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A Man Who Saw by Hearing

October 24, 2015

blog10-24Today’s gospel features the well-known story of the healing of the blind man (Bartimaeus). As when listening to any familiar story, we are inclined, upon hearing its opening lines, to think, “Oh, that story,” and just sort of tune out. But if we do so, we may miss many important details. The story of Bartimaeus is also our story; we, too, must let the Lord heal our blindness and give us sight. One paradox of this gospel is that the man receives his sight as the result of hearing.

Let’s look at this gospel in six stages.

I. The 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 troubles; he is both blind and poor. But although he is physically blind, he is not spiritually blind. For he knows he has troubles; he knows he is blind. Knowing our troubles, being in touch with our neediness, is an important spiritual insight that many lack.

We are all so poor and needy that we depend on God for every beat of our hearts. Some people, though, feel self-satisfied, unaware of how blind, pitiable, poor, and naked they really are before God (cf Rev 3:17). In their pride, those who are spiritually blind lose this insight. They fail to ask for help from the Lord; they fail to ask for grace. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “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 think they do not need God and do not truly seek Him. Only humility and a true “vision” and experience of our poverty can help us to call out to God as we should.

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

So we begin by noting that though Bartimaeus is blind he has spiritual insight.

Do we have this insight? 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 is anything in this world. Yet somehow we can see all the things of this world, but struggle to see God. Neither do we see our own dignity, or the dignity and the gift of others, even 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 seldom fully comprehend the harm our sin does.

Yes, we have a great deal of blindness; we struggle to see. But perhaps our worst blindness is that we do not even realize how blind we are. Like the Pharisees, we think that because we know a few things, we therefore know many things.

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

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, Bartimaeus has been calling upon anyone passing by for help. But no mere passerby, nor in fact anyone in this world, can ultimately help him with his real problem.

It is the same with us. Though we may turn to science, medicine, philosophy, economics, or politics, none of these can really help us. At best they can serve to specify what is wrong or to provide us with temporary medicines and passing comforts. But all these 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 us safely to that place where joys will never end and visions never cease.

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

Do not miss the fact that his 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. We often doubt things that we see. Even if our eyes see a marvel, we tend to dismiss it, thinking, “Oh, 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 him to see. Bartimaeus hears from others that Jesus is passing by and takes up the proclamation that is prescribed: “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!”

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.”

It is true 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. Bartimaeus 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 calls upon Him.

Yes, Jesus does delay, not answering him right away. But the blind man perseveres, calling out all the more. Eventually, Jesus stops and says, “Call him.”

Why does God delay? While this is a very deep mystery, it is clear that one of the effects of His delay is 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 the words “Jesus, save me!”

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. Bartimaeus’ cloak is probably the most valuable thing he owns. In that very arid climate, the temperature drops rapidly after sunset and it gets quite cool. In fact, so critical was the cloak that Scripture forbade taking one 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 still, Bartimaeus casts aside his cloak and goes to Jesus. Thus, he leaves behind perhaps the most valuable and necessary thing for his survival in this world. Missing a meal might be inconvenient or uncomfortable but it would not kill him. But to spend one cold night without his cloak might well cause his death by hypothermia. In spite of this, Bartimaeus leaves everything behind and runs to the Lord.

What about us? What are we willing to leave behind in order 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 and the Savior.” Is that true? Are you willing to leave it behind? Are you free enough to do so?

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 ask this question? Can He not see what a blind man needs?

But being healed takes courage. In this life, most of us seek mere relief, not healing. Tue healing takes courage because it brings about change and new demands on us. If the blind man is healed, it will no longer be acceptable for him to sit and beg; more will be expected; his life will be irrevocably changed.

Yes, to be healed requires courage. Many of us wonder why the Lord delays in answering our prayers. Perhaps we should think about a question from last week’s gospel: “Do you have any idea what you are asking?” Often we do not.

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

The Lord waits … until a request makes real sense. He knows that many times we are not really ready for what he offers. He asks us, and only when our yes becomes definitive does He go to work.

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. The man who sat by the road begging now sees, but he is also up and walking about. And what is he doing? He is following Jesus. Faith has saved him. Faith not only gives sight but also 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: change in direction and change in the way we walk.

