Reflection - Are you a Bartimaeus?

Bartimaeus, the Blind Beggar, (Mk 10:46-52) was sitting, begging, isolated, speechless and mute. When he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by he shouted out, "Son of David, have pity on me!" (Matt 15:22, Mk 10:48, Lk 18:38). The crowd who was passing by are giving him poor pastoral advice, "Keep quiet!" But Jesus challenges the crowd, "Let him go free!" It’s important that Bartimaeus finds a language for his loss and pain. He screams, it’s a cry of the heart, a sign of faith.

Where are we along the road? Are we pushing through the crowd shouting, “Jesus, Son of David have pity on me!” Or are we just sitting by the roadside, too depressed and weary to raise our voices?

Suffering can turn us on ourselves; it can reduce us to silence. We may be mourning or grieving for a relative who has died. We may be terrified inside and feeling insecure. We create a false world of independence and fear. Like Bartimaeus we, too, need to find a language for our loss. We won’t be capable of absorbing any of the pain in the world if we haven’t absorbed our own pain. It’s a ministry to help people mourn, talk about their loss and assist them to find meaning in life. There is a lot of suffering in the world that we can’t do anything about. But there is a lot of suffering we can do something about. The 13th century Persian poet expressed it like this:

Something opens our wings
Something makes boredom and pain disappear
Someone fills the cup in front of us
We taste only sacredness

To tell people, “Pray and the problem will go away” isn’t gospel ministry. That would be like the crowd in Jericho telling Bartimaeus to keep silent. If people can’t speak about their loss and pain, they remain locked in it. The kingdom comes through sharing the compassion of Jesus with people, then the pain and the boredom disappear and they taste sacredness.

Jesus asked Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mk 10:51). This is an important question for us too. What do we want Jesus to do for us? We may wish to reflect on this question. At the end of the story Bartimaeus is changed - the Gospel tells us he followed Jesus on the way and became his disciple. What is so exciting about this story is that when Bartimaeus changed, the crowd also changed. This brings about a change in others as well.

Columban Sister Kathleen Coyle has taught theology in the East Asian Pastoral Institute in the Philippines. She now resides in Ireland.

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