Both Hope and Despair Can Lead Us to Christ

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And they came to Jericho; and as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great multitude, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; rise, he is calling you.” And throwing off his mantle he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Master, let me receive my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:46-52)

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Metropolitan Anthony Bloom offers us insight into the Gospel lesson.

We know from the Gospels that Bartimaeus found himself landed by the side of the road, hopelessly blind, having lost all faith and all hope in human help, and reduced to beg for his living, to hope not really on charity (the word meaning ‘cherishing’), but on the kind of charity which consists in throwing coins to someone without ever having seen him. And one day this man, who had now given up hope, who was installed in the dust in his present blindness, heard about the man, a new prophet, who is now working miracles throughout the Holy Land. Had he had eyes he would probably have got up and run throughout the country to find him, but he couldn’t possibly keep pace with this itinerant wonder-maker. And so he stayed where he was, and the presence of one who might possibly have cured him must have made him despair even greater, even more poignant.

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And one day he heard a crowd that passed by, a crowd which did not sound like any other crowd. Probably, as the blind do, he had developed the sense of hearing and a sense of sensitiveness greater than ours, because he asked ‘Who is it that passes by?’ and he was told ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ And then he stood at the point of utmost despair and of utmost hope. Utmost hope because Christ was passing within reach, but at the background the looming despair because a few paces would have brought Him level with Bartimaeus, a few more paces and He had gone and would probably never pass by him again. And out of this desperate hope he began to cry and shout ‘Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.’ It was a perfect profession of faith. And at that moment it was because his despair was so deep that he could summon such daring hope in order to be healed, saved, made whole. And Christ heard him.”   (BEGINNING TO PRAY, pp 71-72)

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One other thought: the crowd around Christ, which includes His disciples, had their own agendas in being with Him. Whatever reason they had for being in that crowd, they selfishly try to prevent the blind man, Bartimaeus, from gaining Christ’s attention. Everyone in the Church today, each parishioner, should consider what their role is in following Christ – is it to make sure “I” get to Christ even if it means blocking others from getting to Him?  Or, is it to make sure all who come upon Christ – whether out of hope or despair – get to Him ahead of myself?  Obviously in the Gospel lesson, Christ sees the crowd’s job as to bring to Him those who are seeking Him, who are praying (calling out) to Him – so He commands the crowd to do so. The Lord Jesus tells the crowd, including His disciples, to bring the blind man to Him, not to try to keep the blind man silent (unable to pray to Christ) and away from Christ’s attention. Parishioners, all Christians, should look at themselves to see whether they are blocking people from coming to Christ [“He who is not with me is against me, he who does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30)], rather than doing their job of bringing people to Christ.  If we prevent others from coming to Christ, we are working against Christ, even if we are simultaneously selfishly seeking Christ for our own purposes. We are not saved alone, but together with all who accept Christ as Lord, when we believe in Christ we become part of His Body, the Church, a fellow member with all other believers.

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Even that ‘distant’ person who is not in the crowd following Christ (they are blind or for whatever reason), if they call upon the Lord, our task is to bring them to Christ, not to try to silence them.

[There is a bit of an odd image here – the crowd is milling around, I assume talking and making crowd noises. So, why they want the blind man to be silent is not clear in the lesson.  I’m sure they weren’t walking around in silence as if in a library.  Crowds chatter and make noise – which is how Bartimaeus knows something special is happening.  So it is ridiculous for the crowd to want to silence the poor blind man, or perhaps it represents the worst side of privileged humanity which despises the poor and wants them out of sight, out of mind.]

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Perhaps those in the crowd feel they struggled and jostled their way to get closer to Christ, so why should they give up their hard-earned position for some insignificant beggar sitting by the roadside who is not even trying to follow Christ? (Not unlike those in Christ’s parable hired at the first hour and did all the labor all day long who think they have earned some right to be given more than those who came at the 11th hour).  We do not try to get closer to Christ in order to elbow others away from Him. We come closer to Christ in order to bring others to Christ, even those who waited until the 11th hour to seek Christ.  We bring them into Christ’s presence so that He can hear their prayer.  We bring them to Christ, sometimes physically, and sometimes carried by our prayers.  We do not need to fear that if we help Christ to hear the prayers of others, that He will not hear our own prayers and petitions.  Counterintuitively, the way to Christ is through loving others, and putting them ahead of ourselves, even when that puts them closer to Christ than we are, so that He hears them rather than us. This is the love which He spoke about, modeled, and commanded.

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