Was Jesus right handed or left handed? Was he tall or short? What color were his eyes? Did He wear His hair long, or was Jesus fashionably bald? Was He the skinny aesthetic type, or, as I like to think of Him, was He a jolly, rotund, 280 pounder? What do you think?
There are so many details that the New Testament never bothers to tell us. We are never even directly told if Jesus was ever married or not, leaving room for all sorts of speculation. So when we read a detail in the Gospel like, “he threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus,” we have to wonder if the Gospel writer, in this case St. Mark, doesn’t mean for it to have more significance than a mere detail.
Bartimaeus, the blind man, “threw aside his cloak”. Why? What is this cloak? What does it symbolize? How does Bartimaeus cloak himself, i.e. hide his true self? It is a cloak of self-pity? “Oh, poor me, I am blind, I’m a beggar, poor me.” Did you ever cloak yourself in self-pity? Hide yourself from truly facing life and the work of relationship by cloaking yourself in self-absorption, self-pity? I certainly have.
Or maybe it is “tough man” cloak Bartimaeus had to throw off: you know, “So I’m blind. So I’m a beggar. I can handle it. I’m tough. I don’t need anyone. It’s fine.” And so he hides his weakness, his vulnerability, his need, cloaking it with false bravado. This is a cloak I think we guys like to use. “I don’t need to see a doctor. I don’t need any therapy. I don’t need anyone; I’m just fine.” Yehh, right.
Or maybe it was a cloak of anger, or of false humility, or low self-esteem, or some other persona and act that Bartimaeus adopted to cloak his true identity. He did this to protect himself, like putting on a shell, but in so doing he cut himself off from others, and so cut himself off from Jesus.
What cloaks do you have? Any personas or masks you adopt to cloak your true self, and so protect yourself, but only end up cutting yourself off from others?
We all have them. And like Bartimaeus, we need to throw these cloaks aside in order to come to Jesus. We need to come to Jesus as we truly are, not with our masks, our acts, our cloaks, but throwing all those false selves aside, come to Him with our excess flab and warts and our weaknesses, as we truly are. For that is the only person Jesus loves.
Back to the Gospel story: Jesus asked Bartimaeus a strange question. "What do you want me to do for you?" Hey, the guy is blind. Isn’t it obvious what he needs? Why does Jesus ask such a silly question?
Well, first of all, note this is the exact same question that Jesus, in last Sunday’s Gospel, put to James and John when they came with a request to Jesus. Jesus wants us to state what it is we want, because Jesus is asking about something deeper than physical needs. Jesus is pushing the issue at a much deeper, more spiritual sense of blindness than just physical eyesight.
Just a few chapters before in St Mark’s Gospel the disciples totally misunderstand Jesus when He warns them to ‘beware the yeast of the Pharisees…’ They mistakenly think it is because they forgot to bring bread. And Jesus said to them, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see?” (Mk 8:17-18) Jesus is always asking about blindness of the heart, not of the eyes. And so Jesus says to Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus is asking if Bartimaeus really wants to see, to understand, to comprehend God’s plan for his life.
And the same is true for us. Jesus asks us, “What do you want me to do for you?” Do we really want to see? Not everyone does. Blindness is often a lot easier, a lot more comfortable. A dramatic instance of this occurred in World War II when the allies liberated concentration camps, and made the people of the towns where the camps were walk through the camps and see what they had spent years trying to not see.
Do you see God’s plan for you, what God wants of you in this life, and that God’s plan is far better for you than your own plan for yourself? That the most important thing you must do is love? That love is more important than money, fame, power, sex, anything? Until you truly see that, you are still blind.
Do you see the face of Jesus in every other person in this room, in every person you meet? Until you honestly see Him in every person, you are still blind.
Do you want to see that we are all brothers and sisters, regardless of our race or nationality or language or religion? Seeing all this and more makes a great difference, and it is not all easy. But it is true.
We must come to Jesus, admit our blindness, and tell Him, "Master, I want to see." I want to see your Goodness. I want to see your Will for me.
I want to see that you are God and I am not. I want to see you in every person I meet.
"Master, I want to see."
This is what it means to be a disciple. When Bartimaeus made this request he received his sight, “and followed Jesus on the way”. The way means more than the road, it means Jesus’ way of life. It is to be a follower of Jesus, it is to be a disciple.
The Gospel today challenges us to throw aside whatever cloaks we may be hiding under, to stand up, and come to Jesus. As today’s Gospel tells us: "Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you."