The Blind Man Sees
In this beautiful homily for 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Father Hanly invites us to follow the example of the blind man and to open our eyes and see.
First Reading: Jeremiah 31:7-9
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
Second Reading: Hebrews 5:1-6
Gospel: Mark 10:46-52
This is the one of the most charming of all the stories that Mark the Gospel writer writes for us. Do you remember, Mark worked for St Peter. He took care of St Peter’s writing, because in those days not everybody could read and write like they do today. Anyhow Mark has written the first Gospel.
And it is the shortest Gospel. If you go home and start to read, you want a good read for about a half hour, you begin at the beginning and you open the page to Chapter 1, Verse 1, and you start reading it quickly, from beginning to end, it will take you about thirty-five minutes, believe it or not.
And you get this incredible impression of the writer of Mark. He wastes no time and he almost says to you all, “This is it. Take or leave it. I don’t care. I’m going home to have lunch.” But he loves Jesus and he loves the apostles and so we have these sweet stories.
And now this is the story of Bartimaeus. It’s all about being blind and seeing things. And this is one of Mark’s best stories about Jesus, from his final journey to Jerusalem.
Jesus is now walking away from this lovely city of Jericho, where he has spent a little bit of time and he is making his final journey along a bit of land that leads from Jericho to Jerusalem.
It’s all uphill, not only literally but figuratively, because Jesus is on his final journey to Jerusalem, and his final journey means he is going to his death.
But today, he and his disciples are in Jericho, the oldest city in the world. If you go there, it’s a wonderful tourist site as well, because the old Jericho that we’re going to talk about, on top of the old Jericho is the newer Jericho, and it’s a beautiful place, because it’s in an oasis area with lots of water around.
Anyhow, today, he and his disciples are in Jericho, only seventeen miles away from the Holy City, so this is their last leg. He has already told his disciples what awaits him. He reminds them that they’re on the way to Jerusalem where he will be rejected by his own people, who hand him over to his enemies and who in turn will mock him, will scourge him, crown him with thorns and crucify him. But after three days, Jesus tells his disciples, he will rise from the dead.
The disciples still don’t get it. They still don’t understand. But they believe he is the Son of God and the mere cutting his toe on a sidewalk is a terrible thing for them even to think about, never mind to see him tortured and crucified on a cross, so they wiped it from their minds.
In Jericho, a crowd gathers very quickly, for Jesus of Nazareth has become a celebrity and, wherever he goes, the crowds press upon him. And the crowds include many of his enemies who want to see him destroyed, as well as the many people who long to hear him tell his stories and meet with them.
Suddenly a blind beggar, Bartimaeus by name, cries out from his place by the roadside. He is a beggar. He’s a ragged little man. He has no home, no place, no hope, no anything, and yet he’s the hero of today’s story. He cries out in a loud voice, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”
There’s an old saying: pity is stronger than love. If you look for love, you’ll be terribly disappointed, but pity is something that we hand out quite nicely. So he figures he will appeal, not to the fact that he’s a decent man, but that Jesus from Nazareth, he had pity on him.
The people tell him to keep quiet. They’re getting very nervous.
Because Son of David, Son of David, that title is a Messianic title and they’re afraid the blind man’s loud cries will draw the attention of all his enemies who are plotting against him for claiming to be the Messiah.
The Messiah is the Holy One, the Anointed One of God, who is expected by all the Jewish people down through the ages as the Saviour of the world.
But for those at this time, to call Jesus the Messiah is a blasphemy and punishable by death. So they tell him to calm down, to shut up and be quiet, because they’re afraid that the enemies of Jesus will strike.
But the little blind man, he was crying out at the top of his voice, even louder now, until finally Jesus himself hears him as he’s leaving Jericho and he stops.
And he turns around and he says to the man next to him, “Call him. Call him to me.”
And there’s a moment of silence and the blind man hesitates, because the mood of the crowd now spins from threatening him to urging him on. And they’re saying things like, “Come on now, have courage, get up. Jesus himself is calling you.”
And what does the little blind fellow have to lose?
He doesn’t have anything to lose. And therefore he throws off his raggedy cloak, as if it was part of something in the past and he would never wear it again, and he starts running towards Jesus’ voice, because he still can’t see.
And then he throws himself at the feet of Jesus. And he hears the voice of Jesus speaking to him and the voice says, “My little friend, what do you want me to do for you?”
And Bartimaeus says, “Lord, that I may see.”
And Jesus says to him right away, “Go your way. Your faith has saved you.”
And immediately, Mark says, the beggar receives his sight and follows him along the way.
Along the way doesn’t mean he’s going home. Along the way means to walk along the way with Jesus on a journey to Jerusalem.
Very simple and lovely story told by Mark to let us know that we, too, are called to follow the courageous little blind man’s example.
And then you say, “What? But I’m not blind.”
And Jesus will smile and say those famous words, “You have eyes to see, but you do not see. You have ears to hear, but you’re not listening.” And he might add, “And you have hearts to love, but you do not love.”
And Jesus, he himself, has come to open our eyes and open our hearts to God’s world, not our world, a world that is quite different.
And he will help us to see as he sees, to listen and to understand as he listens and understands. But most of all, Jesus will teach us how to love each other as he loves, as God loves.
And that is what Mark means when he says that the blind man, who now sees, follows Jesus along the way, along the way that leads to everlasting life, an invitation to journey with Jesus, an invitation never to be separated from him and to face the things that he faces and to be, deep down inside, healed.
Mark says to us at this time, because Mark is telling this story not to some strangers or because the story is a nice story, he’s telling us the story because he’s talking to you.
“Open your eyes,” he is saying, “open your hearts, open your ears.”
For Jesus, as he did the little blind man, the little blind man he called, he is now calling you. He is calling you and I, and he says those famous words this morning to all of us: “Come, follow me.”
Someone gave me this yesterday and it’s about blindness, blindness that Helen Keller…
How many of you have heard of Helen Keller?
When I was a young man, Helen Keller was the greatest woman in all the United States.
And why was she so great?
She couldn’t read. Well, she could read. She couldn’t hear. She was blind and deaf. It happened to her at eighteen months old. She never saw the world again and never heard another sound.
And this is what Helen Keller said to a friend:
“One day I asked a friend of mine who had just returned from a long walk in the woods what she had seen. She replied, ‘Nothing in particular.’
“How was this possible? I asked myself, when I, who cannot hear or see, find hundreds of things to interest me through mere touch. I feel the delicate shape and design of a leaf. I pass my hands lovingly over the rough bark of a pine tree. Occasionally, I place my hand quietly on a small tree, and if I’m lucky, feel the happy quiver of a bird in full song.
“The greatest calamity that can befall people, is not that they should be born blind, but that they should have eyes, yet fail to see.”