This story takes place outside the walls of Jericho (the place where the walls fell down in the Old Testament). Bartimaeus was blind and as for most handicapped people at that time his only source of income was to beg. Each beggar had their own place where they would sit each day to beg (much like the homeless people of today in our cities). Bartimaeus sat outside the gates at one of the entrances to the city. Jesus was on a tour of the area and had spent time in Jericho and was now leaving the city. His reputation had spread as a powerful teacher and a gifted healer and crowds gathered wherever he went. As he approached the gate to leave the city there was a crowd following him and, another crowd had gathered to meet him. Bartimaeus was pushed to the fringes of the crowd. He had heard of Jesus and when he heard that it was the great healer approaching, he began to shout to him, “Jesus, have mercy on me.” Those around him shushed him, but he was not to be thwarted. He called all the louder and Jesus heard him through that noisy crowd. “Call him” Jesus said. Those around Bartimaeus said, “Your in luck, get up and go to him.” Bartimaeus leaped up, threw his cloak aside, scattering the coins that people had given him everywhere. He came to Jesus and Jesus said to him, “What is that you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus answered, “Teacher, I want to see.” Jesus said, “Go, your faith has healed you” and immediately he could see. He went away rejoicing.
In many of these stories Jesus asks the person what it is that they want. It always seems self evident. Bartimaeus was blind and it seems pretty clear that he would want to see. Jesus never presumes. As a blind person, Bartimaeus would not have the skills to do anything else but beg. Once he was given his sight, he would not be able to beg and would have to find some other source of income to live. This was a major life decision and it was a decision that the person had to make, not one that Jesus chose to make for them.
So it is in our lives. God gave us free will, to make our own decisions and we must live with the consequences of those decisions. God is not going to bail us out when we are suffering the outcomes of our choices. God will however be there to help us right the wrong, to comfort us, to strengthen us. God is also there to confront us when we are injuring others, encouraging us to return to the path of right living, to healing and wholeness. There are many forms that blindness takes. Prejudice, indifference, self-centredness are all forms of blindness in our lives. There is not one of us that does not suffer from some form of blindness. Asking God to heal our blindness is not just for a man like Bartimaeus but is for all of us. Our prayer should be, the same as Bartimaeus’ “Teacher, I want to see.” Thanks be to God that God wants each of us to grow into the fullness of the person that God created us to be.