And thus today’s gospel speaks to us of a man who was blind, but, paradoxically, receives his sight and his faith by hearing. Bartimaeus heard of Jesus and then called on Him. Yes, his sight came from his hearing. And faith grants vision by hearing. True vision is seeing Christ, and having seen Him by hearing, following after Him.

I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light

1. I want to walk as a child of the light;
I want to follow Jesus.
God set the stars to give light to the world;
the star of my life is Jesus.

Refrain
In him there is no darkness at all;
the night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the light of the city of God;
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.

2. I want to see the brightness of God;
I want to look at Jesus.
Clear Sun of righteousness, shine on my path,
and show me the way to the Father.

3. I’m looking for the coming of Christ;
I want to be with Jesus.
When we have run with patience the race,
we shall know the joy of Jesus.

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Comments (6)

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  1. Lee says:

    Thank you, Msgr. Pope. Since most of the individuals who are healed by Jesus are not named, the fact that we have a historical name in this instance likely means he became a well-known follower of Jesus and perhaps was even active in the early Church. This man’s life changed dramatically because of his faith, but also because he took a risk and didn’t care (or fear) what others thought of him.

  2. Bill Phelps says:

    Yes, a familiar story about the blind seeking God and finding Him for the asking. I am also struck by the phrase “son of David.” The son of David was to be the new king of a reconstituted Israel – a secular savior. Bartimaeus recognizes Jesus as the new king of Israel and able to grant favors. That His reconstituted kingdom would not be entirely of this world be recognized in God’s good time.

  3. a Catholic psychologist says:

    Healing vs Relief. Easily confused with each, but profoundly different. Even many psychologists don’t understand this. As Msgr Pope says, healing requires courage, because courage requires risk taking, which in turn requires trust, which in turn requires turning over control to the other, and submission to a higher authority. This truth we find in medicine, psychotherapy, and as Msgr says, in the spiritual life. In authentic emotional and behavioral healing, courage also entails perseverance, endurance under hardship. Hardship comes from self-denial, giving up our addictions, our desires, and curbing our impulses that block the path to true healing. If we seek only relief, we cannot overcome our addictions, or truly curb our impulses—we cannot leave the fleshpots of Egypt.

  4. Richard Miller says:

    There was another time when Jesus was asked to heal someone and that it was OK to do so because he had given to Jewish causes and even built a synagogue. I think one of the reasons Jesus delayed a bit was that He hoped that someone with sight would deliver Bartimaeus to Jesus for healing. Jesus said that the one who delivered Jesus to Pilate bore the worse sin, the opposite might be true, this was a low hanging fruit Jesus was offering to whomever would grab it and once again, we failed. Jesus asks him what can I do for you for he sees better than all those in the crowd around Him.
    Acts 14:9
    The same heard Paul speak: who stedfastly beholding him, and perceiving that he had faith to be healed,
    That is seeing indeed when one sees Like Jesus those who are lost but want to be found

  5. Thank you, as always Msgr Pope for your great insights.

    We often put ourselves in the place of Bartimaeus, calling out in trust to Jesus and, yes, confusing our needs, wants, and necessary healings, but I think we often fail to put on the other face of this parable: there are times Jesus wants US to act in His stead, and listen for those crying out around us, so He can use us to do what He would do.

    I recently read of an elderly blogger who said she was giving up her computer soon, because macular degeneration of her eyes was making it too difficult to see. Yesterday I ordered some magnification software be shipped to her, and arranged for a “geek” to install it and teach her its use — and then this morning when I heard the Gospel and Bartimaeus’ words, and I heard them and the answer in a totally new light.

    If we are more open to being who He created us to be, rather than who we want to be, on occasion He will let us know we are on the right track — His, yes even so far as healing the blind.

  6. Robbie J says:

    Hi Msgr Pope. There is one tiny detail about this Bible passage that has always, well… made me smile. The fact that Bartimaeus “sprang up.” Blind persons don’t normally move quickly or suddenly for fear of tripping over something or knocking into an obstacle! It’s not normal for them. And yet, upon hearing that he had been called, Bartimaeus sprang up (I love that word), throwing caution to the wind! Oh, that we would do the same upon hearing God’s call.