with the action of grace.
Indeed, we all suffer from a form of blindness – a spiritual blindness due to original sin. Sin dulls our intellect. If we cannot admit at least this much, we will not learn anything from the story of Bartimaeus. If we do not know that we are blind, then we are really blind! Bartimaeus knows he is blind and everybody else knows it too. The greatness of Bartimaeus is that he seeks healing; he cries out for help. He cries out in faith to the Lord. Bartimaeus’ blindness does not stop him from praying, with beautiful simplicity, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” In fact, he sees something more than the crowd sees. They see a carpenter from Nazareth who has become an influential rabbi, but he sees with faith that Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy, that he is the “Son of David” – that is, the Messiah.
People who live by faith do not rely on themselves in the face of obstacles; they do not mind being “beggars” who rely on God. One of the biggest obstacles to living by faith is our fixation on what other people think of us – human respect. Bartimaeus ignores what others think. We could even say he is deliberately blind to it. He continues to call out to Jesus, even when the crowd rebukes him and tells him to be quiet. It takes great courage to stand out in a crowd and call on the Lord, admitting our weakness and our need for God. From this man’s example, we learn how to pray – with simplicity and honesty, telling Jesus what is on our heart.
We also learn how to respond to grace. When Bartimaeus hears that Jesus is calling him, he throws aside his cloak and springs up to approach the Lord. In other words, he is not only persistent and fervent in asking, he is also ready to receive. Throwing aside the cloak is a symbol of throwing aside everything that prevents us from following the Lord. We must actively get rid of any attachments or bad habits that stunt our growth in the spiritual life. To respond to the Lord means getting up and moving.
When Jesus asks what he wants, Bartimaeus immediately gives a simple, straight answer: “Master, I want to see.” Jesus heals him instantly, telling him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Bartimaeus, however, does not go off on his own way; he follows Jesus “on the way.” He follows a new Way: Jesus the Son of David, the Way, the Truth and the Life.
We know that not every prayer is answered in the way we want it to be. Faith opens the door of our heart to let in the healing power of God. In praying, we already receive more than we might have in mind because we receive a deeper relationship with Jesus. When we have a relationship with him, we throw aside our old ways, because Jesus is all we need. Like Bartimaeus, let us cry out to the Lord for his mercy and respond to his call; let us leave sin behind, open our hearts to grace, and follow the new way of Jesus Christ.
Why do I lack the courage of Bartimaeus to call on the Lord and to admit my need for Him? How have I experienced God’s fatherly care for me? What are the attachments and bad habits that stunt my growth in the spiritual life?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 8. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.