God reveals himself as a God of unfailing love. We see this in today’s first reading. Even though the people of Israel have been driven into exile in Babylon because of their disobedience, God in his infinite love still reaches out to them. He desires to bring them back and to restore them as the kingdom of David. Hence God sends the prophet Jeremiah to bring the exiles a message of consolation and joy, announcing their imminent deliverance. The scattered “remnant of Israel” whom God will bring back to their true land includes “the blind and the lame.” God will restore them to full health – a sign of salvation – and they will rejoice in the promised land once again.
Throughout salvation history, the sinful condition of humanity in relation to God is often depicted by the disease of blindness. When Jesus made his inaugural speech in the synagogue in Nazareth, in which he revealed his mission to “bring glad tidings to the poor,” he announced that part of this mission was to proclaim “recovery of sight to the blind” (Lk 4:18). “The blind” represent us all insofar as we are sinners. When we sin, and particularly when we cling to sin, we place ourselves in a kind of exile from the light of God. Our own inner darkness makes us blind to his goodness to us. Jesus, the Light of the World, has come to heal this condition, to restore humanity to the right relationship with God.
The miraculous healing of the blind man Bartimaeus in today’s Gospel is not simply the healing of one suffering man a long time ago; it is a revelation that the prophecy of Jeremiah in the first reading is being fulfilled by Jesus Christ. It is a sign of God’s loving plan for the restoration of the whole of humanity through Christ. In the simple details of this one healing miracle, we can find a path by which any one of us can move from the darkness of sin into the light of God by the saving power of faith.
We can say that Bartimaeus’s healing started on the inside, when he began to “see” and then publicly acknowledge that Jesus was capable of restoring his sight. His cry in the street – “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” – is both a prayer and a great profession of faith! This prayer has endured through the centuries in the Christian tradition of the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” (CCC 2616). The blind man with this urgent request to Jesus in faith can already see much more than those around him. Indeed, he is already “walking by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7).
“Many rebuked him, telling him to be silent….” These people in the crowd think that they can see, and they confidently give directions to one who cannot. They represent the crowds of people in every age who are blinded by the darkness of sin – those who do not acknowledge the divinity of Jesus, who doubt his healing power, who refuse to admit their own need for him. These are the ones who are quick to rebuke and often to mock anyone who professes faith in Christ. At best, these blind ones genuinely think they should help their “ignorant” friends by discouraging them from being too fervent in their faith. They soft-pedal everything related to God, and tell us to be “spiritual, but not religious.” In the worst cases, they can be hostile toward any exercise of faith. At times we find ourselves as part of this loud-mouthed group of people who discourage the poor ones from relying on God and living their faith. Here Jesus tells us to reverse our course and instead to tell others – those whom we may have shunned or discouraged – that he is calling them.
The response of Bartimaeus when he hears that Jesus is calling him is well worth pondering: “He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.” This man is clearly a model of enthusiastic and decisive faith; he goes to Jesus without any hesitation or sluggishness. The casting off of his cloak symbolizes his leaving behind his former life – which is precisely what we are all called to do, at Baptism and throughout our life. To be a follower of Jesus Christ is to put off our old self and to put on the new self created by God (Rm 13:12; Eph 4:22-24; Col 3:8-9; Heb 12:1).
Jesus next asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” He challenges us to express our faith in concrete form. Do we really want the restoration that he has come to offer? Bartimaeus does! He states simply, “Master, I want to see.” He asks that the promise God gave through the prophets be applied to him; he unites his will with God’s will; and it is this act of faith which opens the way for his healing. When Jesus says, “your faith has saved you,” he reveals that faith is an absolutely necessary condition for our full restoration according to the plan of God. Once the eyes of our hearts have been enlightened, we can follow Jesus on the way of discipleship. We can proclaim with Bartimaeus, in the words of today’s Psalm, “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy!”
The Letter to the Hebrews today reminds us that the great thing that the Lord has done for us is the wonderful gift of salvation which he brought about through the sacrifice of his blood on the Cross. Jesus is the true High Priest, “taken from among man and made their representative before God.” His priestly sacrifice for our salvation is renewed at the hands of the priest at every Eucharistic celebration. Like Melchizedeck of old, Jesus offers bread and wine, but he transforms them into himself, so that we may receive the full benefit of his sacrifice, our salvation, our restoration and reconciliation to God.
When have I experienced the unfailing love of God? What are my areas of interior blindness? How can I unite my will to the will of the Lord?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 14, no. 8. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.