Wednesday, March 20, 2013


My guess is that most people in Jericho generally ignored Bartimaeus as much as possible. That we now know the name of this last person healed by Jesus before his own passion and death [Mark 10:46-52] might mean he later became a familiar figure in the early Church. But that was way off in the future when Jesus passed through Jericho on his last trip to Jerusalem - an exciting, glamorous occasion for the locals, not unlike a presidential candidate's campaign event.
To make sure he got noticed, Bartimaeus made a nuisance of himself: "Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me." The crowd, of course, tried to shut him up - until Jesus did just the sort of thing he was becoming famous for doing. No doubt to the chagrin of his disciples, who were probably enjoying the parade and their part in it, Jesus stopped to pay attention to some nobody. Had Jesus been a modern political candidate, he'd have had an advance man - or team of advance men - precisely to prevent such things from happening! Notice, however, how quickly the crowd got with the program. Unscripted events have a certain popular appeal all their own. As soon as the people realized that Jesus was actually interested in Bartimaeus, suddenly their scolding turned to encouragement.
Jesus' question, "What do you want me to do for you?," was the same one he had asked James and John shortly before. But what a difference in response! The answer they gave was what one would expect from two young, talented, upwardly mobile disciples, just beginning their careers. Poor Bartimaeus simply said, "I want to see."
Beggars, as is said, can't be choosers. So they ask for what really matters. James and John's request reflected their greed. Bartimaeus' request reflected his need. In his closest companions and dearest disciples, Jesus found demanding ambition. In Bartimaeus, he found faith.
Homily at the Downtown Cooperative Ministry Lenten Ecumenical Service, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, March 20, 2013.

The story could have ended there. But, in spite of Jesus' instruction, "Go on your way," Bartimaeus did no such thing. Instead, he followed on Jesus' way. Having himself found healing and salvation, he wanted to share what he had found with others. Bartimaeus seems to have 
understood immediately what the other disciples, for all their quality time with Jesus, still failed to grasp - that God's gifts are given not just for themselves, but are meant to be shared with the whole world, this world which God loves so much that he has chosen to become a part of it.
Like Bartimaeus, we too have been changed - and challenged - by the transforming power of Christ in our lives. Like him, we too now have to live that change, in our everyday lives, in the wide and complicated variety of situations in which we find ourselves - as family members, students, workers, and citizens.
For, in the end, as is so often said, we - individually and as a Church community - may be the only experience of Christ many people will ever have in life, the face of Christ they will see, the word of God they will hear. So if we fail the Bartimaeus test, if we fail to become credible and inviting witnesses, then we run the risk of concealing rather than revealing the face of Christ; and the word of God may seem strangely silent, precisely when and where it most needs to be heard. The love of God may appear absent, if it is't being shared. I'm reminded of St. Catherine of Sienna's remark, back in the 14th century: "Preach the truth as if we had a million voices, for it is silence that kills the world."
Of course, it's easy to settle for less. The crowd in Jericho was content to keep Bartimaeus quiet on the side of the road, quite literally in the dark. But, by not playing his prescribed part,  Bartimaeus enabled them to experience truth and grace way beyond the limits of their expectations - truth and grace to be shared with all - the only alternative to a future spent in darkness.
In the dark, Bartimaeus symbolizes what we are on our own. Following Jesus, Bartimaeus exemplifies the community we can become through the healing, forgiving, and transforming power of Christ present and active in our world. The crowd in the gospel got the message. Once they realized what Jesus wanted, they stopped hindering Bartimaeus and instead helped him to follow Jesus. The truly happy ending of this story will be when we too do the same.

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