By Canon Gerry Conroy
I find myself once again taking note of the mounting numbers of people infected by this virus and even though there is plenty of assurance that the numbers of people dying and those seriously affected by it remain small thanks to the vaccination programme, I can sense arising within me every now and again echoes of that disquiet I experienced at the beginning of this unsettled period in our lives. The cry of blind
Bartimaeus, ‘Jesus Son of David, have pity on me’ takes on an additional resonance to the one we normally associate with it when we echo it at the beginning of Mass. Asking for that pity, that mercy, touches on something very deep in human nature. The Vaccine may have indeed worked wonders for many of us in limiting the effects of the virus, yet there remains within us an awareness, I think, that the virus has also raised other concerns that the vaccine alone cannot resolve. Some of them are material things, like increased strain on financial resources or the pain of loneliness and isolation, but also other things that speak of the nature of our humanity that these more material failings point to, such as our need of one another, our need of affirmation and love and even things such as the shame we can feel and that drives us into a self-imposed isolation from which we do not know how to escape.
I’m sure that St Mark’s telling of that story of Bartimaeus wasn’t simply told to be a story about the healing of a blind man, it was also a story about a man being set free from the isolation that afflicted him, a shame that he held deep within him and one from which only the Messiah, the Son of David could set him free. Bartimaeus surely recognised that; St Mark also must have recognised that, which is why, I think, he told us
the beggar’s name. He wasn’t just some blind man who served Mark’s purposes to show the power of Christ to cure. He was someone who had lost himself in the darkness but had received himself back from the hands of Christ. Illness can make us lose ourselves, addiction does that, derailment of our plans for our life, so many things in life do that to us, we lose ourselves, we lose that sense of our dignity and life loses its enchantment for us and we are left to face it alone, isolated, doubtful of everything, fearful of life’s outcome. It was belief in the goodness of life, belief in himself as worthy of something, as not being a
waste of space; that was what that blind man wanted from Christ when he cried out for pity. That was the mercy of God that he was seeking, that was what he asked for when he asked for his eyesight.
Yes the Vaccination gives us a type of certainty to face an uncertain world, but we need more than that, we need something that can heal the core of our being and free us from the burdens we carry within us, free us from the wider and greater uncertainties that inhabit our hearts, something to heal the wounds that life inflicts on us and that cause us to shrivel and die before our time. But we are too old, too inured to the ways of the world to take refuge in fairy tales or empty promises. Our uncertainties and doubts would silence our hopes and our faith just as the crowd would silence the cries of Bartimaeus. We have
forgotten that joy of deliverance from the shame of their betrayal that the Apostles felt at the resurrection of Christ. That is no fairy tale; the resurrection of Christ is no piece of wishful thinking. We must not let our eyes remain blind to the joy and hope that Christ can give. Our prayer also should be, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us.