Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve been completely powerless? Actually, I was in one of those the other evening! Now, apparently everybody thinks that one of my distinguishing characteristics in my homilies is talking about the Cardinals. I’m not saying that you’re right, but I’m going to do that right now. The other night, I’m sure there were a lot of St. Louis fans that felt powerless as our beloved team was destroyed by the San Francisco Giants. It was frustrating. In an age of pitch-tracking technology, all of us could see which pitches were outside or out of the strike one, and now matter how loudly we yelled at the TV for the Cardinals not to swing at that junk, they would always do it! No matter what we did, or what prayers we said, or if we wore our rally caps, nothing was changing the situation. Being powerless is not fun because we like to be in control of our own destiny.
In the Gospel today, we hear about Jesus healing this blind man named Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus is a really interesting and powerful character in the Gospel, and he is struggling with blindness. Now of course, it would be a boring homily to just talk about his physical blindness, and I would have no idea what I’m talking about, so it’s important that we’re seeing this as a spiritual story too. Spiritual blindness is always seen as a lack of faith. It means that Bartimaeus, and all of us when we’re spiritually blind, don’t see what we’re meant to see. It’s an inability to see God present and working in our lives. So he’s blind.
But Bartimaeus is also a beggar, and this is probably a fairly overlooked point. You know, religion is different from any other institution on earth because it proposes a solution to an idea that within our power, we cannot solve. If you think about it, we always want to solve problems, and most of them we can. Car mechanics are great examples of this. Now I have no idea what to do when someone tells me that I have a broken catalytic converter or something, but in theory, with enough time, money, and know-how, there is no problem with a car that someone can’t fix. But it’s not the same with sin. Sin is a problem with the will and the mind becoming twisted and perverse, and more mind or will isn’t going to fix it. No yoga class or aromatherapy is going to fix the problem of sin. Spiritually speaking, we’re all beggars – we can’t fix any of our spirtual problems and we all depend on God. So in this story, we’re meant to identify with Bartimaeus, who like us, is a beggar.
Now there’s a really cool detail here. When Bartimaeus is calling out to Jesus for help, he says, “Son of David, have pity on me!” In Greek, that’s “eleison me, eleison me!” Actually, at the beginning of Mass, we say the same thing: “Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison.” Essentially, it could be translated, “Lord, have pity on me. Christ, have pity on me. Lord, have pity on me,” – just like the blind man! At the beginning of every Mass, we’re putting our lives into context. We’re putting ourselves ritually in the position of Bartimaeus in that we realize that we are beggars and we need help. Actually, that’s the virtue of Bartimaeus in the Gospel – he knows that he’s a beggar, and that he can’t fix his own problems, and so he calls out to Christ to save him.
I’m sure that there are a lot of people here who have found themselves in the same situation. There are people who find themselves overwhelmed with the family situation, or health issues, or financial stuff, or the overall situation of the world today. There are people who are overwhelmed with some attachment to sin that they can’t seem to be rid of. And what does that feel like? That’s right – complete powerlessness. No matter how hard you try, you can’t fix this. You can’t do it on your own power. You are a beggar like Bartimaeus, and the only thing you can do in these troubling and desperate situations is call out to God.
It’s an important detail, actually, that Bartimaeus is the only person helped by Jesus who is recorded by name. Scripture scholars have suggested that it was because he probably became an early Christian convert, and so it was Mark’s way of pointing out to other Christians someone they might know by name in their midst. Whether we realize it or not, probably know people who are weak like ourselves, where everything seems stacked up against us. I mean, I’m one of them! That’s why I’m here! St. Paul tells us that “every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring (that’s you), for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people.” The second reading is one of my favorites of all time, and was read at my ordination to the priesthood. And honestly, every day that I’m a priest, I realize how true it is. I can tell you for a fact that I’m not worthy to be here. I am not qualified to be here. And only God and I know the full extent of that statement, but it’s the truth. Lots of times, people have trouble going to confession because they worry about what the priest is going to say or think about them. But to be honest, this is what I see: I see a sinner, someone who is weak – like me. But I see someone who, despite being powerless to save themselves is reaching out like Bartimaeus to Christ, striving to be a disciple.
It is tough to have faith. Lots of people start out with faith as children, or have inherited at least the practice of their faith from their parents or friends. But they’re not entirely convinced by it. They can’t see God (obviously). Conversation with God is not exactly the same as it is with anyone else. They want faith – they want to be able to see what God sees – but it’s too difficult or too discouraging. And let’s face it, our society isn’t exactly big on faith. I mean, maybe it enjoys the trappings of faith, like little angels or WWJD bracelets. But when our faith challenges us to live it? When it challenges us to look at our social views, our economic views, or even our political views beyond what we ourselves might want to control? Probably a lot of us find ourselves in a situation where we need faith. And even though people discourage you, or the culture or the situation of your life discourages you, don’t give up. Keep calling. Keep persisting. Keep enduring. That’s ultimately what brought Christ to Bartimaeus’ side, and that is what will bring Christ to ours as well.
When Bartimaeus is called, it’s interesting how he responds – he throws off his cape. Umm, wait a second…he’s blind. If this whole Jesus thing doesn’t work out, how’s he going to find it again? That’s pretty much all his security and protection against rain, cold, or whatever. It’s pretty much everything he has. Do you see what we’re being taught here? He abandons himself to God in order to run to him. That is what faith is: abandonment to God. Faith is leaving behind all the things that we want to keep ourselves self-sufficient, leaving behind all the things we want to control but can’t.
So as we come near to the Lord in the Eucharist today, we recognize that we are beggars totally dependent on the mercy of God to make us whole. May we rise then, leaving our powerlessness behind, and give ourselves to his loving care.