The Faith of Bartimaeus
Homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Deacon D. McManaman
What always strikes me when I read this miracle story is Jesus’ question to the blind man, Bartimaeus. He repeatedly calls out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me”, and he’s rebuked for doing so, and they try to silence him, which turned out to be counterproductive. And of course, Jesus heard him, because he tells them: “Call him”. The blind man leaves his cloak behind, which was personally valuable, so much so that by law a lender could not take possession of a person’s cloak as collateral, only his tunic. Bartimaeus leaves that behind and goes to Jesus. Furthermore, the blind man refers to Jesus as “Son of David”, in other words, Messiah. Also, he would not have witnessed any of Jesus’ miracles with his own eyes; he would only have heard about them. And that was enough for him. He believed that he was the son of David, the King of Israel, and he believed in the power of the son of David to heal him. That shows tremendous faith.
But note the question Jesus asks: “What do you want me to do for you?” Isn’t it obvious? Do we really think Jesus wasn’t sure what the blind man wanted? It was patently obvious. So why would Jesus ask? To make him say it. Come out and say it. And he was healed immediately when he did so.
This is a tremendous lesson on the power of faith. We would see many more miracles in our lives if we had the faith of this blind man. Most people today do not see miracles, because they don’t ask for them, and they don’t ask for them because they don’t really believe that God pays too much attention to them, that God really wants to permeate their lives with His joy, and so they don’t believe He would answer their prayer if they turned to Him. But all we have to do is believe that he has the power and will to heal our lives, and have the humility to ask Him, to beg for His mercy, like Bartimaeus.
A fellow parishioner years ago had a serious stroke which landed him in the hospital, and I remember him telling me that when he was in a coma, he experienced a tremendous love surrounding him, an otherworldly love; he described it as being loved like the dearest brother, the most intense love for him that he’s ever felt directed to him. There is a rather thick veil that separates us from experiencing that love from the other side, from God and from the communion of saints. That love has been there from the first moment of our existence; for that love is the source and origin of our existence. But all we really know here in this broken world is the imperfect love of others, and it really is an imperfect and defective love, and it is the experience of this defective, inconsistent, and rather impure love that gives rise to that thick veil that blocks the radiance of this deep and divine love behind the veil. This life is about learning to be loved like that, that is, allowing ourselves to be embraced by the Father. It’s a very difficult thing to do, but the more we spend time with the Lord, the more we listen to Him in silence, the thinner that veil becomes, and the light of His love begins to seep through it. We begin to see what St. Catherine of Siena was able to see, that God loves each one of us as if there is only one of us, in the sense that we are the only one who exists for God to love. That is supposed to be what we experience from God; for although He does not have our undivided attention, we have God’s undivided attention at every instant of our existence. But as we spend more and more time with the Lord in silent prayer, the more we begin to see that we really do have his undivided attention, and thus God knows about the apparently insignificant matters of our lives, and they matter to Him as they matter to us, and so, we ought to take the liberty to ask Him to address these matters as well, confident that He will; for “nothing displeases Him more than cold reserve” (Father John Nicholas Grou, S.J.).
But when we pray a prayer of petition, we have to then leave it up to God. What some people do is they ask, but their asking is a test: “I will ask and see what happens”. Deep down underneath that sentiment is a faith that will depend on how God answers: “If He does not answer, I’m done with prayer”. But God knows the human heart, He knows what’s in the deepest regions of our own heart, more than we do. In fact, that deep region is often closed to us–we don’t really know ourselves at that level, but God does, and He will not answer prayer that is conditional. He waits, holds back, and when we then decide to rely on another source–because God did not act on our terms–, He allows us to go our own say. The result is we no longer rely on God for everything, which is why we see so few miracles in our lives.
What has to happen is that we resolve to trust and follow Him regardless of the outcome. God knows whether the answer to our prayer will bless us or curse us. Very often we pray for things that will, in the long run, destroy us by actually turning us away from God. And so, we have to pray with absolute trust, aware that God’s knowledge is not limited: “For as the heavens are exalted above the earth, so are my ways exalted above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts” (Is 55, 9). If God does not answer our prayer on our terms, it is because He knows better. His decision is always rooted in the very same love for you that was the very origin of your existence and the source that is sustaining you in existence at this very moment. This life is about coming to know that love, allowing ourselves to be loved as God wants to love us, and of course eventually channeling that love to others.