One Monday, three priests, a Franciscan, a Dominican, and a Jesuit, (apologies Fr Chinua/Jude, no golf playing Spiritans present!) were having a hard time on the golf course. The golfers in front of the priests were the slowest and worst they had ever seen. Golf balls were going everywhere. Against golfing etiquette, the group never asked the priests to play through. By the eighteenth hole the priests were furious. At the clubhouse, just as they were going over to blast the group, they were told that the men were blind. The Franciscan, moved with remorse at how they had spoken about the group, said to the Dominican and Jesuit, ‘I am going to say Mass very day that God may grant them a miracle and restore their sight.” The Dominican, equally filled with regret, told the Jesuit and the Franciscan that he was going to get the blind men an appointment with the best eye surgeon in town. The Jesuit, however, looked at the Franciscan and the Dominican and declared, I can’t see why they don’t play at night!”
Sometimes, when faced with a person with special needs, we ponder as to what to do, how to respond, or ask ourselves, “Should I do anything differently?” We may overlook that we are all equal people. The crowd in to-day’s gospel faced this same question. They believed that the blind man didn’t belong in their midst. They regarded blindness as the lowest degradation that could be inflicted upon a person. The blind, together with cripples and lepers, were outcasts of society and kept quarantined outside the town limits, forced to become paupers and a menace to passers-by. In the eyes of the ancient Hebrews the maimed, and especially the blind, were thought to possess a debased character. Their illness believed to be a punishment. This prejudice was not based on the scriptures but rather the prevailing culture. Throughout the Old Testament God instructed His people to not mistreat those who were blind. Deuteronomy 27:18 “Cursed is the man who leads the blind astray on the road.” There was a cultural antipathy to the blind. Even today society can have difficulty coping with someone who is different.
So to-day’s Gospel is about a person living on the fringes of society. A blind beggar, a homeless person. He is nameless, his name Bartimaeus simply means son of Timaeus He is sitting beside the road. He hears all the noise, is told that Jesus is passing by, and begins to call out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” However, the people around tell him to be quiet. After all, he’s only a poor beggar and in the eyes of society such an insignificant person should not disturb the important person passing though, i.e. Jesus. They blocked him from Jesus. They did it unthinkingly. Easy to happen. Something for us to reflect on. Have we ever become a blocking force to someone approaching Jesus?
Bartimaeus was persistent and Jesus heard.
Note Jesus’ response. He is patient with Bartimaeus. He didn’t rush in to restore the man’s sight. No, Jesus waited. He asked Bartimaeus, “What would you have me do for you?” Jesus was a respecter of people, their hopes and desires. He doesn’t rush in to solve problems. He waits for the request.
The beggar receives the sight he asked for (“Ask, and you shall receive”). Now he was seeing not only the face of Jesus but all the faces of those who judged him not to belong. Those who told him to go away. What does he do? He now had options – did he turn and embrace them? We don’t know. We know that he does the only thing that a person with true vision can do – he follows Jesus on the road, that Way to Jerusalem and all that it means. He becomes unconditionally a disciple.
It reminds us all that sight, and the insight that can come from what we see, bestows on us the dignity of having options and the responsibility to do something about what we behold. We are in the position to make choices about what we look at and what we choose to really see. We won’t see people in need unless we remove our personal blindness.
We cannot let ourselves off the hook with regard to seeing the world as it is and doing somethings about creating a better vision of humanity for everyone, everywhere.
Our Gospel is a summing up of how Jesus’ disciples learnt to see and walk with him along the Way. As Christians, we have our eyes opened to the meaning of life. We are ready to walk with Jesus on the way to Jerusalem with clear vision, with true freedom. The question that Bartimaeus was asked, is the same question put by Jesus to us, “what do you want me to do for you?” If our answer is to have sight or insight, then let us pray for the courage to shoulder the responsibility that comes with such a gift.