Sunday, October 24, 2021

With Bartimaeus

A large, probably admiring crowd is traveling with Jesus this morning, happy and proud to be in the entourage of the wonderworker who has captivated their imaginations and their hearts. But soon the euphoria is interrupted by an annoying blind beggar, crying out. Many in the crowd tell him to quiet down; he’s disrupting things, really ruining the mood. But the guy refuses to be silenced, and he shouts out all the more insistently, begging for Jesus, “Son of David, have pity on me!” Praised be to God, for Bartimaeus knows what he wants. He may be blind, but he has clear insight - in his plea he calls Jesus Son of David, recognizing Jesus’ royal lineage as well as his reputation as a healer.*

Actually, this passage often strikes me as one of the more humorous ones in all the Gospels, for at this point Jesus calls for him and asks the blind man, who probably has stumbled toward him with hands feeling the air, “What do you want me to do for you?” At this point in his ministry, Jesus has this marvelous reputation as a compassionate healer. The man is blind. Why else would he be crying out to Jesus? Isn’t it obvious? Apparently, Jesus wants him to say it: “I want to see.”  Jesus wants him to say it, wants us to blurt out our desire, our deepest longing. “What do you want? What do you want me to do for you? Tell me. How can I help? I am here for you always, always; please let me in. Say it; let me hear your voice, for your voice is lovely.”

I recall a friend telling me about his sister and her too taciturn husband, a reserved guy with a big job. They had been married only a few years, and she could always tell when something was worrying him. But he would just shut down, not let her in. So as they were snuggling at bedtime, she often would demand, gently, insistently: “Tell me, tell me what’s wrong, what’s bothering you.” She knew, women always know, something was up, and she wanted to be let in, to accompany him. The intimacy, the relationship demanded it, the relationship demanded it. But he couldn’t do it. And unfortunately, the marriage eventually ended, he was not a communicator, a connector.

Our relationship with Christ demands the same intimacy. Many of us - monks, “prayers,” accustomed to praying - might be apt to say, “But Jesus knows, he knows everything, he knows what I need, what I want, I don’t have to say anything.” True enough, but when we say it, we get to hear it; we hear ourselves, hear our neediness, our poverty, and know our real, desperate need for Christ. This often happens during spiritual direction or in a conversation with a dear friend, we say something and are surprised by the honesty, the truth. Prayer too is relationship; there are times to be quiet, times to sit together, and times to talk things out with someone you love, whom you know will listen compassionately. Jesus must be at last as good as that.

Our need, our poverty makes Christ happy, not because he wants us to feel bad, but because it allows him to save us, to give himself to us completely. The admission of need is an act of faith in him who can do all. As Jesus himself declares to Bartimaeus, to each one of us this morning, “Your faith has saved you.” Our faith will save us too, faith articulated in desire, lovingly expressed. So it is that Bartimaeus moves from being a blind beggar to becoming a clear-sighted, faith-filled, faithful follower of Jesus. He rushes toward Jesus and will follow him on the way, this is ultimately the way of the cross, the way of betrayal, the way to Jerusalem where Jesus will be tortured and crucified.* But it seems Bartimaeus is ready.

What do you want this morning? What do you want so much, you can almost taste it? Perhaps something you never dare say. Perhaps something that just rises up in your heart, but you feel you need to talk yourself out of; perhaps something that seems perhaps less than ideal. Never mind, I know it’s in there, nagging at me and I can’t deny it. Just say it to him, tell him. He hears us and understands and longs to heal and purify our desiring so that we will be able to see our deepest desire hiding beneath all that other stuff. And best of all, hopefully, eventually we come to realize that our deepest desire is not for something, but for Someone, for Jesus who is the heart of all desire.

The expressed desire is an act of faith in him who is above all, over all, and in all; he who surrounds us and truly cares for us. When we speak our desires from the shallowest to the loftiest, we are heard, and we grow in intimacy with Christ Jesus. That alone is worth the effort, the crying out. Who do you want? Who is worth everything? As always at the Eucharist, he comes to feed us to fill us with himself. If we want him, desire his kind presence, we need only ask, he wants it much more than we can ever know.

Photograph by Brother Brian. * Insights from Harrington & Donahue in a reflection by one of our monks.