Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time (B) | Fr Martin Ganeri examines the insight of the blind man leading him to follow Jesus on the way.
This Sunday’s Gospel passage tells us of the physical healing of a blind man. The gift of sight. Yet it also sets out for us a journey of insight which the man undergoes as he comes into contact with Christ and which leads not just to his being healed of a bodily handicap, but to his becoming a full disciple of Christ, to his following Jesus ‘on the way,’ that ancient phrase for being a Christian. It is as a story of insight that what happens to the man born blind becomes a model for all of us as we seek to understand what it means for us to be ‘on the way’ to and with Christ.
We see this journey of insight unfold in the different names the blind man uses for Christ, as he calls on Christ with ever increasing determination and as he becomes known to Christ.
Already at the beginning the blind man is himself named, as Bar Timaeus. Not just a blind man, but someone known. Undoubtedly, because Bar Timaeus was known to the early Church as a disciple of Christ – one of the Church’s own members.
However at the beginning of the narrative itself he is just a blind beggar on the roadside from Jericho to Jerusalem. A blind man, who hears that Jesus of Nazareth, the famed healer, is passing by. So, now is his own chance to get his own physical sight back.
And what he cries out is, ‘Jesus son of David, have mercy on me.’ What does he mean by this? Is it just an honorific title, a way of getting attention, or does he recognise Jesus as the Messiah? At least, when others around him try to shut him up, he keeps on ever more loudly and insistently, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.’
So, the blind beggar has the words of recognition, but whether he knows their meaning is another thing. He wants the gift of sight, but at the same time he is also on the way to insight into who the Jesus of Nazareth really is, but how far he is along this way is uncertain.
And it is at this point that the blind man comes into an encounter with Christ. He has got Christ’s attention and in his enthusiasm the blind man casts off his mantle and rushes to where Christ is.
Now, when Christ’s asks him what he wants Christ to do for him, the blind man changes the way he addresses Christ. No longer, ‘Son of David, but ‘Master’ – a more intimate and committed term, a term no longer of distant recognition, but of one who confesses himself to be a disciple. In fact the English of the RSV does not do full justice to the significance of the term being used, for the Greek text preserves the Aramaic ‘Rabbuni,’ ‘My master, my rabbi,’ the same term preserved in encounter between Mary Magdalene and the Risen Christ. ‘My master,’ the one to whom I come to for teaching and insight, the one in whom I have placed my trust and love.
So, the blind man has moved on to a greater recognition of who the Jesus of Nazareth is. How much he understands the term he is using at this stage, again we do not know. But he is using the term and is right to do so. And certainly some shift, some deepening in his insight into Christ, has taken place. When Christ asks him what he wants, even though he clearly still does want physical sight, he begins also to show that he is open to the gift of insight.
And, thus, when the passage ends, as the man is healed and sees again, he also comes to have the insight that Christ is more than just the miracle worker, more than someone who meets his immediate physical needs, that Christ is the master from whom he wants to know and experience the truth about human life and flourishing. Not to go on his own way, but to follow Christ on Christ’s way, the way of discipleship. The blind man has become the Bar Timaeus of the Church, one who in his encounter with Christ and in his own enthusiastic response to Christ has also to be recognised himself as more than a blind beggar, and as a human being with a distinct identity and value in the sight of God and his fellow human beings.
This journey of insight Bar Timaeus is a model for us. For in our own encounter with Christ we too undertake a journey of gradually increasing recognition of who Christ is and a corresponding purification of our desires. As with Bar Timaeus, it is only when we make demands on Christ and come closer to him and he to us that we find ourselves confronted with the question of who we really think Christ is and what we do want Christ to do for us. Are we using titles for him without any real grasp of their significance? Or, is Christ the one who teaches us about the proper meaning and reality of human life – and who offers the realisation of it.
When we make demands of Christ and as we ask these question, our ideas about him and desires are challenged and purified, as Christ becomes more than a figure of the past or of ancient texts or religious traditions, and becomes, ‘My master.’ And it is at that point that we ourselves start to follow him on ‘his way,’ not ‘our own way.’
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP of a window by Douglas Strachan in Holy Trinity church in St Andrews.