(The Nationalist, 27 October 2006)
There’s a gospel story about Jesus healing a blind beggar called Bartimaeus, who was sitting on the roadside as Jesus passed. Like all such stories there’s more to it than meets the eye. It’s not only about an act of kindness to an individual in need, but it’s also a parable in action. Every story, every parable in the gospel is for all people. The gospel is ever and always a wake-up call, a call to look in truth at what is going on around us, and – even more importantly – within us.
In the story, people told Bartimaeus to stay quiet and stop shouting at Jesus for help. He was an embarrassment. Those people were invisible to the blind man, faceless and nameless. The things within us that inhibit us from calling out to God are often faceless and nameless: fear, despair, self-loathing, doubt – and often we cannot even get a hold of them to challenge them.
Bartimaeus had learned to listen. It was a survival skill. He had also learned to wait – what else could he do? And he was not ashamed to ask for help. That’s a survival skill, too. Listening, waiting, and asking from a heart that is alive are three characteristics of prayer.
Bartimaeus threw off his cloak. Usually a beggar spread his cloak on the ground in front of him for people to put money or food on it. But it got in the way, so he threw it aside; nothing was going to stop him. He ran – a risky thing for a blind man to do – but he was beyond caution or calculation. Hope impelled him. He left his past behind in order to embark on a new life of following Jesus on the road.
In this blind beggar, need led to prayer; prayer led to faith; faith led to vision; and vision led to following Jesus. There was a hidden grace in this outcast, grace to which the onlookers were blind, but which Jesus brought to light. Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche movement for the help of the disabled, says that the disabled humanize us and save us from being trapped by the materialistic “gospel” of efficiency, output and productivity.
Maybe the truth of the story for us is that we are blind beggars. And the proverb, ‘There are none so blind as those who will not see’ strikes home, too. Sometimes we don’t want to see the truth about ourselves. Maybe, unlike Bartimaeus, we don’t know what our needs are.
What are the truths about myself that I refuse to see? Where am I wilfully blind? It may be that Jesus is saying to me also, ‘Are you aware of your real needs, aware of the truth about yourself? Open your eyes and see that your saviour is before you’. In the gospel, to see Jesus means to follow him. Bartimaeus believed, saw, and followed.
For those in a hurry: ‘Those whom our society rejects are the ones that can heal us’. (Jean Vanier)