Reading the story of Bartimaeus is, for me at least, an occasion for introspection. I am Bartimaeus, but without his depth of faith. Bartimaeus is the blind man that Jesus encounters outside of Jericho. The story is related in the 10th chapter of the gospel of Mark, and was read this past Thursday.
Bartimaeus was sitting and begging when he heard that Jesus was passing by. I might be sitting in my cubicle at work or, worse, sitting at home idling time away in front of the television or playing games on the computer.
Bartimaeus recognized who Jesus was and called out to him. I like to think that I know who Jesus is, ut am I willing to call out to him, or is there an element of the Pelagian heresy in my personality. There is a part of me that thinks I should be able to overcome my faults on my own, as if the grace of God is wasted upon me because I don’t exercise the self-discipline, discernment, and docility to take advantage of it. What keeps one from calling out as Bartimaeus did? Is it some vague desire to appear respectable and self-sufficient? That’s not working out so well for me.
Those accompanying Jesus tried to quite Bartimaeus, but he only called out louder. Bartimaeus did not fear becoming a spectacle, and he persisted in the face of discouragement. Too often, I am turned away by the slightest resistance.
Jesus hears Bartimaeus and has his followers call him. The same people who were telling him to be quiet now tell him to cheer up because he is being called. It’s true, sadly, that members of the Church can be obstacles to reaching Christ, and yet He still chooses to act through them. Jesus could have called to Bartimaeus himself. He did not. As frustrating as our interaction with the Church might sometimes be, it is through His Church that He desires that we be saved.
Bartimaeus is already way ahead of where I would be. Now he jumps up and rushes to Jesus. There is no hesitation and no caution. I, on the other hand, am overly cautious, always wanting to preserve the option to go back, to minimize the risk. Were I in the place of Bartimaeus, I would be debating with myself about whether to call out in the first place, and would only reach a decision after the opportunity had passed and Jesus was out of earshot.
When Jesus asks Bartimaeus what he wants, Bartimaeus asks simply for sight – the healing of his infirmity. If only we all might know what it is that keeps us from the Kingdom, the rush unhesitatingly to Jesus to seek the cure. I think that I have some idea of where my greatest failures of virtue lie, and I think that I’ve asked in prayer to be relieved of these defects. That they remain whispers into my Pelagian heart that the fault lies with me, and therefore it’s up to me to bring about the change. I’m left precariously balanced between despairing of my own weakness and trusting that God’s mercy and grace can overcome it.
“Your faith has healed you,” Jesus tells him. I do believe Lord, increase my faith! I ask not for my own sake, but that your name might be glorified. I ask for the sake of my wife, my children, and all to whom I might be a source of scandal and an obstacle to closer communion with you. Fill me with a healthy hatred for the things that keep me from rushing to you and, like Bartimaeus, following you along the road.