The gospel last Sunday presents us with yet another powerful encounter between Jesus and an individual. It is a very good example to show the way in which the gospel texts need to be read. A lot of information may not be realized at a surface level.
The first thing we need to do when we read the gospel is realize that we are not reading the newspaper. The gospels were composed almost two thousand years ago, in a different cultural context, with a peculiar way to convey information, with a radically different purpose than the simple reporting of an event. When we read the paper we read facts. Reading the gospel is much like reading a poem — there is a lot of theological information packed under the literal meaning of the words. Sunday’s gospel is a great example of this.
For instance, where the text reads that Bartimaeus was blind, we may want to wonder what kind of blindness we are talking about. We believe that Jesus had the power to bring sight back to the blind, but the text refers to a blindness that may go beyond the physical impediment. Bartimaeus does not see things the way Jesus sees them, and when he does, he follows him—becomes a follower, a disciple. The one who first was sitting “by the roadside” is now on the way. We often are blind in the sense that we do not see things the way we should, or we simply do not see things—because they make us uncomfortable, or we are not sensitive enough.
Where I find that sensitive reading of the text becomes very useful for us, and was the focus of the homily this week, is when we read that Bartimaeus springs up and throws “aside his cloak” to meet Jesus. Nobody would remember that detail decades later. The expression is there to make a point, and it should focus our attention. That cloak may represent many things. It could be a sign of Bartimaeus’ social standing, an indication of his belonging to a particular section of society, or, along with this, it may be a symbol of the things that this man had to throw away to free himself of all the ties that kept him from reaching his potential.
If that interpretation is correct, we are invited to explore what is our own cloak that we need to throw aside. What is there that is not part of my essence but that as a heavy mantle weighs me down. It may be an attachment to material possessions, for instance. Or some ideology or well ingrained value we hold that may not be in accord with Jesus’ values. Or something I do often, a habit; or the opposite, something I don’t do. It may be a trait in our personality, like temper, or impatience, or our very common tendency to worry, or to dwell constantly in the past.
The invitation this week is about thinking and praying about the cloak we need to throw aside. Perhaps make a list, pray about those items, and take one (or two) and work on them. What is your cloak like?
[Image credit to Kees de Kort]