October 28th, 2012
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s Gospel honors a beggar, a blind beggar named Bartimeus. The name is Hebrew for “Son of Timeus,” and Timeus means “Honorable One” in Greek. But the blind Bartimeus didn’t seem very honorable when Jesus came upon him. He was sitting in the dirt, on the outskirts of Jericho, an old desert town, 850 feet below sea level, 3500 feet below the Holy City of Jerusalem. In the Old Testament, it was a city of sin that Yahweh ordered the Jews to destroy under Joshua’s command.
There sits Bartimeus, trapped in the city of sin, like so many street people today, trapped in the slums of Los Angeles, or Calcutta, or Buenos Aires. His physical blindness points to man’s spiritual blindness; his financial poverty points to our spiritual poverty. Consider how far this good man has fallen: once the “Son of the Honorable One;” now a blind, stinking, helpless parasite. In humble and honest moments, we admit that each of us is a beggar before the throne of grace. As with Bartimeus, not one of us can solve our own most basic problems. We are blind; we are helpless. We must beg for God’s help. Sure, I can make money and buy my way out of certain problems, but I can’t solve my own fundamental loneliness, my brokenness, my desperate need for constant love. I have to ask, I have to beg for that. In the words of St. Augustine, “I am a burden to myself. … Lord, have mercy on me! See, I do not hide my wounds. When I shall cleave to you with all my being, no more will there be pain and toil for me. My life will be life indeed.”
How hard it is to beg
Jesus is passing by, and Bartimeus cries out, embarrassing and irritating the disciples. He cries out what each of us must not be ashamed to cry out: “Have Pity on Me! I need your help!” How hard it is to beg; how hard it is to call upon another’s pity, to admit our helplessness.
I was forced to beg once. A 27-year-old seminarian, I had just finished a three month Spanish course in Mexico. At the airport, the agent said I needed to pay $12 airport fee. I had two dollars left. “You’d better find the money,” she said with a sneer, “or you won’t get on your plane. Why don’t you beg from your rich fellow Americans?” I backed away from the counter unsteadily. After ten minutes I got the courage, the humility, to approach an American lady in the check-in line. “I’m sorry, but I need 12 dollars to pay the airport tax. I have no money—could you help me?” The American lady looked terribly embarrassed and began to say she couldn’t help me. But a Mexican lady next to her looked at me kindly, and gave me a $20 bill. And so I was able to fly home from Mexico, and stand before you now…. I’ll never forget how hard it was to ask a stranger for help.
Bartimeus lifts his face to Jesus and begs for help. He simply cannot meet his own basic needs. Neither can we. Bartimeus cries out loudly the very Greek words we utter at every Mass: Kyrie, Eleison—Lord, have mercy. “Son of David, have pity on me!” Have mercy on me. The apostles tell him to be quiet. But the Blind Bartimeus keeps begging, keeps praying: Elei-me. Kyrie, Elei-me! “Help me, Lord!”
The Response of Faith
Jesus stops. “Call him.” Everyone is a little shocked. They hustle the blind man to Jesus. “What do you want?” Jesus asks. Of course Jesus knows what Bartimeus wants. He knows what each of us wants. We want to see the face of one who loves us. But we have to say it, we have to ask for it, we have to express our faith in God in order to be capable of receiving grace. Pope Benedict writes in the letter Porta fidei, opening the Year of Faith: “Profession of faith is an act both personal and communitarian.” We must exercise “the act by which we choose to entrust ourselves fully to God…[in the words of St. Paul] Man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved” (Rom 10:10)….
Bartimeus’ very act of begging God’s mercy was an act of faith. And Jesus says, “Your faith has saved you.” He is healed; he is saved. In fact, Bartimeus saw with his soul before he saw with his eyes. Seeing is not believing--believing is seeing. And Bartimeus “followed Jesus along the way.” He didn’t just believe with his heart; he responded with his body.
He have entered the third week of the Year of Faith. Jesus Christ is the Way, the only Way. Most are not following Him. They neither see nor believe. Let our faith—the public expression of our faith—be a witness to all the world. There is only one name, under heaven and upon earth, given to men by which we are to be saved. We must believe in our hearts, and profess with our lips, if we are to be worthy of the name Christian. We turn to the first Christian, Our Blessed Mother, who believed before she could see, and so came to see the fullness of God’s glory. Let us pray to her that we may be men and women of faith, crying out ceaselessly to her Son: Kyrie Eleison!