Mark situates the miracle of the man afflicted with blindness in Jericho, the city of the Good Samaritan. It is located about twenty miles from Jerusalem. It is a hub for pilgrims to ford the River Jordan on their way to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. In Mark’s gospel this is the last miracle outside Jerusalem, before Jesus enters into his Passion.
This story is as much a “call story” as it is a “miracle story.” Mark is the only evangelist to name the man “Bartimaeus.” When Bartimaeus hears that Jesus is passing by, he cries out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The crowds try to quiet him perhaps for good reason. The title “Son of David” had political overtones. The disciples of Jesus were being expelled from the synagogues and the Romans considered Jesus and his followers political rebels so it was wise to practice restraint. However, Jesus hears the cry and asks him what he wants, and of course, the answer is “to see.” Bartimaeus’ wish is granted. Jesus tells him to go, but Bartimaeus follows Jesus “on the way.” On the way of course is to Jerusalem, to the Cross.
This story reminds me of an incident that happened to me many years ago. I went to the funeral of one of my aunts. At the funeral I met one of her sons who was a very close friend to me when I was growing up. We commented that it was eighteen years since we had last seen each other. Another brother was there and as an aside said: “You don’t have very many of those left!” This thought has stayed with me, and is often the mantra that leads me to make a decision to do something, or visit someone, or write someone I have been avoiding or putting off.
The story of Bartimaeus reminds us that we can be “called, summoned” at any moment. It is not to be missed by us, not to be put off by us, but a moment to be seized and embraced. These moments are encounters with God. There are not that many of them to be missed. These encounters or “summary moments” change us and make us disciples. We need to embrace, enjoy, and examine these moments. These are the stuff which make us disciples and enable us to follow Jesus, to Jerusalem, to the Cross and ultimately to Resurrection.
Fr. Ken O’Malley, C.P., is the local superior at Holy Name Passionist Community in Houston, Texas.