I am struck by his stubborn persistence. The way Bartimaeus refuses to be silenced. That’s guts, or desperation, or some of both. There’s the way Bartimaeus jumps to his feet and leaves his cloak behind. If I were blind, I wouldn’t leave any of my possessions behind, for fear I wouldn’t be able to find them again. There’s the way Bartimaeus walks (runs?) to Jesus when he is called. A whole crowd of people, and the blind guy knows without hesitation which one to walk up to. And then there’s the way Bartimaeus gets what he asked for, but instead of running off to live his life, he keeps following Jesus.
I am struck by the crowd’s sudden change of tune. One minute they are rebuking Bartimaeus. The next they are cheering him onward. Presumably they had been following Jesus along the road, listening intently to the Rabbi’s words, soaking up his wisdom. With so many people and so many footsteps, they were straining their ears to hear. And then, this invasion: they smelled him before they heard him, and they heard him before they saw him. This dirty unwashed beggar interrupting not just the silence, but the cleanness and the sacredness of the moment, intruding the quiet anticipation with which everyone else was clinging to Jesus’ words. Like the fly that won’t quit buzzing or the workmen down the street who won’t quit hammering, there’s this persistent shouting that is ruining the peace, and the people are understandably irritable and intent on stopping the noise. But to the credit of the crowd, as soon as they see Jesus stop and call the man, they take their cues and change their attitude. They suddenly see the blind man for the underdog he is, and they become instant fans. “Courage! Take heart! Cheer up!” they egg him on to victory.
I am struck by the fact, that although he stops, Jesus makes a blind man walk to him. I mean, it just doesn’t seem very Jesus-y to me, to stand there like a game of Marco Polo, when it’s no game at all to the man who is crying for mercy. Why doesn’t God always rush to our side when we are in need? Why must we stand up and walk when we are the ones who can’t see where he is and he’s the one who knows right where we are?
I am struck that Bartimaeus regains his sight, which means at one time, he had it, and then he lost it. How does one lose one’s sight? Is it aging, or tragedy, reading without light or staring into the sun? When did you begin to lose the sight you once had? Was it age or tragedy or too much darkness or strain or stress or a general loss of wonderment? When did you stop seeing the beauty of the world or when did you stop seeing its ripped-apart-ness? When did things grow so dim that your eyelids drooped as if in slumber? Richard Rohr says “true seeing is the heart of spirituality today,” but “most of us have to be taught how to see” . . . which leads me to wonder was it Bartimaeus who gained his sight that day, or was it the crowd? Who learned the most about proper seeing?
I am struck that the crowd first saw a filthy beggar, but they kept one eye on Jesus, and when they saw him stop and turn, they turned to the beggar again and saw instead a champion of faith who deserved their applause. They began to will him to his healing—was it his faith or theirs that healed him? Maybe it was all the faith mingling together that made a miracle possible.
I am struck that Jesus had enough patience to let all this unfold. Compassionate man that he was, he must have been dying to run over and wrap this man in his arms. He must have felt the urge to scorn the crowd for their initial rebukes and prove them wrong by his show of love. But instead, the text says he stood still. “Call him,” he said to the crowd, giving them a chance to change their tone, a chance to participate in the miracle, a chance to cheer on a stranger as he reached for his healing. Jesus could have rushed forward in compassion and rushed the crowd right out of the moment. He could have forced them to be outsiders to the event, and if he were a less forgiving man, he would have been certain that the outside was where they belonged. But instead he offers an invitation to let them be the inviters to a man in need of mercy.
I am struck that though he is blind, that doesn’t stop this man from groping his way to his healing. Healing always feels like groping, does it not? Like you’re grasping for straws, like you’re following a mirage, like you’re teetering on a ledge, like there aren’t any handles, like you’ll fall any second and be more scarred than ever, like you might never get there, like you’ve no idea if the healing is light years away or just around the bend. The movement towards healing always takes place with fuzzy vision and an unclear path, just the soft hint of a voice calling you forward. Sometimes the crowds boo you, silence you, poke fun, and rebuke you. Sometimes you are astounded to hear people cheering you on, believing in you when you don’t have enough faith of your own. You cannot control the outcome or the timing. You cannot manipulate things in your favor, and that makes you feel as helpless as a beggar. But your one job is: don’t give up. Stay loyal to your healing. Keep asking for what you know you need. Don’t let a mob of people shut you down. Because somewhere in that throng is a Savior. Keep on searching ‘til you find your deliverance. Don’t be too mad if you are made to get up and walk, because it is the journey that heals you. The journey is your faith. We think that faith is an idea in our heads, but faith isn’t in our heads. Or we think faith is something we feel in our hearts, but faith isn’t in our hearts. Faith is in our legs. Faith is in our bodies, faith is in how we move, where we go. Faith is the journey we take, and the faith-less are those who stay put. Jesus says your faith will heal you.
I am struck, that though the text doesn’t explain this, the crowd must have parted in order to make a path. I mean, they surrounded Jesus, but here was a blind man on the fringes who must get to him. So they cleared out of the way. They didn’t steer him or push him or force him. They didn’t point the way to Jesus, because this man couldn’t see them. But they made a clearing, a wide open space in which he could walk. They didn’t clutter the way with their opinions. They gave no advice: “Get glasses! Try LASIK! Try religion! Spit and mud are rumored to work!” They said nothing of the sort. They just made Jesus accessible, that’s all. They stopped interfering with their rebukes and their wisdom. They parted like the Red Sea and let that man pass through to his Land of Promise.
I am struck that Jesus heals people. I don’t know if it’s the pain in the world, or the unanswered prayers, or my own lofty logic that keeps me from seeing. Seeing Jesus heal people. It is a long journey, but he’s healed me too—bit by bit, piece by piece—but I’m not so sure I’m seeing yet. I’m skeptical, cynical, and hard to impress, and I rely on the skepticism to keep me safe from disappointment. But I’m starting to learn that I’d rather suffer a disappointment or two than never get moving at all. I’d rather fall and skin my knee in route to healing than sit on my rump and scorn the difficulties of standing up. I’d rather grope my way towards Jesus than keep questioning why he seems to be playing games with me, hiding, standing still. I’d just rather move, you know? I’d rather put one foot in and see whether or not the sea parts than stay put with the assumption that there’s no possible way through the chaos. I’d rather trust the voices that say, “Come here! Cheer up! Take heart! Courage! On your feet! He’s calling you!” than the voices that say, “Shut up! Stay down! You’re not worth it!” I’d rather be Blind Bartimaeus with a shot at life than the nervous little girl who is too ashamed to beg.
I am struck, that even after you regain your sight, the journey isn’t over. The first thing you’ll see is the road. The Jesus way continues, if you follow your eyes. Amen.
Richard Rohr quote is from Everything Belongs (NY: Crossroad Publishing, 1999) 17.