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)
Sometimes in life, we feel stuck, incapable of making a decision, confused.
Generally it’s because we feel as though we don’t see ourselves clearly; we don’t see the situation clearly or which way to go to get out of it.
Perhaps that’s because things just aren’t clear, to begin with but many times it is we who pull the wool over our own eyes: we prefer not to see. It is no accident that when one is depressed, he closes the shades and seek refuge in sleep, in the illusion that we can distance ourselves from reality. Many times we blind ourselves, like Oedipus. We refuse to look at the consequences of our own choices.
Sometimes it’s the weight of our past that holds us back because we feel as if we cannot change. We can feel utterly lost, like a bottle of oil shattered on the pavement, like the pitiless time that slips through our hands without hope of ever being recovered.
Bartimaeus is a little like this. And maybe it’s not by chance that the encounter described in this Gospel passage happens in Jericho – the city built below sea level, the city that represents the abyss of humanity, our miseries, the places into which we feel sunken, depressed and especially alone.
In fact, Bartimaeus is a lonely man. Sometimes in life, we carry around a painful contradiction: we want to be someone, but we find ourselves deeply alone. Bar-Timaeus is the son of Timaeus; he is one of those who have been called to relationship but instead lives his drama and his paralysis in solitude. We don’t know if Bartimaeus chose to set himself apart or if he was set apart by another, but he certainly still longs to be heard: he won’t stop begging for someone to stop.
Jesus had descended into Jericho, to the depths of the abyss, to find the man that felt that he was hopelessly lost, but Bartimaeus wasn’t even there. Bartimaeus is outside, outside the city, and even off the road (he sat by the roadside). Bartimaeus doesn’t live within Jesus’ paths. He is the last-minute-man; the man that holds on when everything is slipping out of his hands. He is the last possible cry for help.
We carry with us certain resources that sometimes we don’t even know we have. They come out at the moment we are most desperate: Bartimaeus is a beggar and he has learned not only to ask but to cry out. Like so many of us, Bartimaeus begs for just a bit of affection, just a little attention.
Jesus is a man that stops when he hears the cries of he who only wants to be seen, recognized, looked upon with dignity. It’s astonishing to see how Bartimaeus revives, that is how he stands up when Jesus stops before him, even before healing his eyes. We too can help others to revive if only we would stop to listen to what they are saying.
Sometimes we need help to get back on our feet, like Bartimaeus, to throw off that which is holding us down, that which oppresses us, that which blocks our path, even if it seems to be the very think that protects us, that keeps us warm, that defends us, a little like Linus’ blanket.
Bartimaeus throws off his cloak and it makes us wonder if it wasn’t that cloak that was keeping him from getting up. For the cloak of a beggar is his most precious possession: it’s his home, his blanket, his only wealth. It’s not insignificant that the Law prohibited taking the beggar’s cloak for more than a day: If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you shall return it to him before sunset (Ex 22, 25).
Sometimes the things we are most attached to are the very things that are holding us back. Linus will only grow when he has the courage to abandon the blanket that makes him feel so safe.
Only when Bartimaeus frees himself of his fears does he become aware of the true desires he carries in his heart. In fact, it’s only at this point that Jesus asks him what it is that he truly wants. Often we do not necessarily want to know how things truly are.
Bartimaeus wants to see again, but the verb anablepein also means to look on high, and to look on high one must also raise one’s head. Bartimaeus wants to rediscover his dignity as a man that sees things as they are.
Once Bartimaeus has rediscovered this dignity he is free to do as he pleases: Jesus does not bind, but frees. Jesus even says to Bartimaeus, “Go your way!” He does not say, “come!” And Bartimaeus freely chooses to follow Jesus.
Even for Bartimaeus – the man that seemed to be hopelessly lost, the man who couldn’t even be found in the depths of Jericho – even for him, there is a road to walk.