Today in Luke’s gospel we hear about the blind man with great faith. In Mark’s gospel we are told his name, Bartimaeus. In this passage the Fathers explain that; the blind man symbolizes future generations such as us – who would come to faith only by hearing without seeing Christ in person – as Christ says to Thomas (John 20:29) “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Those who tried to silence the blind man represent those who are persecutors and tyrants, who in every generation try to silence the Church and the Son of God and hinder those who are seeking. The low-lying city of Jericho, at 850 ft. below sea level, represents sin and fallen humanity, and Christ passing through Jericho represents His incarnation into this broken and sinful world. The restoration of sight to the blind signifies the healing available for all of humanity through His grace. Christ’s subsequent journey up to Jerusalem, at 2750 ft. above sea level, represents Christ bringing us on the path to the heavenly kingdom, and we are represented by Bartimaeus, having received healing from our spiritual blindness, joyously glorifying God and drawing our seeking brothers and sisters to join us in following Christ!
“Jesus, Son of David” Bartimaeus cries out. Everyone in this Jewish crowd knew exactly what he was saying when he addressed Jesus with this title. “Son of David” was the title of the Messiah. This was great revelation given by God to Bartimaeus. When he asked who was passing by, Bartimaeus was simply told, “Jesus of Nazareth.” No hint of Divinity in that title. Might as well have been “Joe from down the road.” Yet somehow through the gift of faith, Bartimaeus knows this is the promised Messiah. He who created all things -in heaven and on earth – visible and invisible. Thrones, dominions, principalities, powers – these are all orders of angels – the pre-incarnate Christ created them – In Him ALL things consist. It is hard to even begin to get your head around this reality, but once we begin to get a small glimpse of understanding and knowing who Christ really is in all His fullness, our faith is established.
Hearing Bartimaeus calling Him, appealing to Him as the Messiah and crying out from the depth of his heart the Jesus prayer, “Lord have mercy on me,” Jesus immediately stops and asks, “what do you want Me to do for you?” God hears us when we are desperate, when we pray from the very depths of our being! When things get messed up in our lives, this can be a great blessing – it can bring us back to dependence on Him. When in our despair we desperately call on Him to help us and He meets us in our deepest need, our faith naturally grows. When things are just coasting along smoothly, we often neglect to turn to God in thanksgiving. We may even start to think it is all because we are so wise and deserving that our lives are so comfortable, rather than understanding with gratefulness that all things come from His great ever-present love for us. Any situation that ultimately brings us closer to God in faith and love is a great gift.
Christ then restores Bartimaeus’s sight saying, “Your faith has made you well.” What is this faith that Christ refers to? It is the foundation of all reality. Without this faith we are blinder than blind Bartimaeus ever was. This faith is the knowledge that Christ is the Messiah, the Saviour of the world, the Creator of all that exists in both the material and immaterial realms. Paul says in Colossians (Col. 1: 16, 17) “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” Bartimaeus’s faith in Who it is that he is addressing, is all that is required to have both his physical and more importantly, his spiritual eyesight restored to 20/20.
Once we start to have this faith, this knowledge of what true reality looks like, and Who Christ really is, we also receive our sight and wake up from the slumber of delusion that infects the race of Adam. God is everywhere present and fills all things, but sin blinds us to that which is all around us, right under our noses. God is not some “super spiritual” force like we encounter in Star Wars. Christ is fully human and fully God – true God of true God. God beyond what we are even capable of encountering or experiencing at any level of our being. All of the visible and invisible world, all of matter and non-matter is filled with His presence. He created and holds all things together, and apart from Him nothing exists. Science is discovering this reality, showing that even such dense matter as rocks are really alive and vibrating with the energy of God in the orderly vibrations of the atoms, molecules, electrons, and quarks which make up all matter. Some of our saints have been able to hear in their spirits, stories from even rocks and trees. When we reach out and give each other a hug, this is a spiritual act. Our spirits flow into each other as we touch each other, both physically and spiritually. The physical crated world is completely infused with God. The entire physical world is good, blessed and created by God, and fearfully and wondrously made, beyond our comprehension. We know this chiefly through faith, although the more we advance in scientific discoveries, the more these scientific “breakthroughs” enable us to also know these things intellectually, through true science.
All through the scriptures, Christ is talking about spiritual blindness as He heals physical blindness – always drawing parallels between the two. As He starts His ministry Christ quotes (Isaiah 61:1), that one of His chief purposes is to bring “recovery of sight to the blind.” Christ describes the Pharisees as (Matt. 23:24) “Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.” When they ask Him if they too are blind, Christ replies (John 9:41) “If you were blind you would have no sin; but now you say ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.” There are many other references to blindness throughout the scriptures. My favorite children’s book From I-Ville to You-Ville starts out “Although everything seemed fine in the kingdom of I-Ville, the people had a problem. Their vision was blurred so they could not see clearly. They didn’t even know how bright the sun was. But they didn’t know this, because they thought everyone saw things the same way.”
