Barimaeus’ Prayer for this Week

It’s human nature to want to do the right thing. In the area of faith formation especially, I am often called upon to share the doctrines of our tradition with those seeking to become Catholic, and also to help with continuing formation for those who are already Catholic but wish to deepen their understanding of the Catholic faith.

In Mark’s Gospel, Peter is shown to be someone who understands the doctrine of who Jesus is (Mark 8:29). His title of “Christ” for him is not what Jesus corrects, but rather his faith when Peter calls into question Jesus’ prediction of his coming suffering. Just two chapters later in this Gospel, we are given a deeper look into what Jesus has been trying to teach the disciples about what true faith is and why it’s important. And so, today, we have come to the story of the blind man, Bartimaeus.

While it is true that this is another in a growing number of stories in which Jesus’ ability to heal is evident, there is something much greater to be drawn from this text. This story highlights that faith is so necessary for us as Christians that it can even overcome misunderstandings of doctrine and completely alter the life of the believer. Faith is not something we can just read about, but we must allow it in through the power and influence of an active and vital prayer life.

The healing of Bartimaeus’ sight speaks to the true power of faith. Bartimaeus’ call to Jesus is one of faith in who and what Jesus truly is—namely the one who has come to heal us all—which we can compare to the earlier title of “Christ” by Peter. Peter’s doctrine is absolutely correct. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. Despite this, Jesus uses the opportunity to call him out for his lack of faith after Peter doubts Jesus’ statement regarding his own impending suffering and death. Similarly, in today’s verse, Jesus chooses to focus not on what Bartimaeus calls him, but rather on the faith with which Bartimaeus has called. Jesus doesn’t declare that he, the Christ, has saved him, but tells him, “Your faith has saved you.”

Bartimaeus’ shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” is an early example of what is today called, “the Jesus Prayer.” There is no evidence that it was in fact Bartimaeus’ use of the phrase that inspired centuries of monks and, later, laypersons, to incorporate this tradition of invocation into their prayer, “O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” For now, it’s enough that it calls it to mind. It’s a timely and beautiful reminder that we are all called to have Bartimaeus’ faith and that the way to go about it is to begin, follow through, and end with prayer.

As St. Paul tells the Thessalonians, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” Throughout our history, this calling out to Jesus by name for mercy has been used time and again to aid in doing as Paul instructs. A person begins by repeating it, or something similar, orally, all the time, as they go about their labors. From the mouth it spreads to the heart. Then, after a short time, this person no longer prays so much as they have become prayer.

For some of us, incorporating prayer into our days is difficult. Our time is over-accounted for, we get distracted by the people and obligations in our lives, and perhaps we don’t even know how to begin. Prayer is less about what we say and more about our openness to what it means to pray. Jesus didn’t even comment on what Bartimaeus words were. What Jesus responds to is Bartimaeus’ faith in Jesus.

I have learned, sometimes not easily, that praying is not only something I should be doing, but something that I need to be doing in the same way I need food and exercise. The busier I get, the more vital it becomes. I often need to step back, to find silence, to open myself up to the One who loves me beyond all limits. Without a personal experience of Jesus, all the correct doctrine in the world isn’t enough. Prayer is our door to that relationship. Sometimes, in our human limitations, there aren’t words for the prayers we make. The name of Jesus is itself a prayer, however. This prayer, repeated in our hearts and on our lips, it is enough. There are times when it’s even best. It travels well, too, going with us throughout those busy days.

 

Our prayer brings us to faith. Our faith, like that of Bartimaeus, compels us to follow Jesus. In our certainty of walking with Jesus, we find the source of love and the seed of the victory on the cross.

Amen.

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