Unfortunately, the authors of the Bible never composed their writings to be used in liturgical settings. The people who choose our weekly readings arbitrarily select a number of verses which make theological or historical sense, and then fit them into the opening the liturgy provides. In the process, they usually run roughshod over the writer's literary creativity and theological genius.

As a movie loses much of its content and flow when it's chopped up by television commercials, so Scripture loses much of its content and flow when we chop it up for the liturgy. Sunday's Gospel (Mk 10:46-52) is a case in point.

Mark never could have foreseen that we one day would hear these verses separate from the lines which immediately precede them, the lines which we heard last week. In that reading, after Jesus asks James and John, "What do you want me to do for you?" the brothers make their outlandish demand for the "glory seats." In this week's reading, Jesus asks Bartimaeus the same question, but he receives a completely different request, a request which only a true disciple would make of Jesus.

Persistence

Marks shows Bartimaeus to be a true disciple not only by his request, but also by the way he describes the beggar's actions before and after his encounter with Jesus. First, he's persistent in his efforts to have Jesus notice him. When the crowd starts "scolding him to make him keep quiet," he simply shouts "all the louder, `Son of David, have pity on me!'"

And when Jesus finally stops and calls him over to Him, the blind man doesn't hesitate. He instantly jumps up, throws off his cloak and hurries to Jesus. Then, after Jesus grants his request, Mark mentions that he immediately starts "to follow Jesus up the road" to Jerusalem, where Jesus will shortly experience His passion, death and resurrection.

Bartimaeus' persistence, his immediate response to Jesus' call and his following Him along the road to Jerusalem proclaim to the Gospel reader that here, at last, is a perfect disciple. Jesus doesn't answer such a person's plea as He did James and John's "unchristian" request with the biting comment, "You do not know what you are asking." On the contrary, Jesus grants Bartimaeus' petition with a simple, "Be on your way! Your faith has healed you."

He grants it quickly and generously because it's something all true disciples should always request: "I want to see!"

Seeing better

Jesus' followers presume He's working constantly in their lives. They never have to ask for His presence, nor pray that He give him something different from what they already have. For the Christian, happiness and fulfillment in life rarely consist in receiving new or different "stuff" from God. Rather, it revolves around seeing all that we already have from a different angle than the one we're presently viewing it from. Like Bartimaeus, our prayer should continually be, "I want to see!"

The author of the letter to the Hebrews reminds us that we never have to ask Jesus to see us differently (Heb 5:1-6). He knows exactly from what angle to view us. He's one of us. "He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring," the author writes, "for He Himself is beset by weakness." Ironically, the very thing most people try to avoid or deny -- our weakness -- is the very element which joins us to the God who has become human.

Perhaps some are more comfortable with the first reading (Jer 31:7-9) than with our Christian readings. Like the prophet's community, we'd like to hear that God's going to completely change our world and the way we live in it. We long to identify with people who finally can return home from exile, who finally have their prayers for deliverance answered.

It's much more difficult for us to see and admit that the "brooks of water" to which Jesus is leading His thirsty followers have always been there, right in front of us, but because of our faith-blindness, we've never noticed them.

Just as parents train children to deal with the myriad images which overwhelm their eyes, so God, the parent, teaches us ow to really look at the images which pass before our eyes. But the first step in achieving such perception is to admit we're blind.

(10-23-97)