Traditionally, as catechumens prepare for baptism in the Catholic Church, we hear three specific Gospel readings at the three Scrutiny Masses before reception of the Sacraments (John 4:1-42, John 9:1-41, and John 11:1-44). Because my parish does two cycles of RCIA per year, I ended up hearing the story of Bartimaeus, the blind man as told in a different gospel. On October 28th, the reading was from Mark 10:46-52 as follows:
As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”
And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.” He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?”
The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.”
Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.
Jesus doesn’t meet the blind man where he sits; he asks Bartimaeus to walk to him. Picture what that would be like; getting up and stumbling forward in pitch darkness, arms outstretched in front of you, until another hand takes yours. That first moment of contact with Christ might have felt like when you don’t realize you’ve reached the bottom of a flight of stairs, and come into jarring contact sooner than you expected.
When Bartimaeus reached Christ, he would have touched him with his hand, the eyes he had used in lieu of eyes his whole life. So, at the moment of contact, before Christ restored his sight, he was already perceiving Christ directly, and then, grace upon grace, a veil fell away, and he was looking at Him. Jesus would be the first thing Bartimaeus saw, with no point of reference or comparison. Presumably, for the rest of his life, everything else Bartimaeus saw was in some way interpreted in relation to that first vision.
But what I found most affecting was the moments right before Bartimaeus opened his eyes. Walking forward in anticipation and encountering someone who’s already enough to overload the senses you’ve got, before you can ask for any others to be dazzled by.
After Mass, I was reminded of one of the songs from Sondheim’s Anyone Can Whistle. In “See What It Gets You” the straightlaced Nurse Fay Apple almost entirely regrets having opened her heart to Dr. Hapgood. (The plot of the show is really byzantine, so I’m not summarizing any further than that). She sings:
Here’s how to crawl,
Now, run, lady!
Here’s how to walk.
Here’s how to feel-
Have fun, lady.
And a fond goodbye!
Reach out your hand
And see what it gets you.
See what it gets you.
See what it gets you!
Trouble is, whatever it gets,
That once you see, you can’t stay blind.
What do I do now.
Now that my eyes are wide?
Nurse Fay Apple has also recieved a world-expanding vision, and it muddles everything up for her. Without his sight, Bartimaeus would have probably remained a beggar, enduring countless pains, but not the wrenching pain of becoming a disciple of Christ, falling in love, and then arriving at Calvary. Even in her pain and frustration, Nurse Fay Apple can’t reject what she now knows; she may resent the duties that have been laid upon her as she’s grown, but she can’t cast them off.
By the end of the song, Nurse Fay Apple has answered her own question of what to do:
And if I’m not ready
I can’t stand here dumb.
So, ready or not, here-I hope-I come!