We see in the story of the healing of the blind man, Bartimaeus, how the Church is formed and what defines the church. When Bartimaeus hears that Jesus was passing by, he cries out, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” Many in the crowd – many who were following Jesus – told him to be silent, but Bartimaeus kept calling out all the more. By using the title, “Son of David”, Bartimaeus recognizes that Jesus is heir to the promise of God – that God’s promise would be fulfilled in Jesus. The promised Messiah would come through the line of King David. The blind man recognizes a truth about Jesus that many of his disciples did not yet see. So Jesus says to the disciples, “Call him.” The disciples called the blind man, saying, “Take courage, get up, Jesus is calling you.” The “Church” – from the Greek “Ekklesia” – means those who have been called out. The Church is those who have been called by Jesus. And the mission of the disciples, as we see in the Gospel, is to call others to Jesus. We experience what it means to be the church when we live “the calling” – when we let the experience of being called define us so that our life is a calling to others – an announcement that God is present and alive. The call is to everyone – those on the margins like Bartimaeus – the poor, the blind, and the lame. The blind man represents not only the physically blind, but the spiritually blind – those who have wandered from God and are stuck in sin, sitting on the side as life passes by. We’ve all been there at some point in life. Bartimaeus recognizes Jesus and is healed by Jesus because of his poverty of spirit. Bartimaeus is in touch with his need – his need for mercy. He knows he cannot heal himself, so he begs; he begs for God. “Son of David, have pity on me.” What he needs, only God can give him. Modern society does everything it can to try to silence our desire for God. We are told we have to be independent and self-sufficient. We have to be strong and make it on our own. In a secular society that has no place for God, we are told that the longing in our heart is something biological or something that can be answered by science. But without God, our desire is frustrated, and we try to fill the emptiness with money, power, and pleasure, and are left more frustrated and unsatisfied and end up getting stuck in these things – things that are often attempts to numb the longing in our heart. That is called addiction. If it can’t be fulfilled, let me suppress it. If we are not listening to our heart or think we can fill it on our own, we won’t seek God or hear his call.
Freedom and a new life come when the cry of the heart meets the call of God. The cry of our heart for meaning and purpose and fulfillment is the sign that God is calling, but we hear that call through a human encounter – when someone who has been called by Jesus, whose life has been changed by Jesus, looks on us with mercy. The freedom and new life (resurrection) that comes from answering the call from Jesus is symbolized by Bartimaeus springing up and casting aside his cloak. The cloak would have been the beggar’s only possession, the thing he clung to for security, and he is able to let it go when he hears Jesus’ call. The cloak symbolizes the former life he now can leave behind.
A little earlier in the Gospel, Jesus had to rebuke the disciples for reproaching the parents who wanted to bring the children to him. The disciples tried to chase them away. Here Jesus reminds them that if they are to be his disciples, they are to call others to him. The Gospel today asks us to examine the way we follow Jesus. Does our following of Jesus call others to him? Does Jesus call others to himself through the way we live? It all comes down to the reason that we follow Jesus. Are we aware that we too have been called and chosen? Have we had the same experience as Bartimaeus and the other disciples? The 2nd reading from the Letter to the Hebrews describes the high priest, but it is the same for every Christian who shares in the baptismal priesthood of Jesus. The high priest is high priest because he has been chosen. Even though he is beset by weakness, he has been chosen. “No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God.” Being a Christian is not the result of our own effort or by wanting it, but by being looked upon with mercy and by being chosen. It is only when we are aware that our vocation, our life, has been born from this experience of mercy, that we “are able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring.” When we are aware of our own weakness, like Bartimaeus and the high priest, we will not try to fix things ourselves but offer it to God and beg for his mercy, for ourselves and for others.
There is great confusion in the Church today because we have forgotten what makes us the Church – this experience of God’s merciful call. We can’t call others to Jesus unless God’s mercy and this unmerited call become what defines us. Mercy is what the heart longs for. If we reduce the church to doctrine, moral norms, and simply doing good works, and the experience of mercy is lacking, the most sound “system” or rule of life or philosophy will not be attractive at all. Unlike James and John who last week asked Jesus for honors, Bartimaeus asks to be restored to wholeness – to an integral life. May we let the experience of God’s mercy define us so we can call others to freedom and show them the way to follow Jesus.