The Blind in our Midst
“…many rebuked Bartimaus, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.”Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage; get up, he is calling you.” (Mark 10:48-49)
There is so much going on in today’s gospel reading. Jesus is leaving Jericho with a “sizable” crowd. When one is with a crowd, the herd mentality sets in. The crowd is focused on one thing whether it’s a long line at the store or at a ballgame or a concert; the crowd has a common goal or a common interest. In this case, the crowd was focused on following Jesus and not letting anything or anyone distract them from getting between them and the Lord. Now normally that in and of itself is a good thing, but not when one has such narrow vision that you ignore the needy in your midst or are just plain rude to those around you. This is also a common trait of a crowd: don’t distract the herd from it’s goal lest you be submitted to ridicule or shame. For example, a fan of the opposing team at a ballgame or someone who takes too long at the checkout counter or someone who is holding up traffic on the expressway. Crowds have very little patience and even less tolerance. And so it is in today’s gospel. A blind man hears that Jesus is coming so he cries out to him: “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” Bartimaeus addresses Jesus with a Messianic title, but the crowd has no time for him. They tell him to be silent which only prompts the blind man to call out all the more to Jesus.
And this is where things start to change for everyone involved in this story. Jesus stops. He says, “Call him.” Jesus singles out the blind man, and because he has done this, the crowd changes its tune. They go from rejecting Bartimaeus to encouraging him: “Take courage, get up, he is calling you.” Why did the crowd have such a complete transformation? Why were their eyes opened to the reality of this poor man? Well put simply, by singling Bartimaeus out, Jesus had restored his dignity. The blind man goes from being ignored and shunned to being recognized and called by the Lord. He is given importance by Jesus, and thus the crowd changes its attitude and their eyes are opened as well to the marginalized in their midst.
We sometimes have this attitude too in our spiritual life and our life here in the church. We tend to be so focused on what we need and what we want in our relationship with Christ that we tend to forget those who are around us. For example, and I mentioned this a few weeks ago, sometimes we come to Mass and are so trapped in our own little liturgical bubble and we sit far away from our brothers and sisters that we have no time to create community in the liturgy. In fact, sometimes it bothers us when we are forced to interact with those around us because we (falsely) think that the Mass is all about Jesus and me when it really is about Jesus making us a community, built up and lifted up by the sacrifice on the altar. So no, we don’t celebrate Mass by ourselves or in a vacuum we have to acknowledge our brother and sister sitting near us because they are Christ in our midst.
Let me bring this last point home with a story from my first months of priesthood in my first parish. I love my first parish. I’ve always said that it’s like my first love that you never forget. They taught me how to be a priest. And as is the case with all loves, there are things that get under your skin. There are many wonderful and holy people that I encountered there especially during the last Mass of the day, which was our biggest Mass. I used to say that because we had so many visitors since some called us a “beach parish” that the parishioners would sit in the first four to five pews of our modest church and the visitors that I couldn’t recognize from week to week would sit behind them. Well, one Sunday during my first summer there, my aunt and uncle (God rest his soul) drove all the way across town to visit me and attend Mass. My uncle sat next to a woman who seemed bothered by his presence like if she didn’t want him or anyone sitting next to her. During the Our Father she would not hold his hand. That’s not a necessity so it can be forgiven, but during the sign of peace she would not exchange the sign of peace with him. It’s as if, like I said before, she was attending Mass in a liturgical bubble where she could not be bothered. Now at the end of Mass, not knowing what was going on in the pews, I noticed my aunt and uncle and pointed them out to the community and welcomed them. At this point, the lady turns to my uncle as if he had just appeared out of nowhere and says: “Oh, so you’re Father’s uncle.” Too which my uncle responded something like “Oh, now I exist.” It was only after I had singled him out that he became visible to this poor woman who I never got to meet yet I’ve always wondered who it was because there are so many good and holy people there that I love dearly there. The priest singled out his uncle and the uncle went from being an unimportant random person to an important relative of the priest that warranted attention
Yes there are people around us, especially at Mass, the “faceless Christ” as Pope Francis likes to call them that need our attention. We need to welcome everyone with open arms and give them the dignity that Christ gave the blind man. Remember that when Bartimaeus finally approaches Jesus, the Lord asks him: “what do you want me to do for you?” Of course, the blind man wants to see, but Pope Francis pointed out in his homily this morning that this question indicates Christ desire “to hear our needs.” So yes, we obviously need to see. As a community we need to see and not get caught up in our rigid ways so that we can be a place of welcome, a place of encounter, a place where dignity is restored to the marginalized, the sinner, and the ostracized.
Jesus, Son of David, have pity on us, and help all of us to see.