Mark recounts the beginning of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem with the healing of a blind man (8:22–26). In today’s Gospel reading, the city of Jericho represents Jesus’ last stop, and again he heals a blind man, Bartimaeus. Throughout his journey, Jesus had been sharing with his disciples truths about himself, his mission and what it means to be a disciple. Through it all, we find the Twelve often blind. They hear about receiving a powerless child as one would the Lord himself; they are told to imitate the Son who came to serve and not be served; and they learn about his coming rejection and the way of the cross. Their responses include a rebuke to Jesus, a debate about who among them is the greatest and an attempt to secure seats of glory.
Now comes Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, lying at the edge of the road. He knows his condition; he knows his need. And he hears that Jesus is passing by. “Jesus, son of David,” he calls out, “have pity on me.” He will not be dissuaded by the crowd trying to silence him and calls out “all the more.” Jesus commands that they call him forward, and he eagerly complies. “What do you want me to do for you?” the Lord asks. “Master,” he replies, “I want to see.” “Go your way,” the Lord says, healing him; “Your faith has saved you.” The end of the story is crucial: “Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.” It turns out for Bartimaeus that to “go your way,” means following Jesus on his way. This is a clear reference to discipleship.
Bartimaeus’s experience is more about the light of faith—”your faith has saved you”—than it is about physical healing. The Lord promises his light to those who come to him. While miraculous physical healings can happen, as they did here, they often do not. Jesus did not promise to release us from the human condition, but to offer us his saving presence through it all.
We find this offer in Jeremiah, our first reading: “Shout with joy for Jacob.... The Lord has delivered his people...with the blind and the lame in their midst.... I will lead them to brooks of water.... For I am a father to Israel.” In this wonderful prophecy of God’s plans for the release of the captives we do not see the blind and lame healed, but rather guided by God, who walks with them. Earlier in this chapter God proclaims through Jeremiah, “With age-old love, I have loved you” (31:2).
We should avoid the temptation to see our physical and mental suffering as a kind of rejection or hardness of heart on God’s part. Being faithful does not mean being released from the human condition. Indeed, our faith witness can be all the more enhanced by faithfulness in the midst of our own trials, where “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).
Our second reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews, highlights this point, insisting that being “beset by weakness” helps a high priest “deal patiently with the ignorant and erring.” With the eyes of faith we see the love and presence of God right in the heart of our afflictions and needs. In other words, our acute suffering helps us to recognize Jesus as our healer. He heals the blindness that comes from sin; he heals the timidity that comes from lack of faith; and he frees us from the imprisonment of our own delusions, our greed and our anger. We can pray for physical healing but not for release from the human condition. God guarantees that he and the light he brings guides us through the journey.
We ought to be like Bartimaeus. We ought not to be hindered by fear—our own or that of others—of the source of light and sight. If we let the Lord in, if we open and receive him, he will help us dismantle the walls that keep us from seeing, the walls that keep our hearts and minds from coming to life. We too can “follow him on the way.”