As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.” He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.
Bartimaeus Shows Us the Way in an Age of Authenticity by Benjamin LaBadie
What’s your five-year plan? I never planned for this. Have you started a Roth IRA? Trust your heart. God will provide. Use your 20’s and 30’s to work and save. What can you do with an MA in French Literature? I never wanted this. You need to get a PhD—people won’t respect you without one. Don’t sell yourself short. You can totally raise a family on $70,000 a year. Don’t go into debt—debt is the worst thing to do. You’re too gifted to be just a nurse. How are you going to send your kids to college as a hospital chaplain? Who wants kids? Kids are fund-suckers! I was just unhappy with my work. I needed a career change. No one can ever take your education from you. Peace that surpasses all understanding. God will open the door that’s right for you. You really just want to be a middle school teacher the rest of your life? Graduate students are the worst. Get a JD. Don’t be a sellout. Don’t settle. Résumé Virtues vs. Eulogy Virtues. Why is God doing this to me? I didn’t sign up for this. I’ve seen people who make six-figures and are miserable. He really would’ve been happier as a college professor. When I was an RA I met students who appeared to have everything, but were miserable because they barely knew their father. Sell everything you own and follow me. Not all of us can be Mother Teresa. I don’t want to fight over money like my parents did. Everyone at the parish looks at me differently since I became divorced. Have you read Dave Ramsey? I’ve seen people in their 50’s dying from cancer and never end up using all the money they saved. I don’t want to miss out on these years with my girls, ya know? You need to make enough money so your wife can stay home with the kids. I’m 34, and I’m tired of moving. She told me before her death that she wished she had done more good. When you’re in your 40’s, the good ones are already married.
Look up. Look to God to know who you are. God created you with certain gifts that give you joy.
Charles Taylor, one of the pre-eminent philosophers today, characterizes our times as an “age of authenticity.” In a nutshell, authenticity is Burger King’s old slogan: “Have it your way.” We value following the beat of our own drum and being true to ourselves. There are many admirable aspects of this social value. We all have our own gifts and passions that make this world wonderful and diverse. But the plethora of choices can be paralyzing and blinding. We can lose ourselves in the moil of options. Sometimes we feel pressured to live the joys and vocations others think we should have or those we think we ought to have. We don’t know where God is directing us.
This Sunday’s Gospel about Bartimaeus is good news for us who are confused at times in this age of authenticity. Blind Bartimaeus speaks to those of us who struggle to discern a path in our lives. Like him, we are blind. We do not know the way to go given the plethora of choices and contradictory directions. We sit along the way (an ancient Christian term for following Christ) not knowing what to do. We feel helpless. Our cry to God is Bartimaeus’ cry: “Have pity on me!” How many times have we cried for mercy when we’ve thought, “Tell me what to do! Just tell me!” We are confused. Every choice appears viable yet non-viable. We do not know the way to go. So we plead, “God, give me directions! What do I do?”
Note that some rebuke Bartimaeus as he cries out. In Mark’s gospel, to rebuke implies authority (see Peter’s mistake of falsely claiming authority when he rebukes Jesus in Mark 8:31-33). Like Bartimaeus, we cry out for God’s help, and those who claim authority rebuke us by declaring that they know how we ought to live. Sometimes the worst rebukes are internal ones of self-doubt and insecurity. And these tortuous voices can cause us to shout even louder like Bartimaeus, “Have pity on me!” These tortuous voices cast us in a storm of doubt and confusion so we are left shouting, “Give me mercy! Show me what to do!” And Jesus hears us! “With weeping they shall come, but with compassion I will guide them” (Jeremiah 31:9). We weep in confusion, we seek to know the way, and Jesus hears us. He calls us to be courageous and come before him.
Jesus asks Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” And Bartimaeus responds, “I want to see.” Greek has multiple verbs for “see.” The one used here is anablepein which literally means “to look up,” just as when Christ looked up into heaven as he blessed the bread and then fed the 5,000 (Mark 6:41). It implies a holy sight in which we are before God and know the way to go. This is ultimately what the miracle of Bartimaeus is: he looks up, beholds God, and knows that Christ is the way.
Like the 5,000 who were fed by Christ, he is “fed and satisfied” (Mark 6:42). Bartimaeus is an exemplar of faith in our age. For us who are confused by the myriad of ways to live, Bartimaeus shows us what to do: look up! Look to God to know who you are! God created you with certain gifts and passions that give you joy. He created us to speak of our joys and vocations as Eric Liddell speaks of his vocations in Chariots of Fire: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” God knows what gives you joy.
God made you to share in the Trinity’s joy. God formed you and continues to form you for a purpose (Jeremiah 1:5, 18:6). As Father Greg Boyle says, the person you see in the mirror is exactly who God had in mind when God made you. Sometimes it just takes stillness before God in order to recognize that. And God compassionately gives us the sight to see our joys and vocations so that we might follow him on the way.
Thomas Merton says in No Man Is an Island, “Why do we spend our lives striving to be something that we would never want to be? If only we knew what we wanted. Why do we waste our time doing things which, if we only stopped to think about them, are just the opposite of what we were made for?” This summarizes what it means for us to be like Bartimaeus today. In an age of authenticity, the myriad of choices can blind us, but Bartimaeus shows us what to do: look up and let God illuminate your joys and your vocations.
Reflect on and take joy in what James Martin said in an interview with On Being’s Krista Tippett: “Everyone has a vocation. I mean, the most fundamental vocation is to become the person whom God created. And it’s both the person you already are, and the person that God calls you to be. And I think we find that out through our desires. What moves us. What touches us, what are we drawn to? And part of that’s career. But, only part of it. I mean, it’s really who you are called to be, and that’s why [Merton’s] question really spoke to me. But yeah, there’s a popular misconception that having a quote unquote vocation means that you have to be a priest or a sister or a brother. But a vocation is your deepest identity, and as well, being called to married life, or being a lawyer . . . or a parent . . . or a teacher.”