After my Mass last Sunday evening, a friend sent me a text message about their janitor who had committed suicide at the top floor of their new school building that afternoon. She had sought my opinion a few weeks ago about that janitor suffering from depression, and later brought him to a professional for evaluation and counselling by personally paying for it. But his condition deteriorated until he hanged himself that Sunday afternoon. What is very disturbing with the suicide story is the seeming lack of support for the victim by their school officials. And, as if to rub salt on his wounds, an HR officer of the school went to see the janitor at their home Friday before the suicide to serve his termination paper after going on AWOL for several weeks. It seemed to be the final straw that hit the camel’s back, so to speak, that the poor janitor had totally lost all hopes in life that led to his tragic end Sunday afternoon. My friend was very sad, deeply pained – and rightly so! – as it happened in their Catholic school run by religious priests and brothers. Suicides do happen especially these days and there is no need to blame or pin on anybody, but to hear stories of neglect and lack of concern is another thing. One life is always too many to lose in senseless deaths like suicide. As I prayed over today’s gospel, I cannot resist seeing in that school janitor the blind Bartimaeus, begging and shouting for attention, seeking compassion but alas, many in the crowd were so blind that they ignored him, except maybe Jesus, who knows might be passing by that Sunday afternoon and stopped for another lost soul in our modern Jericho.
As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizeable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage; get up, he is calling you.” He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way. (Mk.10:46-52)
Last Sunday we reflected how Jesus wanted us to be radical in following Him by going back to the roots (radix in Latin) of our discipleship which is His Cross of suffering and death. To be radical disciples of Jesus, we also reflected of the need to subvert or overturn our secular ideas of leadership based on power and position by imitating Christ’s kind of loving service that is always hidden in humility. Today’s gospel is more than a story of the healing of Bartimaeus but also of responding to Jesus’ call for us to remove our different kinds of blindness that prevent us from closely following Him on the road to Jerusalem. And the first step healing our blindness is deepening our faith in Jesus as the Christ. Recall that the journey of Jesus back to Jerusalem started at Caesarea Philippi last month when He asked the fundamental question every disciple must personally answer, “who do you say that I am?” (Mk.8:29)
Bartimaeus was physically blind but it was very clear with him that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the “Son of David” who would save Israel. Despite his blindness, Bartimaeus “saw” in Jesus through the many stories he must have heard about Him that He is the fulfillment of God’s promise that Jeremiah prophesied in our first reading, “the Lord shall deliver Israel and bring her back from exile, gathering them all especially the blind and the lame, consoling them and guiding them to brooks of water, on a level road, so that none shall stumble.” (Jer.31:7-9) His physical disability did not hinder Bartimaeus in growing in faith, “seeing” God as a loving Father who looks after His children especially the sick like him, healing and consoling them that he shouted “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” Observe that despite his being a blind beggar, Bartimaeus neither asked for his sight nor for any money or material thing except for God Himself. When he told Jesus that he wanted to see, it was actually a plea for deeper faith in God! Contrast this with the request of the “seeing” Twelve who were all blinded with ambitions, always debating who among them is the greatest, always seeing selves but not God and others.
In my 20 years of priesthood, I have realized that most people who come for help are more in need of spiritual things like the warmth of friendship, a pair of listening ears for their many burdens with some sprinklings of humor, a lot of affirmation, prayers and compassion. Faith in God always leads to faith with others who are also looking for someone to encourage and guide them to grow and mature in that faith. In our modern Jericho of today, may we share Jesus to the many Bartimaeus longing for that warm and loving human face who can recognize and smile at them, pat their shoulders, and soothe their souls by accompanying them in their journey in life that is often filled with many pains and hurts. Let us not be blinded with life’s many pursuits where there are no real winners that later in life would fill us with many regrets that make us wish to have loved and smiled more, have been more forgiving, kinder or crazier and funnier.
Being healed of our blindness to mature in deep faith in Christ is a long process. This is why Jesus is always passing by, calling us in spite of our blindness for He knows so well our weaknesses. He is willing to stop to heal us so we could regain our sight, asking us with the same question He had asked Bartimaeus and the brothers James and John last week, “What do you want me to do for you?” Like Bartimaeus, we can only answer that question truthfully if we are willing to leave the roadside to follow Jesus on the middle of the road that is always filled with danger and difficulties. Like Bartimaeus, we can only answer that question truthfully if we can throw aside our cloaks, to strip ourselves naked of the many false securities we rely on that hamper us in our journey to Jerusalem. Trust only in Jesus the Christ like Bartimaeus, following Him every Sunday in the Eucharist where He, as our High Priest (second reading) gives us His Body and Blood to restore our sight and strength in this journey. Amen. A blessed Sunday to you!Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan 3022. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
*Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA-7 News, sunset in Dubai, October 2018. Used with permission.