“Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” “Master, I want to see” “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”
Two famous prayers for spiritual vision: Cardinal Newman prays for clear vision in his famous poem, “Lead Kindly Light”:
Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom; lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
“Amazing Grace,” As the captain of a British slave ship, John Newton regained his faith during a storm at sea and became an ordained minister who was very active in the abolitionist movement. He explains how he gained his spiritual eyesight in his famous hymn, Amazing Grace.
How sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found,
was blind but now I see.
Today’s Gospel, which tells of the healing of the blind man, Bartimaeus, challenges us to strengthen our faith in Jesus, the healer, and invites us to gain true spiritual vision.
Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem. They reached Jericho and there was a large crowd following him since the fame of Jesus had spread far and wide. He was known to be a healer who could miraculously heal any disease, a preacher who preached about the revolutionary ideas of freedom and the Kingdom of God, the messiah who was expected to come for the redemption of Israel. The news about the healing powers of Jesus had reached the ears of blind Bartimaeus too. He might have been dreaming of that day when Jesus would come his way and he would get a chance to be healed by Him. Then as he sat idly on the side of the road he heard the sound of a crowd moving. He asked the passersby what the sound could be. He got the answer for which he waited through his life: Jesus of Nazareth is coming. He cried out competing with the noise of the crowd: “Jesus Son of David, have mercy on me a sinner.”
In spite of the crowd’s objections, Jesus stopped and, recognizing Bartimaeus’ faith, called the blind man to him. In the Law of Moses, the blind are among those who are to be accorded protection in the name of God. Leviticus admonishes the Israelites not to “curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind.” In Deuteronomy those who lead the blind astray along the road are placed under the same curse as those who withhold justice from the alien, the orphan or the widowed. Psalm 146 proclaims that God gives sight to the blind, lifts up those who are bowed down and loves the righteous.
The sound of the master was sweet music for him. He waited not for a second, but threw aside his long cloak, his only possession, which protected him from heat and cold. In throwing away his cloak, he gave up everything he had depended on, putting his complete trust in the Lord. Jesus then asked: “What do you want me to do for you?” Was it that Jesus did not know what the blind man wanted? But he wanted to hear it from his own mouth. It makes a difference. Bartimaeus replied promptly: “Master, I want to see.” Jesus rewarded his faith by restoring both his physical and spiritual sight. Suppose today Jesus asks you the same question – what do you want me to do for you – What will be your answer?
The healing of the blind Bartimaeus contains four main elements of Christian discipleship: a) the correct recognition of Jesus as Lord and Savior (“Jesus, Son of David”); b) the acknowledgement of the need for Jesus’ help (“Have pity on me”; “I want to see”); c) ready response to Jesus’ call (“He . . . came to Jesus”); and d) becoming Jesus’ disciple (” … followed him on the way”).
Having received physical and spiritual sight, Bartimaeus followed Jesus joyfully along the road. The gift of sight led Bartimaeus to faith, and faith came to full expression in committed discipleship. He wanted to stay close to his Savior, to thank, praise, and serve Him. Thus today’s Gospel presents Bartimaeus as the model for us in his prayer and in his wholehearted commitment to a discipleship that includes rejection by those who refuse to believe.
In a 2012 homily, Pope Benedict XVI reflected: “Bartimaeus represents one who has lost the light and knows it, but has not lost hope: he knows how to seize the opportunity to encounter Jesus and he entrusts himself to him for healing. Indeed, when he hears that the Master is passing along the road, he cries out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”, and he repeats it even louder. And when Jesus calls him and asks what he wants from him, he replies: “Master, let me receive my sight!” Bartimaeus represents one aware of his pain and crying out to the Lord, confident of being healed. In the encounter with Christ, lived with faith, Bartimaeus regains the light he had lost, and with it the fullness of his dignity: he gets back onto his feet and resumes the journey, which from that moment has a guide, Jesus, and a path, the same that Jesus is traveling. The evangelist tells us nothing more about Bartimaeus, but in him he shows us what discipleship is: following Jesus ‘along the way,’ in the light of faith.”
Instead of remaining in spiritual blindness, let us pray for spiritual sight. Each one of us suffers from spiritual blindness, and hence we need the light of the Holy Spirit to enlighten us. Anger, hatred, prejudice, jealousy, evil habits etc. make us spiritually blind, preventing us from seeing the goodness in our neighbors and God’s presence in them. Hence, let us pray to have a clear vision of Christian values and priorities in our lives and to acknowledge the presence of God dwelling in ourselves and in our neighbors. A clear spiritual vision enables us to see the goodness in others, to express our appreciation for all that they have been doing for us, and to refrain from criticizing their performance.