The gospel reading of this Sunday from the gospel of Mark (10:46-52) is the story of the encounter between Bartimaeus and Jesus: it is an encounter of faith. Let’s look at the elements of this utterly simple and amazing encounter. Bartimaeus is along the roadside begging. On hearing that Jesus was passing by “he began to cry out and say, ‘Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.’” What happens next? The people tell him to keep silent and even ‘rebuke’ him. And what does he do? He keeps calling out all the more and even louder than before!!! What do you think is motivating him? It is evident that there are two factors: his faith in Jesus and his longing to see.
Let us for a moment put our selves in this story, that is, to each one of us encountering Jesus. Pope Francis, as you may recall, in The Joy of the Gospel, invites us to a “renewed personal encounter” with Christ, and he goes on to say “or at least an openness to letting him (Jesus) encounter them; I ask of you to do this unfailingly each day….The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step toward Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms” (p.1). Openness to a renewed encounter: are we desiring, are we open for this? Is our faith large enough for this encounter, remembering it only has to be the size of a tiny mustard seed? Pope Francis goes on to say (and it is a text I have quoted often, but to me it is ever-fresh), he says: “Thanks solely to this encounter…with God’s love…we are liberated from our narrowness and self-absorption” (p.4). I would say we are also liberated from our fears and worries: how often do we hear Jesus say in the gospels: ‘Do not be afraid’.
After the loud cry of Bartimaeus, Jesus responds and says, ‘Call him’. Bartimaeus throws aside his cloak, springs up and goes to Jesus. And then the question of Jesus: ‘What do you want me to do for you’? Can we hear this question pulsating in our heart’s depths? And what will our response be? Bartimaeus simply says ‘I want to see’. Well, sisters, so do I: I want to see, heal my blindness, so that I can follow your way, O God, and not mine! After Bartimaeus’ simple and unencumbered request, Jesus says, ‘Go your way, your faith has saved you.’ Let us ponder how our lives would be different if we would unfailingly each day, like Pope Francis asked us, to dare to enter this renewed encounter with Jesus, crying out for whatever is our deepest need…and not forgetting that it is an encounter with God’s love.
In this gospel, basic to this encounter of faith is the desire to see. To quote Hans Urs von Balthasar: “Bartimaeus’ longing for light is part of what causes Jesus to grant the healing, which in turn makes it possible for the man to follow him. This following after Jesus shows that the longing for light was a longing for something more basic: a longing for the right path, …a longing for the path that leads to God, a path whose direction and stages one must see if he or she is to embark upon it” (Light of the Word, p.247). Bartimaeus’ request is granted because of his faith…faith brings him, and faith brings us to the encounter: and then we are given a word of life, a word of hope, a word that heals, a word that gives the light we need to discern our way forward, a word that mediates God’s unrequited Love and Mercy.