The way of faith: listening, becoming neighbours, witnessing
The episode we have heard is the last one narrated by the Evangelist Mark about the itinerant ministry of Jesus, who will soon enter Jerusalem to die and be resurrected. Bartimeus is therefore the last to follow Jesus on the way: from being a beggar on the edge of the road in Jericho, he becomes a disciple who goes with others to Jerusalem. We too have walked together, “made synod” and now this gospel seals three fundamental steps for the way of faith.
First, we look at Bartimeo: his name means “son of Timeo”. And the text specifies it: “The Son of Timeo, Bartimeus” (Mk 10:46). But as the gospel reaffirms it, a paradox arises: the father is absent. Bartimeo lies alone by the road, away from home and without a father: he is not someone loved but abandoned. He is blind and has no one to listen to him; and when I wanted to talk they shut him up. Jesus hears his cry. And when he finds it, he lets him talk. It was not difficult to guess what Bartimeus would have asked him: it is clear that a blind man wants to have or regain his sight. But Jesus is not expeditious, he gives time to listen. This is the first step in facilitating the path of faith: listening. It is the apostolate of the ear: listen, before speaking.
On the contrary, many of those who were with Jesus impeded Bartimeus to shut up (cf. v. 48). For these disciples, the needy was a nuisance along the way, an unforeseen in the default program. They preferred their times to those of the Master, their words rather than listening to others: they followed Jesus, but what they had in mind were their own plans. It’s a danger we always have to warn ourselves about. For Jesus, on the other hand, the cry of the one who asks for help is not something annoying that hinders the way, but a vital question. How important it is for us to listen to life! The children of the heavenly Father listen to their brethren: not the useless murmurings, but the needs of others. Listen with love, with patience, as God does with us, with our often repetitive prayers. God never gets tired, he always rejoices when we look for him. Let us also ask for the grace of a docile heart to listen. I would like to say to young people, on behalf of all of us adults: excuse us if we have often not listened to you; if, instead of opening your heart, we have filled your ears. As The Church of Jesus we wish to listen to you with love, sure of two things: that your life is precious before God, because God is young and loves young people; and that your life is also precious to us, moreover, it is necessary to move on.
After listening, a second step, to accompany the way of faith: to become neighbours. We look at Jesus, who does not delegate to someone from the “crowd” who followed him, but meets Bartimeus himself. He says, “What do you want me to do for you?” (v. 51). What you want: Jesus identifies with Bartimeus, does not dispense with his expectations; that I do: do, not just talk; for you: not according to ideas preset for anyone, but for you, in your situation. So does God, begging himself in the first person with a love of predilection for each one. Already in his way of acting he conveys his message: so faith springs into life.
Faith passes through life. When faith focuses exclusively on doctrinal formulations, there is a risk of speaking only to the head, without touching the heart. And when you focus only on doing, you run the risk of becoming moralism and reducing yourself to the social. Faith, on the other hand, is life: it is to live the love of God that has changed our existence. We cannot be doctrinalists or activists; we are called to do God’s work in the way of God, in closeness: united to him, in communion between us, close to our brethren. Proximity: here is the secret to transmitting the heart of faith, not a secondary aspect.
To become neighbours is to bring the novelty of God into the life of the brother, it is the antidote against the temptation of prepared recipes. Let us ask ourselves whether we are Christians capable of being neighbours, of leaving our circles to embrace those who “are not one of our own” and which God ardently seeks. There is always this temptation that is repeated so many times in the scriptures: washing your hands. It is what the multitude does in today’s Gospel, it is what Cain did with Abel, that is what Pilate will do with Jesus: wash his hands. We, on the other hand, want to imitate Jesus, and just like he gets our hands dirty. He, the way (cf. Jn 14:6), by Bartimeus has stopped along the way. He, the light of the world (cf. Jn 9:5), has bowed over a blind man. Let us recognize that the Lord has got his hands dirty for each of us, and let us look at the cross and begin from there, to remind us that God became my neighbor in sin and death. He became my neighbor: everything comes from there. And when out of love for him we too become neighbours, we become bearers of new life: not in teachers of all, not in experts of the sacred, but as witnesses of the love that saves.
Witnessing is the third step. Let us look at the disciples who call Bartimeus: they do not go to him, who begged, with a reassuring coin, or to dispense counsel; go in the name of Jesus. In fact, they address only three words to him, all of Jesus: “Cheer up, rise up, call you” (v. 49). In the rest of the Gospel, only Jesus says encouragement, because only he resurrects the heart. Only Jesus says in the Gospel rise, to heal the spirit and the body. Only Jesus calls, changing the life of the one who follows Him, lifting the one on the ground, carrying the light of God in the darkness of life. Many children, many young people, like Bartimeus, seek a light in life. They’re looking for true love. And like Bartimeus who, despite the multitude, invokes only Jesus, they too invoke life, but often only find false promises and a few who are really interested in them.
It is not Christian to expect the brethren who are looking to knock on our doors; we will have to go where they are, not by taking ourselves, but to Jesus. He sends us, like those disciples, to encourage and lift in his name. He sends us all to say, “God asks you to let yourself be loved for him.” How many times, instead of this liberating message of salvation, we have taken ourselves, our “recipes,” our “tags” in the Church. How many times, instead of making our words of the Lord, we have passed our ideas by word of yours. How many times do people feel the weight of our institutions more than Jesus’ friendly presence. Then we pass an NGO, a parastatal organization, not the community of the saved who live the joy of the Lord.
Listen, become neighbours, testify. The way of faith ends in the Gospel in a beautiful and surprising way, with Jesus saying, “Go, your faith has saved you” (v. 52). And yet Bartimeus did not do professions of faith, he did no work; he just asked for compassion. Feeling in need of salvation is the beginning of faith. It is the most direct way to find Jesus. The faith that saved Bartimeus was not in the clarity of his ideas about God, but in seeking him, in wanting to find him. Faith is a matter of encounter, not theory. In the meeting Jesus passes, in the encounter the heart of the Church tinges. So what will be effective is our testimony of life, not our sermons.
And to all of you who have participated in this “walk together”, I thank you for your testimony. We have worked in communion and frankly, with the desire to serve God and his people. May the Lord bless our steps, so that we may listen to the youth, become their neighbours, and bear witness to the joy of our lives: Jesus. Ω