I was about twelve years old when it became blindingly obvious that my eyesight wasn’t as sharp as I wanted. A standard eye-test confirmed the obvious and the sentence was passed: life behind glass. Or – to be more precise – behind correction glasses. Nowadays glasses seem to be quite fashionable amongst young people. But for me, at that time, the newly acquired accessory was a devastating blow to my self-esteem. For many years thereafter, I was desperate to get rid of glasses. Instead, I have become more and more dependent upon them and, as you can clearly see, I remain bespectacled.
Yet despite my ‘tragic fate’ (that’s a joke!) I can’t really grasp what it is to be a visually blind person. My failed attempts, or rather, hopes of regaining 20/20 vision were of a completely different magnitude to the desperation of Bartimaeus, the blind man in today’s gospel. The news that Jesus is passing by is crunch time for the man – it’s now or never! So determined is Bartimaeus to attract Jesus’ attention that he doesn’t give up when others try to silence him. On the contrary, the more they press him to shut up, the louder he shouts. Bartimaeus’ tenacity earns him what he wanted – Jesus takes note of him. Eventually, the man gets his eyesight back – his request is granted.
I’d like to think of today’s gospel as an illustration of prayer. The main character was clearly in need and he kept on shouting: ‘Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me!’ Effectively, it was his very simple but very honest prayer. The people around him ‘scolded him and told him to keep quiet.’ There’s no shortage of people around who pour scorn on prayer, call it a waste of time and complete nonsense. In the gospel, Bartimaeus persevered with his prayer despite discouragement; in fact, it only made him even more determined. When Jesus eventually paid attention, he asked Bartimaeus to come up to him. Strange – isn’t it? – to ask a blind man to walk towards him rather than the other way around. Well, you see, suddenly all those who had tried to silence Bartimaeus were very eager to lead him to Jesus. Everyone wanted to take the credit; as we know, success has many fathers while failure is an orphan… But all credit went to Bartimaeus when Jesus granted him his wish with the words: ‘Your faith has saved you.’
From today’s gospel I think a few things can be learnt about prayer. Firstly, never give up. There are many things that can discourage you from praying: be it an apparent ineffectiveness of your prayer, or sarcastic comments made by people around you, or many other factors. Don’t let them silence your prayer! Secondly, prayer requires some action, as when Jesus called Bartimaeus to come up to him despite his still being blind. In response, Bartimaeus ‘throwing off his cloak, jumped up and went to Jesus.’ Those details are important. The cloak was the man’s sole valuable possession and his sole protection against the elements; but it was also something that restricted his movement. Now he left it behind for the sake of Jesus. Prayer rarely changes God’s mind; prayer changes our minds. It helps us to see things in a different light, to reevaluate our priorities and to reassess our desires. Prayer effectively responds to the desire expressed by Bartimaeus in today’s gospel: ‘Master, let me see again.’