The One on the Side of the Way
The Gospel that we just heard is remarkable for many reasons. One of them has to do with the way that it is written – with its grammar, word choice, and structure. All of these elements of the “craft” of writing, then, serve to underscore the power of what actually happens to Bartimeus.
In Greek, we hear that the blind man is sitting on the side of the way (para ten hodon). He is not part of the crowd that is following Jesus, although he does know who He is; and when he finds out that it is the Jesus of Nazareth passing by, he calls after him. His desperate call – a call from his heart – reaches Jesus, even as others try to silence the poor man, and we hear that Jesus stopped. In the midst of Mark’s busy account of a Jesus who is always “on the go,” a Jesus who is routinely described as “on the way” (en to hodo), this Jesus stops – stas Iesous.
Why does Jesus stop? He stops because He hears the call of this person who is “in the side of the way.” He hears a man who is on the margins, who is forgotten, lost, and even who is discouraged from bothering the Lord while others gleefully follow Him themselves – whether they really know where they are going or not. Jesus stops, because no one else will. And rather than go over to the man Himself, He involves the community around Him and forces them to notice Bartimeus, even to call him to the Lord themselves.
Joyfully, the blind man leaps up, tosses his cloak aside – a cloak that would have held all the money he might have collected – and he runs to Jesus. Jesus pays attention to Bartimeus because He has heard something in him that no one else has heard, and that no one else has demonstrated. Bartimeus calls Jesus the “Son of David,” a messianic title. He recognizes Jesus for who He is, even as so many others cannot. For that faith, Jesus stops, and He is ready to give the man what he longs for.
After his healing – a healing that affirms the faith in Jesus that the blind man shows – Christ tells him that he can go on “his way.” Bartimeus could have gathered up his cloak and returned to life as everyone else was living it. However, that is not what he does. Mark tells us that upon receiving his sight, he immediately followed [Jesus] on the way – in Greek, en to hodo. That “way” is the way of Jesus, the way that the Lord had been walking, the way that leads to the Passion, death, and resurrection. That is the way of the Church.
Friends, we are being asked to enter into this process of synod. Synod is a word comprised of two Greek words: syn, meaning together; and hodos, meaning the way. In this process, we are” together on the way.” But we are not aimlessly following Jesus like the crowd who may not have realized that the “way” leads to sacrifice and suffering. We are on this way together as the Church in order to do what Jesus calls His followers to do in the Gospel: as we hear, “Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him’.”
There are many like Bartimeus in our world. They are on the side of the way, they are marginalized. They are often shouted down or discouraged by the Church so that we can be comfortable in our own following of Jesus. However, if that is the case, do we truly understand whom we are following and where we are going? These people are the lost, the oppressed, the poor, the sick, the discounted, the homeless, the immigrant, the confused, the old, and the young. They are very close to us, yet still on the margins because we do not choose to engage them. That is what the synod also seeks to engage.
We have the opportunity in our community to follow Christ’s instruction to “Call him” this season through the Winter Relief program. From November 15 to 21, St. Bernadette will be hosting the Winter Relief shelter, and we are in need of volunteers to serve our local homeless. We have been blessed to do this many times before, and the joy that it brings to those whom we serve and those who serve is clear. Please consider this Jesus’ invitation to you to reach out to those along the side of the road that we are walking. As you and I are en to hodo, we are also charged by Jesus to engage those we pass and through them to discover even more deeply who Jesus is.