“And Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ And the blind man said to him, ‘Rabbi, let me recover my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Go your way; your faith has made you well.’ And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.” - Mark 10:51-52
Like many (all?) of the stories of Jesus, this one about Bartimaeus the blind beggar is remarkable. It is actually one of my favorite ones in the whole Bible. I think Bartimaeus has much to teach us about what faith is, what faith takes, and where faith leads, especially for college-aged Christians like myself. Asides from being a profound example of the kind of faith that Jesus loves and expects, this story speaks to a major theme of my coming to Christ my first year of college, and, by the grace of God, I hope it characterizes far more than just my experience in college and my experience putting my faith in Jesus for the first time. I hope that the example I find in Bartimaeus is the example I will make of myself and I pray that I would never falter in seeking new ways to carry my cross so that this hope may become reality. In a way, my work volunteering with Abundant Life through the Perkins Fellows program this year has been a means to that end and an extension of this greater theme in my life. So, without further adieu, let me explain what exactly I’m making this whole fuss about (feel free to read along in scripture as I go into further detail).
The story of Bartimaeus opens with him sitting by the roadside as the great crowd following Jesus passes by. Mark says that when Bartimaeus heard that is was Jesus who was going by, he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” After which, many rebuked him and told him to be silent. Far from being discouraged, the text says that “...he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!'” I find this part of the story alone to be so incredible. Bartimaeus had never met Jesus, and being blind, he had no way of knowing that Jesus could even hear him or that it was really Jesus at all. Even though he was already an outcast and looked down upon, he fearlessly shouted out for the Son of David, the promised king, that he might look upon him and have mercy. Not only did he get no response from Jesus then, but those around him pressured him to stop asking and to just be silent and accept his lot in life. Showing incredible strength of faith and character, Bartimaeus cried out even more than he had before. I find this story to be so powerful because in my first year, I felt a hopelessness that I imagine is of a similar kind, if not degree, to what Bartimaeus must have felt at that point in his life. I felt utterly blind and lost about who I really was. I felt like everyone around me had a life they were truly living while I was just merely existing. I felt like a puppet dancing along the stage of my years but I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to grab hold of my own strings. I wanted to have faith in God and I tried to believe, but my doubts rebuked me and told me to stop asking. With no small amount of stumbling along the way, I tried my best to cry out all the more for God to do something, anything, in me, despite what I saw to be slim odds of that really happening.
Jesus stopped. That's what the text says in Bartimaeus’ story. Jesus, the King of Kings, God of the universe, heard Bartimaeus’ plea and altogether stopped what he was doing. And then he called to him. And just as Jesus changed Bartimaeus’ life forever, he changed my life forever. He showed me that He is living water and the bread of life. He called to me that I might have life and have it to the fullest. He took my heart in his hands and taught me to cry at the beauty of who He is and how wonderfully, perfectly real life with Him really is. This is the first chapter of the story God started writing in me and for reasons I don’t fully understand, He has asked me to coauthor the whole thing with Him. I believe that God has reasons for writing our early chapters the way that He does. I think that He uses our experiences as young children in His eternal family, so to speak, to shape and set the stage for the spiritually mature adults He calls us to be. The lesson I began to learn as a new Christian and the one I saw reflected in Bartimaeus’ life two thousand years ago is one that I think will be an important motif throughout my life and I think it's one that Jesus is trying to teach me a little more about this year through my participation in the Perkins Fellow Program.
One part of the chapter I currently find myself in is my wrestling with empathy. Really, I think this is just picking up where my previous struggle left off. God has brought me so far in learning to love being alive with Him, but often times, I feel as though I have an impossible distance left to travel when it comes to loving that life in others. I have a hard time entering into the pain of others. It makes me uncomfortable and I don’t think I do it particularly well when I try. Even when I am able to provide comfort to others, I fear that it is shallow, that I lack the ability for my comfort to come from a place of radical, selfless love. And then, for every time that I find my attempt at empathy lacking, there is a time when I reject the desire to empathize at all. I find myself making my own thoughts and my own experiences my god and resisting the call to humility. I commit the sin of partiality and become a judge with evil thoughts. I haven’t yet found the magic button for letting go of my pride, but too often I’d rather not let go of it at all. I see the degree to which I love my neighbor as a manifestation of how deeply I understand the steep price Jesus paid to win them for Himself and I don’t understand it even close to how much I wish to. As a Perkins Fellow, I have been provided an opportunity to cry out to Jesus to have mercy on me in this. If I’m being honest, I don't even know which direction to shout in, but I have to hope that Jesus hears me anyway. I have been given a chance to learn from Jesus how to love those who are growing up and have grown up as a minority, how to love those who are growing up poorer than I did, how to love kids whose childhoods have been more fraught with violence and evil than I can wrap my head around, and how to love fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who hold political ideas with which I fundamentally disagree. I hear the difficulty of all this (and it is hard) pressuring me to stay silent, to simply put in my required service hours and be done with it, but I pray for the strength and faith to cry out all the more.