One of the chief characteristics of spiritual blindness is that we have no idea that we are suffering from it. The Pharisees are continually held out to us as examples of those who are most deluded and at the same time most confident that they are right. The Pharisees are completely resistant to having anyone intrude upon their world view; even God Himself standing in front of them in the flesh. Unfortunately, they aren’t really all that unique. Our sinful human nature has not really improved, no matter what our new age friends in the human potential movement try to tell us. This is why the Church gives us the prayer of Blind Bartimaeus – the Jesus prayer – as an antidote to our great spiritual blindness. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me a sinner.” As this prayer seeps into our hearts, faith and humility grows, and the scales covering our eyes slowly dissolve as the light of Christ begins to fill our vision.
Once we begin to suspect that our paradigm, our view of the world is very flawed and extremely limited and limiting, we become more open to receiving a new paradoxical understanding. Suffice to say Orthodoxy is paradoxy in this culture. Anything that can challenge our misplaced faith in our own firmly held world views, our political persuasions, our judgmental opinions of those lesser humans that don’t think like we do, can be a great blessing. We do not easily give up our very comfortable and self-affirming world views. We tend to surround ourselves with those who think as we do; who have similar political views, similar diets, like similar books, music, movies, even cheer for the same sports teams, so we can continually reassure each other that we are all viewing life and reality properly. In a healthy church we will find people of every age group, belonging to every political, social, and economic group, cheering for different sports teams or that even hate sports. Thank God, we have the one thing needful in common – faith in Christ. Only in union with Christ and His love do we have union with brothers and sisters from every age of history, every part of the world, and even our neighbors. This is what Christ offers to us, and has faithfully delivered since He established His Church through the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. How do we grow and increase in faith and love?
Our mother the Church, carefully lays out a sure route to salvation and Theosis – being transformed into the image of Christ – through the Liturgical cycles. Participating is a time proven recipe to grow in faith. The Orthodox Church’s daily, weekly, yearly and festal cycles breathe life into the very depths of our souls as they bring us constantly to Christ. As we allow ourselves to partake of this divine eternal rhythm, a slow soaking healing transformation occurs, and we grow and fulfill the promise of our baptism into Christ’s Church. These four Church cycles rotate within the framework of the fifth great cycle – the cycle of our lives which takes in our birth, baptism, chrismation, vocation, possibly marriage, ordination, and other sacramental realities, and ends in our burial and new birthday into the kingdom of God, at the end of our great life cycle. Today in our busy lives, we take in but a small taste of all that is available for us in the Church, and therefore our faith sometimes flounders, but it is all there awaiting our attention.
Each day of the week, the emphasis changes as we consider first on Monday the holy angels, on Tuesday St. John the Baptist and the great old Testament saints, On Wednesday the holy cross, on Thursday the Apostles and great saints of the Church, on Friday once again the holy and all-powerful weapon of peace, the cross of Christ, and on Saturday the saints and martyrs who have fallen asleep in the Lord. Sunday’s are of course the Lord’s day, also known as the eight day when we participate in eternity at Divine Liturgy. Each Sunday is a mini Pascha as we celebrate Christ’s glorious resurrection and enter into the new age. Each Wednesday and Friday – the days of the cross we are asked to fast, with a few exceptions during the time of Pascha, Pentecost or Christmas. Daily we are given lists of new saints to venerate and ask to intercede for us, and daily we are given new Gospel readings and scripture readings to meditate upon, giving us an endless variation of prayer and instruction on life in Christ, using the example of the faithful saints and martyrs gone before us in every generation.
If we want to increase our faith and grow in Christ, we need to do a check on where we hang out in our mind and with our time, what percentage of ourselves we devote to the things of God compared to the things of the world. Many of us save up and do great planning to be sure we get refreshed by taking holidays. I would highly recommend in addition, you simply schedule a few feast day’s off work to come and allow God to refresh you. Not much planning or cost involved but great refreshment can occur just by choosing to take a day off for a feast day.
So, like Bartimaeus our blind friend with the excellent spiritual eyesight, let us cry from the very depths of our being “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me.” Let us ask God continually to heal our blindness, to allow His precious light to illuminate the areas in our lives that keep His grace and tender love from reaching into our hearts, and to give us the strength and courage to carve out the time to come to Him, and allow Him to heal and transform us. Glory to Jesus Christ!