Just as the story of the prodigal son has man names, this reading can go by many names as well. Is it the story of the blind man Bartimaeus who begs Jesus to restore his sight? Or the story of Jesus’ followers who ignore a blind man’s plea? Or the story of Jesus listening to everyone’s needs?
In Hebrews 5: 1-6, Jesus is leaving Jericho with his disciples and a crowd of followers. Bartimaeus, a blind man, is sitting by the roadside begging, when Jesus walks by. Hearing that it is Jesus of Nazareth, Bartimaeus cries out, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”
Those following Jesus rebuke Bartimaeus, telling him: Be silent! But he won’t stop calling out,
“Son of David, have pity on me.” Jesus stops and says, “Call him.”
Jesus’ followers say to Bartimaeus, “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.” He throws aside his cloak, springs up, and comes to Jesus who says in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replies, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus tells him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”
Immediately he receives his sight and follows Jesus.
So we can look at the reading as the story of the blind man whose sight is restored because of the persistence of his faith. And the story of the followers who say they follow Jesus but are blind themselves to Jesus’ call to action to serve the needy until Jesus confronts them over it. And the story of Jesus’ openness to everyone who is in need, despite the blindness of others to even the most obvious of needs.
This past week, Pope Francis concluded the Vatican Synod on the Family by noting this reading and the tendency of people — often those who claim the mantle of faith — to overlook the needs of others. They choose to look on their own superiority self righteously and ignore the desperate needs of others, claiming a closeness to God while forgetting that Jesus was really closest to those desperately in need, not those in the high positions of power or of piety.
Bartimeaeus was a blind man who could see more clearly than any of those who followed Jesus that day and, clearly, more vividly than many who claim to see Jesus today, who Jesus was and is and will continue to be as the Son of God. While many mistaken Christians will spend their days asking the needy how they dare to beg for help, Jesus will continue to ask, “What do you want me to do for you?”