Believing is Seeing
Thirtieth Sunday of the Year. Fr Duncan Campbell wonders whether we can only be cured of our spiritual blindness by following Jesus, like Bartimaeus, on the Way.
The Gospel is about a beggar who was blind being instantly healed. It was enough to lift him out of such total destitution as we can hardly imagine today. We can be thankful that we live in such a different world. Society’s natural response today is to provide medical care for the sick and invalids, and support for the destitute. Stories of healing like this may have introduced such concern. It is simply wonderful that there is the goodwill to do it all, and the power to do it. The Gospel story, as always, is well worth examining in detail:
The poor man hears a crowd passing by. He is told they were following the Rabbi Jesus. The man is named — a sign that this is all quite real. Was he known to the writer, and his readers, at the time? Had he become a member of the ‘company’ around Christ? The whole happening seems well remembered. It was there; it could be checked.
The man’s desperation made him bold, unreasonable, demanding, imaginative. He shouts aloud, so rudely that people try to hush him. He is also saying something — ‘Son of David!’ It is suggested that this might have been dangerous. It was almost like saying, ‘Your Majesty!’ Jesus was to die at the hands of the Romans for even allowing thinking and talking like this. ‘King of the Jews’ was hung accusingly and contemptuously as his title when he was executed.
But Jesus stops and has the man brought to him. The man’s need was so great and his trust so appealing that the risk had to be taken. The conversation was strange; it followed almost a ceremonious pattern. He is asked what he wants, as if the thing he needed wasn’t obvious. He makes the brave, preposterous request — to be able to see again. This is instantly granted. He is then told that his own ‘faith’ had cured — more than cured, had ‘saved’ him. Because more seemed to be expected of this man; and ‘he followed him on the way’.
Jesus’s people called themselves ‘followers of the Way’ from the very start — perhaps a better name than ‘the Christians’ that others called them; more meaningful and not so divisive. Following this ‘way’ isn’t so simple today, if it ever was. Many now, it seems, just don’t. There are memories and survivals of a once widespread following; of old ‘ages of faith’. We inherit services — christenings, weddings and funerals; but many don’t inhabit them, or follow them, or see them, really. Day to day life seems to be seen by many in quite a different light.
For instance, it can seem as if we today (‘of little faith’?) aren’t able to cure anyone now. Miracles of healing are expected at Lourdes; but carefully monitored, and very infrequent. Someone said the miracle at Lourdes is just — Lourdes; where the sick are ‘guests of honour’. St Bernadette, in her own later pain and disability, mysteriously said of the healing water there — which she herself had opened up for the world — ‘That spring is not for me.’ Can we see this? That dramatic cures aren’t the way now? They aren’t needed? In the way?
Pope John Paul II said: ‘Human suffering evokes compassion. It also evokes respect’ and ‘It can be said that each person, in a special fashion, becomes the way for the Church, when suffering enters their life.’
Is this the way? For all of us? To see another, better way? To see as something momentous, mysterious, that all the wrongs in the world are to-be-put-right? Not be blind to such insight?
Are we honoured if we are involved, ourselves, in sorrow — as an important way to follow?
It was far, far more important that the man in the story followed Jesus than that he just saw other people and things. Following Jesus’ way, he saw far more.
We must think of these things all our lives. We should want to, try to — and find we too have to ask to — see them. That is what all our lives are for.
Readings:Jeremiah 31:7-9 | Hebrews 5:1-6 | Mark 10:46-52