Before putting out into the deep of God’s Word and what He might be speaking to our hearts today, we need to do a little housekeeping about the actual text in front of us. The word translated as ‘roadside’ at the beginning of the Gospel is exactly the same word in the original as the word translated ‘way’ at the end. St Mark did not use synonyms (when he certainly could have).
Even if the translators decided to mix it up a little and use the synonym ‘roadside’ (for the sake of variety or to create a more realistic scene for the reader-listener?), St Mark used the same Greek word both times: ‘way’ ( ódos ). And it is the same word that he used at the beginning of this section, back at the end of Chapter 8: “Now Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” Mk 8:27ff.
The word is very, very important, because St Mark is using it to signal to the alert listener: “Heads up! We are beginning the Way-Discipleship section of this Gospel here at the end of Chapter 8! Notice that Jesus just healed a blind man and then He sets out with His disciples on the Way to Jerusalem. So let’s focus our attention on what true discipleship is all about on this Way with Jesus. It’s not about trying to get out of suffering as much as possible. It’s not about divorcing. It’s not about seeing who is the greatest. It’s not about being rich and holding on to your hard-earned wealth. It’s about becoming like a little child. It’s about being with Jesus as He gets ready to enter into His Passion. And it’s about recognizing our blindness and calling out for help to Jesus, so that He can heal us and bring us to see, just as He did for Bartimaeus, who shows his gratitude by getting up and following Jesus! (‘Following’ is a Christian code word for ‘discipleship’.‘The way’ or ‘people of the Way’ was an early nickname for Christians).
Notice that once Bartimaeus receives his sight he focuses it squarely on Jesus, by deciding to follow Him and become His disciple: “He received his sight and followed him on the way.” He used the gift of seeing for its highest and ultimate purpose: to see God and to be seen by Him. St Augustine says, ““The deepest desire of the human heart is to see another and be seen by that other.” And he also captures that deepest longing of the human heart when he says that God made us for Himself, and that our hearts are restless until they rest in God.
In his Theology of the Body St John Paul II meditates on God saying in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for man to be alone.” He points out that the Sacred Author uses the generic for ‘man’ (‘adam or anthrōpos) and not ‘male’ (‘ish’ or ‘aner’), and thus “we are dealing with the solitude of “man” (male and female) and not only with the solitude of the man-male, caused by the absence of the woman.” (TOB 5:2)
Bartimaeus has an ache in his heart first and foremost for God, not only for another human being. And so the interchange between him and Jesus makes for a most fitting conclusion and summary for the whole teaching of Jesus on true discipleship in the Way section of St Mark’s Gospel. It is founded on an intimate relationship between Jesus and the disciple which involves a mutual seeing and being seen (intimacy=into-me-see).
Allow me to conclude with a quote from St Teresa’s Way of Perfection (chapter 26, 3), where she is speaking of a simple kind of prayer that anyone can practice and which is a great help towards preparing us for the gift of contemplative prayer, or deeper intimacy with the Trinity: “I’m not asking you now that you think about Him or that you draw out a lot of concepts or make long and subtle reflections with your intellect. I’m not asking you to do anything more than look at Him. For who can keep you from turning the eyes of your soul toward this Lord, even if you do so just for a moment if you can’t do more? You can look at very ugly things; won’t you be able to look at the most beautiful thing imaginable? Well now, daughters, your Spouse never takes His eyes off you. He has suffered your committing a thousand ugly offenses and abominations against Him, and this suffering wasn’t enough for Him to cease looking at you. Is it too much to ask you to turn your eyes from these exterior things in order to look at Him sometimes? Behold, He is not waiting for anything else, as He says to the bride, than that we look at Him. In the measure you desire Him, you will find Him. He so esteems our turning to look at Him that no diligence will be lacking on His part.”
Fr. Thomas Koller, OCD, is a Carmelite friar and priest of the Discalced Carmelite Province of California. He has a Licentiate degree in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and is a seminary formator and professor of Scripture at Mount Angel Seminary in Mt Angel, Oregon. Fr. Thomas has attended some courses at TOBI.