(Jer 31:7-9; Ps 125; Heb 5:1-6; Mk 10:46-52)
The story in today’s gospel speaks of a blind man, Bartimaeus, whom Jesus heals as he leaves Jericho for the last stage of his fateful journey up to Jerusalem. It comes at the end of a long section in Mark which also begins with the story of a blind man, whom Jesus cures at first only partially and then by degrees (8:22-26). This is symbolic of the slow way the disciples respond to the teaching of Jesus – which is what the passages between the two healings are all about: Peter’s confession of faith at Caesarea Philippi in Jesus as Messiah was only a partial faith, as his following rejection of Jesus’s talk of suffering and death clearly shows (8:24-33). Throughout this section of Mark’s Gospel, the disciples fail repeatedly to understand Jesus’s teaching about the necessity of the cross in their lives of service. The action of Bartimaeus in the story of the second healing of the blind calls them to the kind of faith they should really have. Like the Syrophoenician woman and the father of the epileptic boy elsewhere in the gospel, he comes to Jesus bringing nothing but his faith.
Bartimaeus was sitting by the roadside as Jesus and the crowd left Jericho. This was a strategic place for a beggar to sit: to catch the attention of pilgrims, as they made their way from Jericho up the hillside to Jerusalem for the feasts. But he needed to draw attention to himself; so he shouts out: “Hey, Jesus, son of David, over here, see me; I’m in need of healing!” Even when the crowd, including the disciples, try to stop him, he just shouts all the louder. When Jesus calls him, he “throws off his cloak” and comes to Jesus in total vulnerability. Like the blind man, the disciples, and we, are called to shed our pretensions. Today, on Mission Sunday we could ask ourselves, what “cloak” do we need to throw off, in order to be healed of our blindness and so better participate in Christ’s mission?
The first reading also calls on people to “shout out” – this time in thanksgiving for deliverance. Normally we associate shouting with boisterous behaviour; people can be up before the courts for “shouting and roaring,” making a nuisance of themselves in an anti-social way. But, for Jeremiah a polite “thank-you” to God for deliverance is not enough; he demands that the rescue should be shouted about from the rooftops. Maybe, like the blind man, we need to shout and roar about our need for healing and then, like Jeremiah, make a song and dance when it is a time for thanksgiving.
The blind man’s story is sobering from another point of view: the poor often have to harangue us to pay attention to their need. Walking in town the other day I was accosted by a young man who wanted me to buy him a cup of coffee; if he hadn’t harangued me I’d probably just have put a small coin in a box. I think, too, we should all become “haranguers” in advocacy – for issues around poverty, but also relating to the environment in the period coming up to the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26). Trócaire’s website is a good guide to ways we might do this.