Lectionary resources for worship, faith formation, and service
I have always loved the story of Bartimaeus. That’s probably because I once had a very powerful experience using the method of Ignatian imaginative contemplation putting myself inside this story in my mind’s eye. I envisioned myself as the blind beggar sitting at the side of the road calling out to Jesus.
When I threw off my cloak in response to the invitation to come close and imagined myself hearing Jesus ask the question “what do you want me to do for you?” it was as if my deepest desires were being evoked and honoured. I’ve since used this text many times to invite others into similar contemplative experiences enabling spiritual healing and intimate encounters with the sacred.
But lately I’ve been looking at this story from a different perspective. Not only is this a story about healing, this is a story about call. Jesus calls out to Bartimaeus to come close and the resulting encounter has Bartimaeus following on the way. Instead of seeing Bartimaeus only as someone who regains his sight, I am seeing him for the first time as someone who is empowered to participate in a movement.
It can be tricky to deal with stories of healing in our gospel. We live in a time of awesome medical miracles. It still astonishes me that folks can have cataracts removed one day and be out and about the next. But there are conditions for which modern science has not yet found a cure and that even the most impassioned prayer cannot change.
That leaves us to struggle with the question “what does it mean to be made whole when physical healing is not possible?”
Perhaps the story of Bartimaeus gives us a clue. Maybe what’s most important in this story is not that Jesus has the power to restore sight to the blind. Maybe what’s most important is that responding to his call gives purpose and direction to our lives.
Maybe what’s worth noticing is that the ones who are called are not just the theologically trained and articulate, but also the marginalized and the impaired.
I was once part of a team conducting ordination interviews with a candidate for ministry who happened to be in a wheelchair. Much to my horror, one of my colleagues asked how the candidate was going to manage being in congregational ministry with her physical limitations.
I knew the woman as a strong and gifted preacher and church leader. I knew she could wheel theological circles around the person asking the question. She might not have been able to physically stand on two feet, but her faith had made her quite well and more than able to respond to the call to love and to serve.