30th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)
“Take courage. Get up. Jesus is calling you.” These are the words spoken to the blind man, Bartemaeus, by Jesus’ disciples in this Sunday’s gospel reading. “Jesus is calling.” We can hear those words as a call to mission or vocational discernment — Jesus is calling you. How will you answer his call? We can ask what is Jesus asking of me? But we can also ask what is Jesus offering me?
Both are important questions, but I want to focus on the second one, especially as it relates to our prayer life. In this gospel reading, Bartemaeus provides us with a wonderful model.
Bartemaeus is blind beggar on the road outside of Jericho. His blindness prevents him from seeing Jesus as he passes by with his disciples, but there is nothing wrong with his ears. As soon as he hears Jesus is near, he calls out: “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” Are we actively seeking out signs of God’s presence? Is our “Holy Spirit radar” up, ready to detect moments of God’s grace, especially in our time of need? Or do we allow Jesus to walk by, unrecognized?
Once Bartemaeus knew Jesus was close, he immediately asks him to “have pity on me.” Asking Christ to have pity on us can be a prayer of repentance, as we seek forgiveness for the sins we have committed. But it can also be a cry for help no matter our struggles.
What are you struggling with right now? Maybe it is the burden of guilt for a sin you have committed. Maybe it is a physical ailment. Maybe it is the academic stress of college. Maybe it is a strained relationship. Maybe it is mental or emotional exhaustion. Whatever it is, you can pray, like Bartemaues, Jesus, have pity on me!
What do you want?
Jesus answers Bartemaues’ plea with a question. “What do you want me to do for you?” He invites Bartemaeus to be specific and name what he wants. Are we specific about what we want when we come to God in prayer?
We can be hesitant to tell God what we want from him, because we tell ourselves that he already knows. God knows what we want, and he knows what we need. God is omnipotent. So why does he want us to pray for specific things?
God is teaching us. To grow in holiness, we must learn to align our wills with God’s. We must learn to desire what is truly good, not just what we think is good. Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus says, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? So if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Lk 11:12). We can trust God to give us every good thing that we need to grow in holiness.
This doesn’t mean that God is going to give us a new car just because we ask; or give us an A on that exam that we didn’t study for, or make the person we have a secret crush on fall madly in love with us. Prayer doesn’t work that way. God is a loving Father, not a magic genie who grants wishes.
Nor is prayer about convincing God to give us what we want. This was the pagan attitude toward prayer. It was all about pleading with the gods to grant benefices. Christian prayer is supposed to change us, not God. It is about learning to rely on God for what we need, and allowing God to teach us to seek that which is truly good.
Bartemaeus asks Christ for one thing: “Master, I want to see.” This may seem like an obvious request from a blind man. But consider the implications beyond physical sight. To “see” means to understand and to comprehend. It means knowing the world as it truly is, and understanding our place in it. It means recognizing ourselves for who and what we are; and recognizing God for who and what he is. Any time we come to a new realization about something, we proclaim, “I see!” By asking for sight, Bartemaeus is asking for wisdom. This is why Jesus answers, “your faith has saved you.”
What do you want God to do for you? It’s not wrong to ask for things that you want, whether that be help in your studies, with your relationships, healing from an illness, or relief from any other kind of hardship or suffering. But we need to pray with a humble attitude and an understanding that God knows what is best for us, and trust him to give us what we truly need. Like Bartemaeus, we should pray “to see” — to gain wisdom and understanding — to help us better discern the good God desires to give us.
When the disciples announced to Bartemaeus that Jesus was calling, they told him to “take courage,” and to “get up.” Sometimes we are afraid to heed God’s call in our life because we are afraid of what God might be calling us to do, or to give up. We are afraid of what God might want from us. In truth, God does ask a lot. What he wants from us is nothing less that ourselves, and it’s a scary thing to give yourself to anyone. But the flip side of that is that God also wants to give us himself. He wants nothing but good for us, even more than we want it for ourselves. And so he asks, “What do you want me to do for you?“
Jesus is calling you. He is calling you out of your struggles, out of your misery and out of your weakness. Sometimes the way out is through suffering, but we can follow Jesus on the way, knowing that he has walked that way ahead of us, and that it leads to light and to life. This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. This is the lesson Bartemaeus has to teach us. So let us take courage and get up; Jesus is calling.