Faith Comes Before Seeing

10-24-2021Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

The prophecy of Jeremiah found in the first reading was selected because it provides an initial insight into our Gospel passage. Clearly God's compassion, described in the first reading prepares us to learn about the compassion of Jesus for the blind, desperate Bartimaeus.

From the first reading we realize that people who are bound and captured and also exiled in a strange land always pay close attention to their captors and oppressors. They can sense the slightest nuance of change, and now in this passage they can sense change. They know that their captors are now threatened by others and are becoming weaker. The once powerful Assyrians are losing their power as the Babylonians and Medes begin to overwhelm them. The Assyrians seem to be concluding that these exiled Jewish captives are not worth the time and effort and so they should send these foreigners back home.

This is good news for the Jews and Jeremiah tells them that this is the result of the work of God. The remnant of Israel is going home. Everyone now receives the fullest extent of God's compassion. This includes the lame and blind as well as the enduring but more vulnerable expectant mothers. All the Jews will be comforted and guided by the Lord. In fact, the road will be smoothed out; it will even pass by fresh brooks. Comfort and refreshment are the order of the day. And thus, in this passage the father of Israel speaks to Ephraim, Israel's first-born.

And as we see in the Gospel, something is circling above the head of Bartimaeus. We know that his other senses compensate for his lack of sight. He hears and feels and smells on a higher level than a sighted person. What is special is that this very day Jesus of Nazareth and his disciples and a sizeable crowd move out of Jericho into the open country and are going by him.

Bartimaeus comes to understand that this is his moment, and he needs to make the most out of it. So Bartimaeus shouts out the name of Jesus, even adding a title to his name. The people are very embarrassed and do their best to get him to keep still. The opposite happens and he shouts all the louder. In the end, Jesus hears him and asks that Bartimaeus be brought near. Jesus then talks to him. Note that Jesus did not presume to know what Bartimaeus really wanted. What this blind man wanted was sight, and what he brought to this very moment is his firm, noisy faith.

We discover that inner-seeing faith saved Bartimaeus. Indeed, that faith brought the sunlit world into the eyes of a blind man. This true inner vision made possible the first sight Bartimaeus ever had. And this now once blind man saw Jesus, the Son of David, the Rabbi, his Savior, the true object of his faith. With this newfound sight Bartimaeus then followed Jesus up the road.

The contrast and interplay of sight and insight, of vision and faith, can always hold our imagination. We can conclude that when we begin in faith, the world reveals gifts that might otherwise be hidden. We are much like Bartimaeus when we begin in faith, and then we see, really see. Faith comes before seeing. Indeed, faith comes before understanding. If we begin by believing, we can then ask ourselves how this faith sheds light on the meaning of our everyday life.