By faith and not by sight
A reflection for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
by Fr. Raphael Ma, CR
As a member of a religious community, as well as being a priest, one of my responsibilities is to go on an annual retreat. This may sound more like a privilege than a responsibility, but the Church requires this of her vowed religious and her sacred ministers for their own good, and by extension, for the good of the faithful whom they serve. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the individual, silent, directed retreats in the Ignatian tradition as my preferred format of the annual retreat.
This Sunday’s Gospel is one that I am often assigned to pray with as I begin these retreats. Perhaps that’s because it fits so well with the context of an individual, silent, directed retreat – being alone with God. Bartimaeus, we are told, is a blind beggar. Few things can feel so isolating as blindness, or any other disability or chronic condition for that matter. But we are all more or less in the same boat in this life in our walk with God, which as St. Paul tells us, is “by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7), and so we should be able to imagine ourselves, at least for the moment, in Bartimaeus’ position.
Had Bartimaeus heard of Jesus of Nazareth before? We’re told that Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho. How long had they stayed there? What did he say and do there? Did Bartimeaus hear about these things from others? Was it the talk of the town?
It seems that Bartimaeus had heard about these things, because as soon as he hears it is Jesus passing by, he begins shouting to get his attention:
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
That is quite a direct statement – not something you’d say to a complete stranger – but it was also something that would have gotten his attention. And perhaps it was more than just to get his attention, perhaps it was also an act of hope – “Can you do for me the things I hear you do for others?” Do we lower our expectations of Jesus? Do we think that he will not do for us what we hear he does for other people?
And then comes the perseverance. We’re told that many sternly ordered him to be quiet. This reminds me of other situations like the Syro-Phoenician woman, whom Jesus first does not respond to, and then seems to indirectly, and then directly dismisses.
But he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Do you ever feel like giving up in prayer when God doesn’t seem to answer? In Jesus’ encounter of the Syro-Phoenician woman and with Bartimaeus, there is an inner growth that’s taking place in the midst of adversity. As the outlook looks less and less promising, our faith and hope becomes that much more rooted in God, if we stay our course.
And then Jesus calls, and the winds change. Now all the people who were formerly pushing Bartimaeus away are all of a sudden encouraging him. Have you ever experienced things all of a sudden changing and a path opening up for you? And we can see the hope that has deepened in Bartimaeus as he throws off his cloak – this was very likely his only possession, besides the clothes on his body and sandals on his feet if he had any. And he threw it away – he’s blind! How is he going to find it again? Unless he is convinced that with Jesus, everything is going to be ok. And then come those fateful words, which perhaps we need to hear God speak to each of us, whether it is on a retreat, or just a few quiet moments in prayer:
“What do you want me to do for you?”
What is your answer?
The readings for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, are
Fr. Raphael Ma, CR, was ordained in 2019, and is a member of the Congregation of the Resurrection. He is currently serving in vocation ministry for the Resurrectionists..