Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Blind Bartimaeus, the prophet

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | May 30, 2024

Among the characters who make only a quick appearance in the New Testament—the cameo roles, one might say—the story of Bartimaeus, retold in today’s Gospel, has always fascinated me. At first glance his story seems simple: Jesus cures him of blindness. But there is more to it than that. In any encounter with the Lord, there always is.

We know very little about Bartimaeus. St. Mark tells the story in just a handful of verses. But from those few lines we can infer quite a bit.

Notice, first, that we know his name. Most of the other beneficiaries of the Lord’s miracles remain anonymous. (Ten lepers were healed; only one returned to thank Jesus. Yet he still is not identified.) Why do we know Bartimaeus by name? The answer, I think, comes later.

The image presented by St. Mark is clear enough: a blind beggar, sitting or squatting on the road outside Jericho. He wants help, he calls out to Jesus, and he won’t shut up.

But he doesn’t merely call the Lord by name; he gives Him a title: “Jesus, Son of David have pity on me.” Bartimaeus is recognizing Jesus as the Messiah. He may be blind, but he sees that much: more, perhaps, than the people who try to hush him. Is he begging, then, or is he prophesying?

Jesus responds, calling for Bartimaeus. “And throwing off his mantle he sprang up and came to Jesus.” Now picture this: A blind man, huddled by the roadside, begging, scorned, probably expecting that the crowd would pass him by and leave him in the dust. Instead Jesus—whom he has recognized as the Messiah, for whom all the Jewish world waited—asks to speak with him. Naturally he “sprang up,” and doubtless he ran toward the sound of the Lord’s voice. Remember that he was blind, and there was a crowd around him. He must have barreled into people, scattering them like a human bowling ball. Yet as St. Mark presents the scene, by the time he reaches Jesus, all is calm again.

(St. Luke tells the same story, without naming Bartimaeus. But his account lacks that chaotic scene. As he tells it, Jesus “ordered the man to be brought to him,” allowing for a more sedate approach. I prefer to think that St. Mark is more accurate; his version is much more fun to imagine.)

When Jesus asks what he wants (for our sake, because He already knows), Bartimaeus replies simply: “Master, let me receive my sight.” Not a bad prayer, that, because we are all blind in our own particular, pathetic ways. And Jesus, who always answers the prayers of the faithful, grants that request. So Bartimaeus now can see. And we could see, too, if we made our requests with the same humble and whole-hearted sincerity.

“Go your way; your faith has made you well,” Jesus tells him. Then St. Mark adds one more telling sentence: “And immediately he received his sight and followed Him on the way.” St. Luke agrees: “And immediately he received his sight and followed Him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.”

When Jesus told Bartimaeus to go on his way, the once-blind beggar had a decision to make. What was “his way,” now that he could see? He no longer had to beg for physical help; he had a new life to lead. He decided that going “his” way now meant following Jesus. He didn’t just thank Jesus for healing him; he became a disciple, “glorifying God,” and no doubt continuing to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.

So that, I conclude, is why we know his name. Bartimaeus was not another face in the crowd, not one of the people who called out to Jesus, were healed, and faded again into the background before anyone came to knew their names. The other disciples remembered Bartimaeus because he became one of them, joining them on the fateful journey toward Jerusalem.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: feedback - May. 31, 2024 1:56 AM ET USA

    St Mark reports that "Many rebuked him, telling him to be silent." But as soon as Jesus simply said, "Call him," they completely changed their attitude towards the blind man, "Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you." Conclusion: A person of great moral authority can quickly and radically change many people's attitude. That is why men called to the positions of authority in the Church need to guide their decisions with the greatest sense of responsibility before God for all they say and do.