Sunday, 25 October 2009

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

In Mark’s Gospel, the story about Bartimaeus is more than the story about blindness and the restoration of sight. It is an account of faith because after his sight was restored, Bartimaeus followed Jesus along the road. An important note is that Jericho is not far from Jerusalem, the place of Christ’s suffering. The symbolism cannot be lost because faith has this effect: to know Christ is to follow Him in suffering.

Basically, Mark’s theology is simply that Christ is the one who brings salvation to Israel. Therefore, healings are a sign that Christ’s salvation is already in the world. Consider that in Mark, very few recognise Jesus as the Messiah. So, it is remarkable and ironical that we have a blind man who recognises Jesus by acknowledging Him with the title of the Messiah: Son of David. And the Messiah’s response to Bartimaeus is not “You are healed” but “Go, your faith has saved you”. A closer reading of the Gospel reveals that blindness actually describes a lack of faith and not the lack of vision.

Thus the Gospel invites us to take a second look at how blind we can be in recognising the Lord and how slow we can be in responding to Him. What sort of faith are we to have?

First, faith is a kind of vision. As far as the eyes can see, we call that the horizon. Now, the horizon we have is provided by our vantage point. What happens is that the higher our vantage point is, the further the distance of our horizon will be! Faith is a vantage point because it allows our eyes to peer into a horizon beyond what our eyes can see.

But, the truth is, many of us are limited in our horizon because we cannot see beyond ourselves. Looking at oneself is not a bad proposition. For example, it is said that “feeling good” about oneself allows us to feel good about others. Or, you cannot give to others what you do not have. However, the challenge is not to allow this “looking inward” or introspection BE just about the self—my needs, my wants, my ambitions, my hurts, my dreams and my vision etc. The “self”, important as it may be, can also be a limitation to horizon because it prevents faith from seeing beyond what we are capable of to what God is capable of.

Faith allows a person to see beyond the self to what is possible. Jesus himself saw beyond the fig tree that Nathaniel was under. He saw a Nathaniel destined to do great things. Jesus saw beyond the sycamore tree that Zacchaeus was on top of. He saw a Zacchaeus who would be converted to a vision of just relationship.

Jesus’ “vision”—what he saw—was not entirely the result of positive thinking because He did see unsavoury business taking place in the Temple and He drove them all out. He lamented the hardness of heart in the Pharisees and the Scribes. In the age of positive thinking, what we think of as “faith” may not be more than what it is: positive thinking. The horizon of faith is deeper and wider than just being an eternal optimist.

Faith frees the heart to feel, the mind to think further and the imagination to dream. The vision of faith allows us to peer beyond the veil of superficial or cosmetic appearance. Thus, when faith is shallow, the mind constricts, the heart chills and the imagination dies. When faith is weak we become engrossed or obsessed with what is only the appearance. Reliance on God becomes more tiring when we have no faith.

In summary, do note that Mark does not normally name the character in play. Hence, Bartimaeus is so named because Mark highlights the pivotal role faith must play in our lives. What we have today is “self-confidence”. It does not lead to Christ. Only with faith will we recognise Jesus and more so Him in the widow, the poor and the orphan. Only with faith will we follow Him and serve Him in those who are “set aside” by society. Furthermore, you see how powerful faith is. As a beggar, Bartimaeus depended on his cloak. The cloak acts as a “net” to catch whatever coins that are thrown at him. When Jesus offered Himself to Bartimaeus, he shrugged off his cloak of dependence and followed Jesus. We all depend on the cloak of our self-confidence. We depend on our capability or strength. But, Bartimaeus shows us who we should really depend on.

Faith is the only key to discipleship and salvation. We need faith to recognise Jesus, to know Him and to shrug off any encumbrances that prevent us from following Him. We need to pray for that gift.