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A Man Who Saw by Hearing – A Meditation on the Gospel of the 30th Sunday of the Year

October 27, 2012

In today’s gospel there is a very familiar story of the healing of the blind man Bartimaeus. As with any familiar story, the danger is that we, upon hearing its opening lines say, “Oh that story,” and we just sort of tune out. But there are many things in the details of the story that we can easily miss. Ultimately the story of Bartimaeus is also our story, for we too must let the Lord heal our blindness and give us sight. One paradox of this gospel that we shall note, is that the man receives his sight as the result of hearing.

Let’s look at this gospel in 6 stages.

Stage I–Perception of the Problem–the text says, As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples, and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man sat by the roadside begging.

Bartimaeus has many troubles, he is blind, and he is poor. But although he is physically blind, he is not spiritually blind. For he knows he has troubles, he knows he is blind. And to know our troubles, to be in touch with our neediness, is an important spiritual insight that many lack.

It is possible for some to feel self-satisfied and to be unaware of how blind, pitiable, poor and naked they really are before God (cf Rev 3:17). Indeed, so poor and so needy that we depend on God for every beat of our heart. But some who are spiritually blind, lose this insight in becoming proud. They fail to ask for help from the Lord,  they fail to ask for grace. Jesus once said to the Pharisees Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but since you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” (John 9:41)  In other words, physical blindness is not their problem, spiritual blindness is. And because they think themselves righteous on their own power, they do not need God nor do they truly seek him. Only humility and a true “vision” and experience of one’s poverty can help us to call out as we should.

But our blind man knows that he is blind and so he calls for help. As we shall see, however, his cries for help need some direction, a need to be properly specified and directed.

So we begin by simply noting this man is blind, but still, he has spiritual insight.

Do we have this? Do we really understand how blind we are? We struggle to see God, we struggle to see and understand ourselves, we struggle to see others with compassion and understanding. Indeed, God is more present to us than anything in this world. Yet, we see all the things of this world, and still struggle to see God. Neither do we see our own dignity, or the dignity and the gift of others,  yes, even the dignity of our enemies. We do not see or understand how things work together, and we struggle to see and find meaning in the events of our day. We are also blind to our sin, and we seldom understand what harm our sin actually does.

Yes, we have a great deal of blindness, we do struggle to see. But perhaps our worst blindness is it we do not even consider how blind we are. But too easily, like the Pharisees we go on thinking that we know a few things, and that therefore we know many things.

Consider the humility of the blind man, who knows he is blind who knows he needs help, and grace, and mercy. It is a humility that opens the door. Stage one in our journey must be the perception of the problem.

Stage II–the Proclamation that is Prescribed. – The text says  On being told it was Jesus of Nazareth who was passing by, he began to cry out and say “Jesus son of David have pity on me.”

Note the subtle but important transition here. Up until this point he was calling upon anyone, who happened to pass by, for help. But no mere passerby, nor anyone in this world, can ultimately help him with his real problem.

It is the same with us. Though we may turn to science, or medicine, philosophy, economics or politics, none of these can really help us. At best they can specify what is wrong, give us temporary medicines, passing comforts, etc. But all their solutions will be rooted in this world, which is passing away.

True vision can only be granted by the Lord, who opens for us a vision of glory, and who alone can draw safely to that place where joys will never end and visions never cease.

The blind man is told of the presence of Jesus. And hearing this, he directs his cry away from any mere passerby to the Lord who alone can heal him: Jesus, son of David, have pity on me! The world, and passersby can get him money, perhaps a meal, but only Jesus can give him meaning, the true vision that he really needs to see.

And do not miss this point that’s seeing comes paradoxically through hearing. For faith comes by hearing, and hearing from the word of God (cf Rom 10:17). It is a truth that faith is about hearing, not seeing. For most frequently, we doubt what we see. Even if our eyes see marvels, we think, “They have a way of doing that.” No, the eye is never satisfied with seeing (cf Eccl. 1:8). Faith comes by hearing, and faith is obedience to what is heard. We walk by faith, by an inner seeing, not by physical sight.

Thus, it is by hearing that the blind man will come to see Jesus who can help them to see. He hears from others that Jesus is passing by, and he takes up the proclamation that is prescribed, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me!”

Stage III–the Perseverance that Produces–the text says, And they rebuked him, telling him to be silent. Yet he kept calling all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me!” Jesus stopped and said, “call him.” So they called the blind man saying to him, “Take courage; get up. Jesus is calling you.

Is it true fact, that those of us who seek to put our trust in the Lord, and call on him, will often experience rebuke, hostility, and ridicule from the world. Note that the blind man ignores all of this. And so should we. He has heard the Name above all names, who alone in heaven and earth can save, and he calls upon him.

Yes, Jesus does delay, he does not answer him right away. But the blind man persevered, calling out all the more, and eventually, Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

Why does God delay? This is a very deep mystery, but it is clear that one of the effects of his delay would seem to be to test our faith and strengthen it. In the end, it is not an incantation that saves us, but faith. Simply shouting, “In the name of Jesus!” Is not enough. The Name of Jesus is not some incantation like, “Open sesame.” Rather, it is an announcement of faith, and faith is more than words. Ultimately, it is not words alone that save us, but the faith that must underlie those words, “Jesus! Save me”

Stage IV–the Priority that is Presented–the text says, He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.

