If you’re a baseball fan, you’ve been watching with interest the playoffs that began a few weeks ago. One by one, the hopeful contenders for the World championship have been eliminated. It looks like the World Series will come to a quick conclusion.
In sports competitions, there can be only one winner. That is not necessarily true in every realm of activity, but it does happen sometimes. For the past four Sundays, we’ve read the tenth chapter of Mark’s Gospel and witnessed one hopeful attempt after another end in failure.
You might recall that, four Sundays ago, a group of Pharisees came from Jerusalem to ask Jesus about his interpretation of the Mosaic Law regarding marriage and divorce. (Mk. 10:1-12) Three Sundays ago, a rich man asked Jesus about his interpretation of the Law’s teaching about holiness. (Mk. 10:17-22) Last Sunday, James and John asked for places of honor in Jesus’ kingdom. (Mk. 10:35-41) Today, a blind man asked to be healed. (Mark 10:46-52)
All of the people above made requests of Jesus and all received a response from him. In fact, all of them received exactly the same response. Only the blind man, however, got what he wanted. It didn’t need to be the case that the others did not have their hopes realized, but it did happen that way. The difference between the blind man and the others, of course, was the request that was made.
The Pharisees had come to Jesus to belittle him. The rich man wanted to find virtue without giving up his self-serving lifestyle. James and John wanted to gain an advantage over the other disciples. The blind man asked for the right thing, the only thing that Jesus had to give, and the only thing that was worth asking for: he asked to be a disciple.
Jesus had offered the gift of discipleship to everyone who approached him in this tenth chapter of the Gospel. He invited the Pharisees to repent of their self-righteousness and learn his teaching. (Mk. 10:5-9) He invited the rich man directly by saying, “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Mk. 10:21) He invited James and John to open their hearts to the meaning of his impending death. “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk. 10:45) Only the blind man wanted what Jesus offered. (Mk. 10:52)
It wasn’t necessary for the previous hopefuls to fail, but only the blind man could see Jesus clearly; only the blind man pursued a relationship with Jesus for no ulterior motive. The Pharisees used their religious practice to make themselves look superior to others. The rich man used religion as a means to secure his social standing. James and John used their religious aspirations in order to gain an advantage over their peers. The blind man sought only to follow Jesus as his disciple. (Mk. 10:47)
Although he was blind, Bartimaeus could see what the others could not, namely, that religion is something one does for no other purpose than to show appropriate love for God.
If it seems that your prayers and requests of God are never answered, it might be that you are not paying attention to the answers God is giving. If, on the other hand, you practice religion with no ulterior motive, not for the sake of what you might get, not for gaining some advantage, then you, like the blind man, can see.