Currently, I work for a company called Industries for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which is headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. When I have to go in to the office, I am reminded each time by the staff that the majority of our employees are blind, and that I should make them aware that I am coming down the hall, or exiting a doorway where others might be trying to enter. Things like, “Hello there, this is Mike, I’m coming up behind you,” or “This is Mike, I’m standing off to your right side, down the hall a bit.”
Now, imagine if one of the blind employees I’ve never met before were to call out to me from down the hallway and say, “Hey, Mike, son of Wolf and Hildegard, and programmer from the IT department, I need to talk to you.” I would probably spin my head around in confusion and surprise and so would the others who hear it, because how on earth did that employee know who I was, and know where I was at that moment?
Now, this is the kind of surprise that most people probably experienced when they saw Bartimaeus calling out to Jesus. Now, it’s true that Bartimaeus knew that it was Jesus of Nazareth because others had told him that, but instead of calling out with that name, Bartimaeus called Jesus “Son of David.” That name, “Son of David” is a messianic title, and we are told that many people tried to get him to quiet down. Nevertheless, he persisted. The others around the blind man – the scribes, pharisees, and the general population – had not seen the spiritual truth about Jesus, but this blind man, Bartimaeus, had. He saw that Jesus was the coming Messiah, and the King of Israel. And Jesus, hearing someone who had never met him before calling him by a title that truly indicated who Jesus was, stood still <pause> and then commanded that Bartimaeus come to him.
So, after Bartimaeus has come to him, Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And Bartimaeus of course, asks to regain his eyesight. And Jesus complies, telling Bartimaeus that his faith has made him well.
Now, whenever this passage comes up, those of us who preach normally tend to pull out all the stops and go for an evangelistic sermon, to convince those that may not have ever seen the spiritual truth of Jesus to come to see the light and accept Christ as our Lord and Savior. And at the end of that sermon, we might make an altar call, or tell people that they should speak to one of the ushers or ministers after the sermon so that they could come to accept Christ on their own.
But this group of people – all of us – I think have already made that commitment, and so a sermon of that nature would be unnecessary. Our faith in Christ has already made us well in the sense that we have accepted our salvation.
However, Bartimaeus is an example, not just for those who have yet to accept Christ, but also for those of us who already know him. Out of all the people in Mark’s gospel, Bartimaeus is the only person who received healing at Jesus’ hands that then followed Jesus. The last verse of today’s gospel tells us the “he received his sight, and then followed Jesus on the way.”
Now, the very next passage in Mark’s gospel is the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Think about this. Bartimaeus understands the spiritual significance of Jesus, calls out to him, receives his sight back, becomes a follower and then immediately sees Jesus going through incredible hardships that culminate in his death on the cross. To think of Jesus as the Son of David, the coming messiah, and expect a physical salvation of the people of Israel, only to watch Jesus die on the cross would test anyone’s faith.
But, because Mark included Bartimaeus by name in the gospel story, I can only assume – granted, completely without physical proof (on faith as it were) – that he made it through the struggles of faith and ended up as one of the followers we find in Jerusalem in the book of Acts.
I like to think he persisted in his faith, despite what he saw happening to Jesus. In other words, his continued faith – in the face of doubts and fears – continued to make him well. We ought to look to Bartimaeus as an example when we face our own trials and difficulties which hen-peck at our disbelief and feed our doubts with things that are not a part of God’s truth.
In his weekly radio hour, the Catholic Archbishop Fulton Sheen had these four things to say about our faith:
1) Faith Perfects your Reason: Faith “opens up vaster fields of vision and new worlds, which before were hidden and unknown,” and “Faith is an education. God is our teacher,” and also, “Unless you know why you are living, there is not much purpose in living.” He then goes on to say that once we have seen the light of God, God will reveal more and more to us so that we come to understand more of the world; specifically, God will reveal to us why we are living, so that we can have a purpose to our life that is greater than just ourselves. In other words, we are not just believers in the truth of Christ, but active participants in the God’s work in the world.
I can imagine that as soon as Bartimaeus followed Jesus on the way, he received a great amount of education in the faith, simply by listening to Jesus and seeing the examples of the others who followed Christ.
2) Faith will perfect your freedom: The more you know about something, the more free you are to do those things. For example, Bishop Sheen said “if you know the truth about an airplane, you are free to fly it.” And the more we understand about our faith, the more easily we can act upon it; the more easily we can put into practice that which we know to be true.
The flipside is also true. The more we know about our faith, the freer we become when things come at us and cause us to grapple with doubt. Simply knowing the truth of God’s promises can cause us to respond to those doubts with a calm understanding of a reality that sits beyond our immediate reason and what we can understand with our senses.
I’m sure that every day, Bartimaeus saw and learned things that continued to expand his knowledge and freed him up to respond to the world with more faith. Seeing the trials that Jesus was going through, but being able to remain with the other followers must have opened up his spiritual eyes more and more each day.
If we want our faith to free us, we must push in, and find opportunities to understand our faith on a deeper level, both with others, and on our own.
3) Faith assures equality to all: Bishop Sheen gave this talk on Faith in January of 1945, while World War II still continued, and he often spoke in his talks about racism and the violence that was being spread on account of that message. Both physical violence, and violence of the soul.
He said that “you cannot point to a single person who truly loves God who is mean to his fellow man. A man who does not believe in God, will soon cease to believe in man. … Faith teaches us that all [men], however poor, or ignorant, or crippled, however maimed, ugly, or degraded they may be, all bear within themselves the image of God, and have been bought by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. As this truth is forgotten, [people] are valued only because of what they can do, not because of what they are.”
That means that once we stop believing in the goodness of our fellow human beings, we begin to look for ways tear others down, and to puff ourselves up; we look for ways to use people for our own gains; when we look upon other people, we no longer see someone formed in the image of God, but rather a tool, to be used for our own desires, things that sit outside the truth of God’s word.
If Bartimaeus was among the disciples that followed Jesus into Jerusalem, he would have seen Jesus’ response to those who beat him and ridiculed him and seen Jesus reacting in love, rather than hate; he would have seen Jesus looking beyond what people were doing to him, and instead looking at them as people who didn’t know what they were doing, and worthy of his forgiveness.
If we are to grow in faith, we must also grow in love. Love for those around us.
4) Finally, Bishop Sheen said that Faith will give us peace of soul. It may not have happened immediately for Bartimaeus, but as he and the other followers of Jesus witnessed his crucifixion, and then grew into the knowledge of Christ as a spiritual savior and not a earthly savior of the Jewish people, he would have come incorporate that spiritual truth into his life and ultimately his soul. And with that would have come a peace that went beyond the reality of what he and the others were experiencing in those dark days following Jesus’ death.
In today’s collect we pray that God would “increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command.”
That collect carries with it an unspoken promise. Namely that God sees that we can, indeed, grow in faith, hope and charity. God sees the potential that we can, in fact, obtain those promises that He has prepared for us.
If there is any spiritual blindness in us, it is most likely the blindness of not seeing that potential.
We have already seen the light, as it were, and become followers of Christ, but if we wish to grow in faith to the point where we “love what God commands” and obtain that full promise of our potential and a true peace of the soul, then we must be willing to follow Jesus into Jerusalem. We must be willing to witness him both glorified and crucified.