Sunday, Oct. 24
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Life seems to be saturated with a variety of patterns. We say the deaths of people we know seem to come in threes. Galaxies of stars and water draining from a bathtub swirl in the same direction. Consider, too, how frequently life is measured in 12s: 12 months in a year, 12 hours on a clock, the 12 signs of the zodiac, the 12 days of Christmas, 12-step recovery programs, 12 people on a jury, the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles of Jesus. Life is filled with patterns often not recognized unless they are brought to our attention.
Frequently, the stories of Scripture, especially some of those in the Gospels, offer patterns as well. They are patterns of how we come to be people of faith and how faith unfolds in human life. Such is the story of this week’s Gospel, of blind Bartimaeus, who sits by the roadside begging for alms until, one day, Jesus comes by. He asks to be able to see; Jesus heals him and he follows Jesus on the road. Step by step, Bartimaeus becomes a pattern of how we become believers, people who see life in a new way.
Step one: Bartimaeus sits by the roadside, begging and blind. There are those moments, as well, for us when we may sense that life is passing us by, unable to understand why life for us is the way it is. We are blind to its purpose. We don’t see where it’s all going. We can feel very much left out, like Bartimaeus on the side of the road.
Step two: Like Bartimaeus, who cries out to Jesus to have pity on him, we can find ourselves asking God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves – to be healed or find a job or fix a relationship or lift our spirits out of the darkness. “Please God, have pity on me.”
Step three: When Bartimaeus hears himself being called by Jesus, he throws aside his cloak, springs up and comes to Jesus. The cloak Bartimaeus threw aside was his livelihood, his way of surviving, for it was something he spread out on the ground in front of himself to gather people’s donations and alms. He threw it aside when Jesus called, which is to say he left his old way of living to find a new way of living. It is the same for us. It is what happens with faith. When we are at our wit’s end, we hear an inner call to surrender and trust God; we come to him as did Bartimaeus and we abandon our own efforts. If we can’t fix our life, perhaps God can.
Step four: Having been called to come to Jesus, Bartimaeus asks that he may see, which is what we implicitly do when we bring our lives to God. Beyond wanting God to fix our lives, we want to understand the whys and wherefores. With trusting faith, we begin to see and look at life in a new way, which is to look at life God’s way and not our way, from a new and different perspective. Our former way of understanding the purpose of life and what is of value are left behind. It is like being born again, to use that different image of Jesus and Nicodemus from John’s gospel.
Step five: Seeing now, Bartimaeus gets up and follows Jesus on the way. In the Gospels, “the Way” was often the designation for being a disciple of Jesus and his way to eternal life. To follow someone, then, implies that we will go where that someone goes. We no longer set our own course, but we surrender to the one who leads, trusting that his vision will not mislead us. Such following, such faith, implies a surrender of control on our part, an openness to where we find ourselves in life, and a willingness to live with where life brings us, which is to say, where God brings us.
In the end, faith is not about solving life’s problems, even though initially that may be what we look for out of faith. Rather, faith enables us to look at life with new and different eyes, to see life the way God sees life. It gives us the ability to see what is truly important, perhaps to accept life, perhaps to let go and change, often to go where we would rather not go but to do so without fear. Like looking through a kaleidoscope, faith turns the lens and so then all the pieces fall into a new pattern of light and color and design.
Does the pattern suggested by the story of Bartimaeus reflect how you have come to faith?
How has your faith changed the way you look at life and its issues?