For the past several weeks, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus and his disciples have been on a journey to Jerusalem. Along the way, Jesus has taken opportunity of their time spent together, and of the people they encountered, to provide very specific instructions regarding discipleship. He started with, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” He followed that with, “whoever is not against us is for us” and thereby clearly communicating that discipleship is not an exclusive club, instead calling all to discipleship. In addition, he gave very specific instruction about the importance of accepting all peoples, especially the marginalized and poor, and stated, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.” In this same theme, He explicitly reminds His disciples that, “Whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” And, finally, in last week’s Gospel, He lays out His plan for leadership, stating, “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.”
When you consider that Jesus is providing these instructions while on the journey towards His suffering and death, we, his modern-day disciples, cannot ignore the significance and the importance of the message that Jesus was attempting to communicate to his followers. Knowing that persecution, suffering, and crucifixion were awaiting his arrival in Jerusalem, is it any wonder that Jesus took such a direct approach in his instruction and teachings?
It is for this reason, born of both urgency and need, that St. Mark introduces the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, sitting by the road leading from the city of Jericho to Jerusalem, crying out the name of his Messiah, Jesus Son of David. Bartimaeus, the embodiment of Jesus’s teachings on discipleship.
If there were a star pupil, the one student in class who always got the gold star, it would have been Bartimaeus. His faith was focused, complete, and entirely dependent upon his belief in Jesus Christ as his only hope. His faith did not waiver when others chastised, marginalized, and attempted to prevent him from coming to Jesus. Bartimaeus did not allow his limitations and weaknesses to dissuade him from seeking Jesus; rather, he saw in Jesus the cure, and believed that Jesus would make him whole. Bartimaeus placed his entirety, all that he had, and all of who he was, in Jesus.
Would we not say that Bartimaeus was the embodiment of discipleship? Would we not say that Bartimaeus had chosen to “deny himself and pick up is cross and follow (Jesus)”? Would we not say that Bartimaeus represented the very marginalized, the outcast of his society, among whom Jesus came to save? Would we not say that Bartimaeus received Jesus with the very faith of a child and when given opportunity he chose to follow and serve, rather than turn away and seek honor and recognition? Of course, we would! And, so doing, we must also then set him as our example.
I will admit, however, that following Bartimaeus’s example is not easy. There are moments along the way when I become discouraged, disorientated, and defeated. During these times my focus waivers and I give my attention to the negativity and division prevalent in our society and world. I find it difficult to avoid the disillusionment that comes from living in a world that is consumed with appearing right, rather than doing right, and I look for a place alongside the path to sit, to take a break, and forget.
Am I the only one here today who experiences such moments?
Am I the only one who feels as if there are moments when our society has come to accept violence, abuse, and manipulation as the norm and has somehow turned the corrupt into the venerable and the innocent into the oddity? When shootings at school, churches, synagogues, and other public spaces have ceased being a tragedy, and instead have become opportunities to push political agendas and bolster campaigns? It is now considered a fool’s errand to place our faith in our institutions, both secular and sacred, trusting that they will honor their self-prescribed rules and missions of service. I cannot be the only the one present here this day, who too feels moments of doubt, and fear, and dread.
Yet, though I do not deny the darkness of our current day, I am reminded that these days are not unique nor without precedent. A brief recall of human history, recent human history even, reminds the casual observer that there have been dark days before. Such as the days leading up to Our Lady visiting the 3 children of Fatima, Portugal. Or, the days during when Sister Faustina Kowalska was inspired by Jesus and from which the movement of the Devotion of the Divine Mercy found its beginnings.
Bartimaeus, the three children of Fatima, and Sister Faustina are all embodiments of discipleship. All of these individuals, in their own unique way and with their own unique limitations, answered Jesus Christ’s call to discipleship. Through their willingness and obedience, they all changed and affected their world, and our world, with goodness and hope.
Our challenge this day is to follow in their footsteps. To keep our faith in focus, to respond with joy and exaltation to his call, and to follow Jesus in his service. This is our challenge, and this is where we find our hope…not only for us, but for the whole world.