Jesus asks a question

Imagine it if you can. Jesus, the Son of God, the miracle worker, the controversial, dangerous teacher, looks at you and asks, "What do you want me to do for you?"

Some people might take this as an Aladdin-like event and bargain for three wishes, thus hedging their bets. Perhaps you know immediately what your response would be, but maybe some little intuition warns you that this is the most important question you have ever been asked.

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Thirtieth Sunday in
Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm 126
Hebrews 5:1-6
Mark 10:46-52

Last week, we heard the disciples ask Jesus to grant them one wish. When he asked, "What do you want me to do for you?", they inadvertently exposed their self-seeking and lack of understanding of Jesus' mission by asking for places of celebrity by his side.

Bartimaeus, whose name can be translated as "son of fear" or "son of honor," accepted the fact that he had to be a beggar because he was blind. Whether he was blind from birth or as the result of an accident or illness makes little difference. His disability precluded his filling a responsible role in society. He could never aspire to read the Scriptures; he was clumsy and awkward and had more than once been treated as a hindrance.

The position he chose to occupy demonstrated his belief that all he could do was sit by the road and ask for the pity of passers-by. Then along that road came Jesus, and Bartimaeus heard word of it. (If there was one thing he was good at, it was listening.)

Bartimaeus, knowing he had absolutely nothing to lose, and having nobody to help him, started to cry out. What he had heard led him to frame his shout as an act of hopeful faith: "Son of David! Have pity on me!"

Nobody had ever called on Jesus or asked for something in exactly that way. A centurion had asked for healing for his servant, some friends had placed their paralyzed friend before Jesus, Jairus had asked on behalf of his daughter, but nobody had called out like this.

Knowing that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Bartimaeus chose his words carefully. He had been told that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, but he called out to the "Son of David." Instead of shouting his name, Bartimaeus called him using a title that appears here for the first time in Mark's Gospel. The rarely used "Son of David" acclaimed Jesus as part of the kingly line and had clear, if only intimated, messianic implications.

While he was hardly a theologian, Bartimaeus was in a position to make his cry a very important statement of faith. First of all, he was a beggar, a person deeply aware of his need for God's help. Secondly, Bartimaeus was by the side of the road Jesus was taking to Jerusalem, and thus his recognition of Jesus' role included the inevitable suffering toward which Jesus was moving.

When Jesus called Bartimaeus to come to him, he leapt up, leaving behind his beggar's garb without any hint of a second thought. Then, standing before Jesus in total vulnerability, Bartimaeus heard that question: "What do you want me to do for you?"

Bartimaeus had a ready answer, one sufficiently open-ended to be a more-than-adequate response: "Master, I want to see."

In the presence of the disciples, who had fearfully refused to perceive the meaning of Jesus' teaching about his coming passion, Bartimaeus sought not simply vision but understanding. Jesus replied that his faith had brought him all that he needed and told him to go his way.

The last line of the story completes the tale: Bartimaeus followed him on the way. Jesus' way had become his own. For what more could he ask?

This week's Gospel invites us to place ourselves along the way with Bartimaeus to contemplate and admit our own blind spots. To the extent that we can recognize our own blindness, we can also call out with Bartimaeus to ask for help, repeating as necessary the "Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy" that the liturgy itself puts on our lips.

Then, if we can scrounge up the interior freedom and courage to do so honestly, we may repeat with Bartimaeus, "Master, I want to see." When we do that, our faith assures us that the Son of God present in word, sacrament and the community will lead us beyond any horizon we had previously envisioned.

[Mary McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. She is a freelance writer and executive director of FUVIRESE USA.]

This story appeared in the Oct 9-22, 2015 print issue under the headline: Jesus asks a question .

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