Thirst for vision
Today’s readings: Jeremiah 31, 7-9; Hebrews 5, 1-6; Mark 10, 46-52.
Scripture narrative always lends itself to symbolic interpretation. This means that although it was written centuries ago with specific reference to what Israel was going through at the time, it continues to throw light on present-day events.
In the first reading Jeremiah addresses the so-called remnant of Israel returning from exile, in need of recovering strength and vision after the devastating exilic experience.
This need for strength and vision is also very often our need in the rough patches we go through collectively and individually. We need vision practically on all fronts today, be it in politics, society in general, and Church life. This same need for vision is exemplified further and more vividly in the gospel.
The scene in the gospel is set as Jesus approaches the suburbs of Jerusalem. Jericho was the last stop en route to Jerusalem and this was the last of a long series of healings. ‘Last’ in a very symbolic sense because the call to discipleship makes one uncover layer after layer of one’s human predicament until finally one comes to ‘see’.
Vision is the crowning of one’s fulfilment. Bartimaeus encounters Jesus on the way and at Jesus’s call “he throws away his cloak and jumps to his feet” . To encounter Jesus in truth and in depth we have to jump to our feet, we need to stand up, we need to take decisions.
In this narrative, what is being highlighted is not Jesus’s action or teaching but Bartimaeus, who is struggling his way out of his blindness against all odds to make his way to the Lord.
Even here, as in other cases, Jesus asks the futile question: “what do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus asks for vision. Seeking true vision can put back adventure in our Christian life. Recovering the power of Jesus in our communities means overthrowing the power of darkness. We live in a sort of blind culture, and like Bartimaeus we need to take courage and come out to regain the power of vision.
This gospel narrative develops according to the logic of the catechumenate, respecting a graduality that characterises our life of faith where we need continually to discern what conditions us as well as the modes in which we react. More than simply the blindness of a man, early Christians already intuited in Bartimaeus their own collective blindness as a people.
As the early Christians, we also live in times of heresy and persecution and this calls for a strong leadership of the Christian community in today’s society. In other times we could seek the support of psychological and cultural presuppositions which helped consolidate our personal journeys of faith. Historical conditions have now changed considerably and we face new demands.
The prevailing culture, with all the positiveness it carries, can easily represent a sort of collective blindness rendering belief superfluous. Society’s mechanisms can be corrosive of our consciences, emptying our culture of its power to reach out beyond the merely visible and attainable. But we cannot afford a sell-out of what constitutes our tradition.
A nation with no tradition to pass on is dead. Alistair McIntyre, a contemporary moral philosopher, speaks of a collective Alzheimer’s disease that we are perpetuating. We can become forgetful of who we are, of what we stand for. As products of a highly secularised culture we’ve come to a point where, for many, the God question is not even posed.
But the collapse of the historical and political hopes which made God’s absence plausible seem to be calling on us all to reverse our course now. The blindness referred to in today’s readings is the incapacity to perceive and decipher what’s going on not just around us but inside us.
Bartimaeus had to cry out his blindness and the more he was shut out by the crowd the more he had to persist in moving out of his darkness. Adjusting to the darkness around us will never change it into light.