Chances are that, by now, our discipleship of Christ has acquired a degree of contained joy, of calculated poise.
Is this fine? It would be fine for any human situation, but certainly not enough for those who claim to be following the Son of David, the Savior of the world. Both the Prophet Jeremiah (31:7-9) and the Gospel of Mark (10:46-52) urge us to break all rules of propriety and subdued behavior and shout with joy for Jacob.
They both insist that we exult in the Lord and cry out without restrain: Jesus, son of David, have pity on me!
Now, why is our Church urging us to break all rules of correctness and be filled with irrepressible enthusiasm as we gather to celebrate the wondrous deeds of our God? Such insistence is due, precisely, to the fact that we should acknowledge a radical difference between what we can reasonably expect from other human beings and what the Lord can do for us.
From the angle of true discipleship, it would be inexcusable and unexplainable to be less than emotionally untamed and filled with uncontrollable joy and expectation before the Lord. For a genuine disciple of Christ, to feel, to think, and to act habitually in a controlled fashion would be a clear indication of being unmindful of the resurrection, of the fact that has transformed reality forever.
- How can a genuine follower of the Risen Lord remain unaffected by the incredible fact that pain, tears, injustices, hurts, darkness, despair, and death itself have all been vanquished by our almighty God?
- Upon this sober consideration, shall we raise the bar of our expectations of what our God can do for us; shall we be like Bartimaeus and refuse to keep quiet, or are we going to find ourselves, again, in the amorphous group of insipid disciples walking near Jesus as if he were an ordinary man?
- Do we have a contingency plan if our closeness to Jesus were to prove problematic?
- Do we follow him but with an escape route all planned out were the heat get to be a bit too intense?
So it is possible that, looking back into our past, we might notice justifiable disappointments and letdowns when, instead, they should have been considered regrets. From a mere earthly angle, we might identify some painful disappointments because, seemingly, our God had ignored our pleas and we were left to lick our wounds with a few, if any, friends at our side.
But if we were true disciples, mindful of being destined one day to share in the resurrection, we should instead have regrets because our cries for help were very subdued and our expectations too “reasonable.” This can still happen to us even if we might have progressed spiritually: our expectations are often quite “reasonable” because we do not want to look foolish if the Lord wouldn’t grant us the favor for which we prayed.
The gospel attributes this tendency towards reasonable expectations, this lack of enthusiasm, to blindness. The gospel finds it paradoxical that Bartimaeus, who is blind, can see accurately all the power and all the desire to heal that the Son of David packs in his human frame. But the disciples who have been close to Jesus for three years cannot see all that and try to reduce Bartimaeus’ expectations to fall within the parameters of what is reasonable to expect from a kind human being.
I, as a priest, as one who is supposed to be seeing evidence of Jesus’ power everywhere; there is an additional embarrassing paradox to consider. It is summarized by this sentence: “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”
Well, well. How often have I invited you to take courage, to have faith, to heed Christ’s call; yet, there are too many times when I forget about the resurrection and I allow fear and apprehension to obscure my vision and weigh down my heart. When that happens I cannot sound convincing in my efforts to bring comfort and reassurance to those who are hurting and frightened. How embarrassing to admit my blindness!
But I am sure that you understand. You know that what the letter to the Hebrews (5:1-6) writes is so very true: Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people.
It is liberating and very realistic of me to acknowledge that I must sit by the roadside with you begging. I, too, am unable and reluctant to walk with Jesus on the way from the lush oasis of Jericho all the way up to the rugged soil of Jerusalem. Yes, my brothers and sisters in the Lord, we are all shackled by our miseries, fears, self-absorption, frustrations, hesitations. Yes, we are all blind to the boundless power of what the Lord can and wishes to do to us.
Hence, let today be the day on which we capitalize on the news that Jesus, the Son of David is passing by or, rather that he is stopping by and takes pity on us. Let us not allow our blindness to the power of the Lord, our shaky faith keep us within the confinements of calculated expectations. We should never forget again that we are before our Risen Lord. We are here to celebrate the “mother of all victories” over the darkest, most impossible situations we might find ourselves in. So, with Bartimaeus, we can throw aside our “cloak.” We can rid ourselves of all our little pretexts, gimmicks, palliatives, status quos, crutches into which passers by have been dropping the little tokens of their pity and settle boldly, courageously, for nothing less than full, unrestrained, enthusiastic discipleship of Christ.
We should all cry out full-throatedly, without a trace of hesitation: “Master, I want to see! No more following you half-heartedly, with lukewarmness. At long last, I intend to let everyone know that what I expect of you in nothing less than to grant me full, unconditional trust in your power, in your love.” It is quite significant that the curing of our blindness is the last miracle recorded by Mark before the resurrection. The message is quite clear, inescapable: to join Bartimaeus in following Jesus up the rugged road to Jerusalem entails embracing powerlessness, insignificance, struggles, rejections, hurts and anything else connected to the cross.
But it is also the guaranteed assurance of the abiding presence of Jesus who has risen from the dead and desires to share that victory with each one of us even now by giving us the type of hope that is capable of withstanding all challenges.