The name given to our first-ever Archdiocesan Men’s Conference was Man Alive! Those words come from St. Irenaeus, who said that the glory of God is man fully alive. And it really was a glorious day, with more than a thousand men being called to the fullness of Christian life in the Catholic Church.
The speakers were exceptional, except for one small problem: they talked a lot about football. At one point I leaned over to a like-minded guy beside me and said “Don’t worry: we’ll find someone later who can tell us what a wide receiver is.”
Despite my lack of savvy about football, I do know what it means to drop the ball. And that’s just what I did last Sunday.
At Mass last week I read the short version of the Gospel, as permitted by the Lectionary. It seemed the obvious thing since we were showing a video and had long announcements.
But it was a big mistake. Because the long version threw a touchdown pass all the way from last Sunday to today, and I fumbled it.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks the blind man “What do you want me to do for you?” An interesting question—but it becomes twice as interesting when we realize Jesus asked the very same question to James and John in last week’s Gospel, almost word for word.
Same question—different answers. And there’s a lesson for all of us.
James and John are disciples; they’re insiders who have walked and talked with Jesus for many months. Bartimaeus is a total outsider. He didn’t have any connection to Jesus or the apostles, or else he wouldn’t have needed to shout to get their attention.
All three come to Jesus with a request, but what they want and how they ask for it are completely different.
The disciples make a pious request. It’s ambitious, sure, but it’s nice and religious; they might even have thought Jesus would be pleased by what they ask: In your glory, let one of us sit at your right hand and the other at your left.
Bartimaeus’ plea isn’t pious—it’s pressing; it’s personal. I tried to find a nice way of saying it came from his gut, but I couldn’t. Rabbi, let me see again! He’s not strategic, like James and John, he’s desperate. But he’s the one, not the two disciples, who gets his prayer answered.
Every parish has a mixture of disciples and outsiders, of apostles and beggars, of James and Johns, and sons and daughters of Timeus. Some of us pray “Lord, let me get elected to the Parish Council,” while others pray in near-despair “Let me see again.” (Actually, no-one prays to get elected to the Parish Council, but you get my point.)
Christ’s “yes” to Bartimaeus tells us that this blind beggar is our model. For one thing, his words, “Son of David,” tell us to start with what we know. Bartimaeus doesn’t know Jesus as the Messiah, doesn’t know much in fact—so he calls out to him as “Son of David,” because that’s as much as he knows. Jesus doesn’t need us to be theologically precise before we pray to him.
Secondly, the son of Timaeus doesn’t hold back. He’s willing to let people know he needs help. He’s willing to let Jesus know he needs help by shouting out. One of the great obstacles to growth in faith is the fear of what others may think. Go ahead: worry about what others may think—but don’t expect a cure for your blindness.
Bartimaeus is also a spectacular example of an eager reaction to the Lord’s calls. The translation we use says he “sprang up.” That’s unnecessarily fancy language: he jumped up! He leapt to his feet! He got moving.
Note carefully: conventional piety is not the reason for this enthusiasm. Bartimaeus isn’t thinking “Oh boy, here’s my chance for heaven.” What he desires and expects is sight, the possibility of becoming a whole man. He throws off his cloak, he jumps and runs to Jesus in anticipation of the freedom that only sight can give him.
Of course the physical healing is a sign, not the main story. The blind beggar is given the new eyes of faith, and that makes him a new man. He can see the road ahead and walk it alongside Jesus.
The men who attended the conference yesterday had a special chance to throw off the cloaks of fear and doubt and sin and to tell Jesus what they need him to do for them. But today Jesus is asking every one of us “What do you want me to do for you?”
Is there any kind of “blindness” or “lameness” we need healed? Maybe it’s just that our spiritual vision is a bit blurry. What’s our most urgent need—our most desperate desire?
Today, let’s pray for the men who attended Man Alive! But pray too for yourself and for the members of your families and our parish, that we may recognize our blindness, hear Jesus calling, and throw away whatever holds us back from following him on the way.
The Archdiocese is launching an ambitious media campaign called Catholics Come Home, and we have a second collection for that cause today. Today we showed one of the television commercials that will be used. It’s harder-hitting than the one we showed last week, but it will invite some viewers—and maybe some of us —to cry out “Son of David, have mercy on me.”