Do not miss this important detail. His cloak was probably the most valuable thing he owned. In that climate, a very arid climate, it gets cool in the evening after sunset. The temperature drops rapidly. So critical was the cloak, that Scripture forbade the taking of a cloak as collateral for a loan:  If a man is poor, do not go to sleep with his pledge in your possession. Return his cloak to him by sunset so that he may sleep in it. (Deut 24:12-13)

But note, this man cast aside his cloak, and leaving it behind, he went to Jesus. Thus, he leaves behind perhaps the most valuable and necessary thing for his survival in this world. To miss a meal, might be inconvenient but it would not kill him. But to sleep one night, a cold night, without his cloak might well end his life through hypothermia. But leaving everything, he runs to the Lord.

What of us? What are we willing to leave behind to find Christ? An old gospel song says, I’d rather have Jesus than silver and gold. Another old hymn says, There’s nothing between my soul in the Savior. Is there? Are you willing to leave it behind?? Are you and I free enough to do so?

Stage V–The Permission that is Procured–the text says, Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied to him, Master, I want to see!

Why does Jesus asked this question? Can he not see what a blind man needs? Perhaps.

But honestly, healing takes courage. The fact is, in life, most seek mere relief. True healing takes courage because it brings change, and new demands. If the blind man is healed, it would no longer be acceptable that he should sit and beg. Having been healed, more will be expected of him. His life will be irrevocably changed.

Yes, to be healed requires courage. Many of us wonder, of the Lord’s delay in answering our prayers. Perhaps a question from last week’s gospel is applicable as we cry to the Lord: Do you have any idea what you are asking?” Often we do not.

Truth be told, most of us want relief more than healing. There is a big difference. The Lord is in the healing business, but most of us just want relief. Do not miss what the Lord says here. In effect, he says to the blind man, and to us, “Are you really sure you want healing?” The Lord respects us, and our freedom. He wants our consent before he goes to work. And often, though many of us think we want healing, we don’t really know what we are asking.

The Lord waits, until a request makes real sense. He knows that most of us are not always ready for what he really offers. He asks, and when our yes becomes definitive, he goes to work.

Stage VI – The Path that is Pursued–the text says, Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the way.

As we have already seen, true healing brings forth radical change. And now man who sat by the road begging, sees, but is also up and walking about. And what is he doing? He is  following Jesus. For faith has saved him, and faith not only gives sight, but summons us to obedience, an obedience that has us walk in the path of the Lord.

You see, (pardon the pun), faith is more than an offer of relief. True faith instills real change. A change in direction, a change in the way we walk.

And thus this gospel speaks to us of a man who was blind. And paradoxically he received his faith by hearing. For he heard of Jesus and called on him. Yes, his sight came from his hearing. And faith grants to vision by hearing. True vision, is to see Christ, and having seen him by hearing, to follow after him.

I have it on the best authority that as he followed Jesus up the road, he sang this song:

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  1. Alicia G. Mendiola says:

    Amen! Faith in God comes from hearing and listening to His Words. When the blind man, Bartimaeus, was given his sight, he also heard Jesus telling him to “Go your way”, and by faith and instead going to the direction of man like him, he followed Jesus and became His faithful disciple. And in the time Jesus was suffering in the hands of the Jews and Romans and died on the cross, Bartimaeus, did not leave him. I for one, was blinded before, and now i see and i followed Him, thus also so aware of my dependency to God too. Without Him I am nothing and i am dead.

    Thanks for sharing your Homily. As always it nurtures my whole being.

  2. Phillip says:

    Dear Father

    I am writing this from India & I read your posts regularly. Truth be told this is one of the best explanations of this gospel passage that I have come across. I like the way you have fleshed out each & every sentence of this passage & made the gospel come alive. As Jesus said so profoundly in John 9:39 ” I came into this world that the blind should see & those who see should become blind”.

  3. Alan says:

    Thank you Father Pope, I love your insight into the cloak. I read the reading this morning and didn’t give the cloak a second thought. Wonderful!

    One of the things that struck me was that the blind man called Jesus the Son of David, yet he asked to be cured? Why would he think that he could be cured? Did Jews understand the Son of David was to be a miracle worker, or was it just by Jesus’ reputation?

    The other thing that struck me was why those people with sight did not hail him as the Son of David. They saw something that prevented them from connecting the dots. They even tried to silence the cries of the blind men to that effect. I suspect it was the material poverty of Jesus, not unlike the blind man.

  4. Vijaya says:

    I love this story, for Bartimeaus’s persistence esp. He doens’t give up. And I love how you have explained it line by line.

  5. RichardC says:

    I also thought this was an especially insightful post and also especially appreciated the part about the cloak. In another place, Jesus says to the rich man that he should sell all he has, give to the poor, and follow Him. The rich man goes away sad. Bartimaeus is like the rich man, except that he does cast aside all that he owns to follow Jesus. Also the part where Jesus asks Bartimaeus if he really wants to be healed and the new obligations that come with healing were insightful, imo.

    Last night, I was thinking if Fundamentalist Christians were more honest, all of them would be walking around with one hand cut off and one eye gouged out. This morning I thought of a more charitable interpretation as to why more Fundamentalist Christians aren’t walking around with one eye gouged out and one hand cut off: maybe they are closer to the Catholic Church than we or they realize.

  6. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    If you want to walk as a child of light monsignor be sure and keep a supply of altar candles and a lighter on hand when Sandy Frankenstorm comes trick or treating early. My advice is stay upstairs and don’t open the door. We’ll keep a candle burning in front of our virgin Mary. for you people up there. Stay on High Ground.

  7. JuliB says:

    The priest at Mass this Sunday had a very similar approach to the Gospel reading. I was guilty of listening to the reading thinking – oh yeah – this again. Thanks to both of you for the insight and unpacking!