October 28, 2012
The curing of a blind man in today’s gospel passage is remarkable for several reasons. First of all, it is quite unusual in the gospels to give a name to the person healed and this suggests that Bartimaeus was a recognizable member of the early Christian community from which Mark’s gospel came.
Secondly, the blind man refers to Jesus as “son of David,” a clearly Messianic title, but Jesus does not correct him, as he does elsewhere in Mark’s gospel out of concern that he be seen as a political Messiah. No doubt the fact that he has by now made it clear that “the Son of man must suffer many things” (8:31), there is less danger of mistaking him for one who will lead them in a war of liberation against the Romans.
Finally, it is worth noting that this is the last miracle of Jesus in Mark’s gospel prior to his death and resurrection. As such, it forms a kind of book-end with another curing of a blind man in 8:22ff. This may very well be intended as a way of highlighting the transfiguration of Jesus (9:2ff). These blind men receive their sight just as Jesus is illuminated as he discovers the full meaning of his messianic mission. He has been sent to save the world through his loving rather than through violence. In all three cases, though in very different ways, an enlightenment is portrayed. This suggests that the real cure of blindness, for Bartimaeus and for all of us, involves a discovery of the true purpose of our human existence, namely, that we, like Jesus, must “die” for others by loving them to the end.
All of the miracles of Jesus have symbolic as well as historical significance. They certainly have an historical basis and certainly did establish the credibility of Jesus for those who were open-minded. At the same time, they represent the healing through Jesus of various spiritual maladies. Christians of all ages are in danger of spiritual blindness because they do not “see” that human life is primarily for loving concern and not for acquiring power or for building monuments. Jesus also cured paralytics, whose muscles were non-functional, just as he is prepared to heal the far more dangerous spiritual paralysis of cynicism and negativity. In a similar way, Jesus is prepared to “drive out the demons” in our lives by helping us to experience the presence of God and thus to be delivered from the chaos of a life of confusion and disorientation.
Of course, there are many who are too “practical” to allow for this kind of divine influence in their lives. They are represented by the crowd in today’s gospel who “rebuked” the blind man, telling him to be silent. We note with wonder that they nonetheless respond to Jesus’ command to “call him” by saying to Bartimaeus, “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.” We would all be much happier people if we also could bring ourselves, in faith, to offer this same encouragement to the people in need whom we meet every day.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.