As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging.
On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”
He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?”
The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way. [Mark 10:46-52]
As an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota, I was faced with what I thought at the time was an insurmountable challenge. A humanities major, I was required to successfully complete four semesters of a second language. In high school, I spent a year studying German and two years of Spanish. However, at the time, I was barely able to sing along to Pan de Vida. That remains true today.
So, when I discovered that I could satisfy the language requirement by studying American Sign Language, I was ecstatic. I was certain that it would be the easiest class I would ever take.
I was wrong.
What I found was that I not only needed to learn a new alphabet and a new way to communicate, I had to discover a whole new way to think and act and see the world. I could no longer casually listen to a lecture about world religions or biology, I had to watch every movement of the instructor’s hand and try to figure out exactly what she was trying to communicate to me.
And I quickly learned that I had no idea what it was like to be deaf, to need to be able to use sign language to express my thoughts and to be communicated with. It was a world that I had never considered at length, and over the course of several semesters, I was able to just begin to encounter it.
Most of us in this room have no idea what it is like to live in the world as a deaf person; it would be just as difficult for any of us to consider what it is like to be blind.
And so, as we hear this passage from the Gospel of Mark, it can be easy for us to be wowed by the miracle that takes place, forgetting the perspective of Bartimaeus himself. We know that he was poor enough to beg by the side of the road and that he was distraught enough to ask Jesus to have pity on him—not once, but over and over again.
And as this poor beggar repeated his plea, those around Jesus became uncomfortable. Even then, the followers of Jesus wanted everything to be perfect.
In the time of Jesus, being blind wasn’t only a personal burden but would have been viewed as a punishment for one’s sins or the sins of one’s family. Thus, Bartimaeus would have been ostracized in a way similar to one living with leprosy, unable to earn a living and participate in the life of the community.
As a result, Bartimaeus had struggled long enough. For years he dreamed of this day, this opportunity. He yearned for an end to the darkness, he longed for an end to his suffering.
And so, when the crowd called to him, the son of Timaeus sprung to his feet, threw off his cloak, one of his few possessions and came to Jesus.
As he approached, he brought not only his inability to see, he brought all of the pain and struggle that came with it. He brought years of anger, shame and hurt to the man who understood all of it.
It may seem odd to us that Jesus would ask Bartimaeus what it was that he wanted. The man is blind, what else might he want but to have his blindness cured? What one earth could he ask for but that?
And yet, he doesn’t just say that he wants to see. In the Greek it is closer to saying I want to see your face. Bartimaeus seems to be answering, “Master I want to see YOU.”
Without faith, such a statement wouldn’t have mattered. Without Bartimaeus’ understanding of who Jesus truly was, he might have just said, “I want to see again” or “I want to be able to see the beautiful women that walk down my street.”
Instead, after years of blindness, a lifetime of doubt and pain and fear, Bartimaeus wants to see the face of the one in whom he believes. He longs to see the face of the One that stands before him.
Just as we may not know what it is like to face the darkness that comes with being physically blind, we may not always realize the many ways in which we are blind to the pain and suffering of others in our midst.
When I think of Bartimaeus springing forward without hesitation, literally unable to see where he is going, I think about what it must be like for an immigrant to this country to be granted citizenship, or a refugee to be granted asylum in a foreign land. The path to freedom, just like the journey to sight for the blind is a long and dangerous road. It is a deep longing, for acceptance and safety, one that far too few who walk the road will experience.
We have been blind to the experience of immigrants and it is time for them to be able to see fully the face of God and for us to see the face of God in them.
I also think of the experience of women in a church and society that fails to recognize their gifts and potential. For too long we have gone without leadership that could move us into new and important directions, without listening to prophetic voices that rightly called for justice and peace in a world in need of both.
We have been blind to the experience of women and it is time for them to be able to see fully the face of God.
The Synod on the family in Rome has drawn attention to the experience of various segments of the Christian community, especially those in the church who are divorced and remarried and those of us who are LGBT and Catholic. Difficult questions are being raised and considered and hopefully that dialogue will continue. Without such dialogue, the church throughout the world is blind to the painful experience of those who are on the margins, who too often have been left out and abandoned. That marginalization has gone on for too long and has been intentionally hurtful for far too many.
We have been blind to the experience of LGBT Catholics and those who have experienced difficulty in relationships and it is time for them to be able to see fully the face of God.
I’m afraid that the list of groups and individuals and experiences that we as a community are blind to could take us well into next week. Just as I was given the opportunity to discover the blindness that I had toward the experience of those who are deaf, we are invited to challenge our blindness together. And the truth is that as we look around each of us can find colleagues and friends who have experienced the pain of such blindness.
And yet Jesus reminds us that there is another way. Without even raising his hand toward Bartimeaus, Jesus tells him that he can see. There is no spitting, no clay, no water being turned into anything. All that is needed is faith. A faith that restores sight, a faith that allows the blind not only to see, but to see the face of God.
And it is that faith that saves all of us from our own blindness and our shared blindness to injustice in our world. There is no need for us to await a miracle, we have been given our call loudly and clearly.
Go your way, your faith has saved you.