This is my favorite gospel from all of the New Testament. I believe this short story provides us with is a summary of how we become disciples. I will go through some of the phrases to help us understand how we personally perceive God, to point out how we need to consistently and persistently call out to God to deepen our spiritual lives, to remind us of how we need to grow and change continuously in order to be the visible sign of Jesus, and finally, what it means to commit to following Jesus.
… Jesus, Son of David
Bartimaeus was a Jew. When he calls out “Son of David,” the title has real meaning for him. He believes that the Messiah is expected to be a king just as David was, and that he would return Israel to glory just as it was during the reign of David. If Bartimaeus thinks that Jesus really is the Messiah he knows that Jesus would have to come from the line of David, so calling Jesus “Son of David,” he is revealing his religious belief or what I would prefer to call his theology. What about you? What image of or title for Jesus or God do you have? (Messiah – Good Shepherd – Forgiving Father – Brother – Friend – Presence – Mystery) Your images or titles tell a good deal about your personal theology. If you see God as a judge, it reflects a theology of power over others. If you see God as a kind parent, it reflects a compassionate God. If you see Jesus with a whip cleaning out the temple, you see God as a strict respecter of the law. If you see Jesus dining with tax collectors and sinners, you see his way of life as being inclusive of everyone. If you’re to be the presence of God for others, it’s necessary for you to identify your own way of understanding God and how that understanding influences your behavior.
… he kept calling out
We read in scripture that we are to knock and the door will be opened, and to ask and we will receive. Bartimaeus is a good example of this because he is persistent in asking for help in spite of opposition. He’s told to be quiet and yet he continues to shout out asking for Jesus’ help. Are you persistent in your prayer life? Why do you call out to God? What are some examples of when or how you call out to God? God is always present to us and knows our needs before we know our own. God answers our needs and requests, but maybe not in the way we expect. Sometimes the answers even appear to be silence, or appear to be God’s absence from our lives. We know that some of the saints experienced what we call the dark night when they felt God had abandoned them, or they experience dryness in prayer, but they continued to communicate with God; they continued to be faithful. Innately, they knew that God is always faithful and their continuing conversation with God was their way to be faithful as well. In a sense, they knew that effort counted.
… threw aside his cloak
This line may seem extraneous to the story but I think it’s extremely important. I believe that it signifies that before any healing can take place, we have to get rid of the blocks to that healing. The author of the gospel story seems to understand that before Bartimaeus can ask for healing, he needs to let go of something within him that causes him to be unfree, or unable to trust that Jesus can do a healing for him. The throwing aside of the cloak is symbolic of letting go. When we call out, when we ask God for favors or healings, we need to ask ourselves what it is in our lives we have to let go of. What are some examples of how we sometimes miss the mark in being holy women and men, in being persons who are called to be the presence of God for others, the very voice and touch of God for others. Only you know what you have to throw off if you’re to be a committed follower of Jesus, if you’re to be a disciple who is a leader in your home, parish, or community.
… I want to see
When Bartimaeus finally comes to stand before Jesus, he’s asked what he wants from Jesus. He responds with a desire to see. He wants vision. I think he wanted even more than just physical vision. He wanted insight as well. We already have physical sight, so what do we ask for? We might ask for insight, for a deeper or clearer way of understanding who God is for us. I suggest that we ask for insight to learn how we can come into a deeper way of being in relationship with our loving God. What are some ways you can come to know God better, to grow in your relationship with God?
…Your faith has saved you
When we say we have faith in God it means that we believe deeply in God, and are open to God being present and active in the very core of us. We have to trust God, really trust God. Some find it hard to completely trust God, because they are afraid God will ask too much of them. Have any of you ever had this experience? You experience a significant loss in your life, or you begin to experience pain, illness, or some limitation, and you ask yourself why God did this to me, or why does God allows this to happen to me? Do we really trust God? Do we really allow God to enter in and be the very center of our lives? Are we afraid God will ask too much us? Will we have to change too much? Will we have to leave behind the “old person” when “we put on Christ?” Can we say with St. Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
… followed him on the way
Once Bartimaeus had his physical sight and, more importantly, once he received insight into who Jesus was for him, he began to follow him. When we read the New Testament, “to follow” is a technical term that has theological implications. It almost always means one becomes a disciple and follows Jesus on his “new way.” So this story ends with Bartimaeus becoming a disciple. You and I are called by reason of our baptism to also become followers of Jesus, to become disciples who try to live the way Jesus lived. What are the practical implications for us? We need to identify and accept our assets, our gifts and our experiences that can help us interact with others. How well do we use those assets? Are we generous with our gifts, or are they hoarded for a special few? Just as Jesus did, we are to give of ourselves for others.
This is a long reflection but I encourage you to spend some time with it and honestly try to apply it to your own life.
What do you need to see more clearly in your life?
How can you become a more committed follower of the Christ?