"If I cannot listen to the subtle manifestation of rich reality in my environment, I will necessarily try to impose my wilful codes on others. If I am not open to reality and do not obey the voice of reality, a terrible distortion takes place. Sooner or later I will turn the whole relationship around: Instead of listening to reality in people and events, I become convinced that reality in people and events should listen to me."

[Adrian van Kaam, The Art of Existential Counseling, Dimension Books, 1966, 80.]

Gospel for Thirtieth Sunday (25 October 2015)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

JGospelThey came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:46-52 - NRSV)

Introductory notes

Similar stories are found in Matthew 20.29–34 and Luke 18.35–43.

The story of blind man at Bethsaida – see Mark 8:22 – begins in the same way as this story: “They came to Bethsaida”.

“Jericho (along with Damascus) lays claim to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on earth. It lies 840 feet below sea level, some twenty torturous miles and 3,500 feet below Jerusalem to the southwest.” (J R Edwards, J. R., The Gospel According to Mark, W B Eerdmans, 2002, 329.)

At the outset, this “blind beggar” is “sitting by the roadside”. The story ends with him “on the way”. This man who has been an outsider is now a disciple. The presence of Jesus has given new definition to his life.

“There is an air of expectancy as Jesus the Nazarene passes his way. This is only the second time Mark has identified Jesus as the Nazarene. The NIV reads “Jesus of Nazareth,” but the Greek is not “Nazareth” (Nazaret) as in 1:9, which doubtlessly designates a place name (see further at 6:1), but “Nazarene” (Nazarēnos; so 1:24; 10:47; 14:67; 16:6; see further at 1:24). At the first (1:24) and last (10:47) healing miracles in the Gospel Mark designates Jesus as “the Nazarene.” In both instances the term probably connotes more than Jesus’ place of origin. A similar expression is used of Samson in Judg 16:17 (LXX, A text), who is called naziraios theou, God’s powerfully anointed one. Mark’s use of the term “Nazarene” in the healing stories of 1:24 and 10:47 may also carry connotations of Jesus’ powerful anointing by God.” (Ibid)

“Hearing of Jesus, Bartimaeus cries out, “ ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ ” Ever since the promise of 2 Sam 7:11–14 that God would raise up an offspring to David and “establish the throne of his kingdom forever,” pious Israelites had awaited a Davidic descendant as Messiah. The actual title “Son of David” first appears in the middle of the first century B.C. in Pss. Sol. 17:21. There, however, it refers to a warrior king who will punish sinners, whereas here it refers to one who will have mercy on them. Bartimaeus’s determined hailing of Jesus as “Son of David” carries explicit messianic overtones and shows that he looks to him as the Messiah who can bring healing and wholeness.” (J R Edwards, op cit, 330.)

Bartimaeus reminds us of an old saying: The Kingdom of Heaven is not for the well-meaning it is for the desperate!

“According to the NIV, Bartimaeus says, Rabbi, I want to see.’ The Greek, however, uses a more reverent epithet, ‘Rabbouni’ (so also John 20:16). In extant Jewish literature rabbouni is seldom used with reference to humanity, and practically never as a form of address. It is frequently used as an address to God in prayer, however. Its use here suggests Bartimaeus’s—and Mark’s—estimation of Jesus.” (J R Edwards, op cit, 331.)

In last Sunday’s Gospel we heard Jesus ask James and John – the Sons of Thunder! – “what do you want me to do for you” (Mark 10:35). He asks the same question of the blind beggar. Note the difference in their intent and Jesus’ reply: James and John are making a grab for power and Jesus pulls them up short with a reminder of what is involved in the Kingdom he is bringing about; the blind beggar simply wants to see again and Jesus blesses him for his faith. James and John and the (formerly) blind beggar then follow Jesus.

Reflection

James and John are afflicted with a spiritual blindness, they do not “see” Jesus for who and what he is. Presumably, their eyesight is fine. The blind beggar – who wants to see as James and John can see – “sees” Jesus for who and what he is. The blind beggar actually sees what James and John cannot yet see.

This gets to the heart of what spirituality is. Spirituality is about “seeing”. It is probably fair to say that most people spend most of their lives blind to what really matters. They might be said to sleep-walk through life. Spirituality is about awakening – daily!

Contemplation relates to spirituality both as cause and effect. The awakening that is spirituality leads us into contemplation and contemplation leads us into a deeper awakening. Thomas Merton puts it nicely:

“Contemplation is the highest expression of man’s intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source. Contemplation is above all awareness of the reality of that Source.” (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, New Directions, 1962, 1.)

Perhaps we do not know what it is we really want until – or unless – we can see?