Healing of the Blind man
The story of Bartimaeus
Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh
I believe that one of the reasons which prevent us from being truly ourselves and finding our own way is that we do not realise the extent to which we are blind! If only we knew that we were blind, how eagerly would we seek healing: we should seek it, as Bartimaeus probably did, from men, doctors, priests, healers; and then, having lost all hope ‘in princes, in the sons of men in whom there is no salvation’, we might, perhaps, turn to God. But the tragedy is that we do not realise our blindness: too many things leap to our eyes for us to be aware of the invisible to which we are blind. We live in a world of things which command our attention and assert themselves: we have no need to affirm them, they are there. Things invisible do not assert themselves – we have to seek them out and discover them. The outside world demands our attention: God entreats us diffidently. <…>
Blinded by the world of things we forget that it does not match the depth of which man is capable. Man is both small and great. When we think of ourselves in an ever-expanding universe – immeasurably big or infinitely small – we see ourselves as a speck of dust, frail, of no account; but when we turn inwards we discover that nothing in this immensity is great enough to fill us to the brim – the whole created world falls like a grain of sand into the depth of our being: we are too vast for it to fill or fulfil us. God alone, who has made us for himself, on his scale, can do that. <…>
The world of things has an opacity, a density, weight and volume, but it has no depth. We can always penetrate to the heart of things, and when we have reached their deepest point, it is a terminal point, there is no way through to infinity: the centre of a sphere is its innermost point but if we try to go beyond that we return to the surface at the antipodes. But Holy Scripture speaks of the depth of the human heart. It is not a depth that can be measured; its very nature is immensity, it goes beyond all bounds of measurement. This depth is rooted in the immensity of God himself. It is only when we have understood the difference between a presence that asserts itself and a presence we have to seek because we sense it in our hearts, when we have understood the difference between the heavy, opaque density of the world around us and the human profundity which only God can fill – and I would go so far as to say the profundity of every created thing whose vocation it is to become the place of the divine presence, when, all things accomplished, God will be all in all things – it is only then that we can begin our search in the knowledge that we are blind, blinded by the visible which prevents us grasping the invisible. To be blind to the invisible, to be aware only of the tangible world, is to be on the outside of the fullness of knowledge, outside the experience of total reality which is the world in God and God at the heart of the world. The blind man Bartimaeus was painfully aware of this because owing to his physical blindness, the visible world escaped him. He could cry out to the Lord in utter despair, with all the desperate hope he felt when salvation was passing him by, because he felt himself cut off. The reason why all too often we cannot call to God in this way is that we do not realise how much we are cut off by being blind to the total vision of the world – a vision which could afford complete reality to the visible world itself. If only we could learn to be blind to the visible in order to see beyond, in depth, the invisible, in and around us, penetrating all things with its presence!
Blindness is manifold: it may, never with us, but with the saints, result from having seen a light too bright. St Symeon the New Theologian, speaking of the Divine Darkness, says that it is excess of light, of a light so blinding that he who has seen it, sees no more. It may also be blindness with open eyes. <…> We can see with the eyes of indifference as the passers-by saw Bartimaeus. We can see with the eyes of greed as the glutton in Dickens who, seeing cattle grazing in the fields, could only think ‘live beef!’ We can see with the eyes of hatred when we become horribly clear-sighted but with the perspicacity of the devil, seeing nothing but evil, making a vile caricature of things. And lastly, we may see with the eyes of love, with a pure heart that can see God and his image in people; even in those where his image is dimmed – through layers of appearances and counter evidence, to the true, deep secret self of man. <…>
The instant we realise we are blind and therefore outside the Kingdom, we can occupy in relation to the Kingdom and to God, a situation which is real – not the imaginary one in which we constantly place ourselves, outside in the street, picturing the eternal abode, trying to warm our hands at the fire burning in the hearth on the other side of the door, endeavouring here and now to share in the life which is still out of our reach, imagining already that the tiny spark which shines in us is even now all the Kingdom. It is not yet the Kingdom, it is only an earnest pledge of life eternal, a promise, an appeal lodged in us to make us continue in hope as we take our stand where the Gospel tells us to begin – before a door which is still shut to us, never wearying of knocking at it until it opens. We must hold ourselves before the mystery not yet penetrated and call, cry out towards God, seeking the way until it unfolds before us like a straight path to heaven, in the certainty that the moment will come when God will grant our prayer. I purposely do not say ‘hear’ because we are always heard although a perceptible response is not always given to us. God is not deaf to our prayers but we are not always capable of understanding God’s silence in response to our cry. If we realised we were outside a closed door, we could measure both our human solitude and also how far we still are from the joy to which we are called, from the fullness which God offers us, and we could at the same time appreciate – and this is very important – how rich we are despite our infinite poverty. We know so little of the things of God, we live so little in him yet what wealth there is for us in this spark of Presence, of knowledge, of communion shining at the heart of the darkness that we are! If the darkness is yet so rich in light, if absence is so rich in presence, if life which but dawns is such fullness, with what hope, with what mounting joy, can we stand before this closed door, in the happy thought that one day it will open and we shall know an outburst of life such as we cannot yet contain within ourselves. <…>
From “Meditation on a Theme”.
14th Sunday of Luke
The Gospel According to Luke 18:35-43
Healing of the Blind man Bartimaeus near Jericho
At that time, as Jesus drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging; and hearing a multitude going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And he cried, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped, and commanded him to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me receive my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.