Bartimaeus was a beggar. What else could he do in Jericho now he was blind? He couldn’t practice any craft. Any job which required reading or writing was out of the question. Jericho was a good place to beg because of the constant flow of travellers up and down the steep, desert road to Jerusalem. Now that Passover was imminent thousands of pilgrims were using that road to get to the great festival.
Perhaps a boy, a young member of his family, led him from his house to his usual spot in the shade of a tree beside the Jerusalem road. As Bartimaeus passed through the crowd he listened to what they were saying. He might be blind but his hearing was excellent. One voice was saying: ‘ The prophet from Nazareth is going up to Jerusalem today with a great crowd of disciples’. Another replied: ‘But they say he was born in Bethlehem, King David’s birthplace’. Another voice: ‘You know he has healed hundreds, people with all kinds of diseases, even the disabled and demoniacs.’ Bartimaeus felt a surge of hope and joy. He could restore my sight! I must get to him.
He stood up and began to shout, ‘Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!’ They told him to shut up. ‘He’s not here yet’. But as he heard the crowd begin to cheer he shouted all the louder. In all that din Jesus heard him and told his companions to fetch the blind man. ‘What do you want?’
Jesus asked him. ‘My sight’ Bartimaeus replied.
And then, at that very moment, he saw the face of Jesus. He could see his Saviour. Immediately he grabbed his cloak and hurried after the huge band of followers of the Lord: the twelve, the group of women who looked after Jesus and with them his blessed Mother and Mary Magdalene, and many, many more. All were going with Jesus up the desert road to Jerusalem.
The healing of Bartimaeus can teach us something about how we should intercede. When we ask God for help either for ourselves or for another, we need to shout like Bartimaeus. I don’t mean literally that we should pray out loud. But we do need to ask fervently and frequently. Our prayer should show that we really mean it. It should not be a casual, take it or leave it asking God. Some told Bartimaeus to stop shouting for Jesus but he wasn’t discouraged and neither should we. We can be discouraged in all kinds of ways. We may give up our prayer for help because it seems no help is forthcoming. The remedy is to persevere in faith that God wants to help us, as Bartimaeus did. When he heard that Jesus wanted to see him he threw off his cloak, his outer garment. We should rid ourselves of anything that hinders us from interceding for God’s help for ourselves and for others in need. Even those with little faith in God seem to be grateful when we say that we are praying for them. It’s an indication of our loving concern for them.
Today’s Gospel has a special significance for me. When I was a student at the Hostel of the Resurrection in Leeds I became a close friend of a Hungarian student who came to live with us. His name was Barnabas Gurani. He had been involved in fighting the Russian tanks in Budapest in 1956.
He and his sister escaped to England and because he was a brilliant Chemistry student he came to Leeds University to continue his studies. His professor arranged for him to stay at the Hostel. Unfortunately his kidneys became diseased and his death was inevitable. I visited him in the Leeds Infirmary on his last day. The Warden of the Hostel had ministered to him and had read to him the story of the healing of blind Bartemeaus.
I wondered why he chose to read that. On reflection I think it may have been the last sentence of the Gospel. ‘And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the road.’ Jesus was going to Jerusalem. As he had predicted several times he knew he was going to his death by crucifixion. Like Barnabas Jesus died a young man. But his death was not the end. On the third day Jesus rose from the dead to live for ever
Barnabas Gurani like Bartimaeus followed Jesus on the road to death and to resurrection. Alleluia. Amen.
Crispin Harrison CR