Job 42:1-6, 10-17, Psalm 34, Mark 10:46-52

October 26, 1997 by Tad Mitsui

When I was a teenager, I had a friend who was very popular. He was clever, and funny, and always lively. He was good to be with. He was extremely generous, too. He took us to many fun places, and often paid for food and drink. Naturally, he had many friends. But the last time I saw him, he was in a prison. He was charged for fraud. He committed suicide soon after that. He was a hunchback. But I had to think twice to remember that he appeared slightly different. Because he was such a nice guy to be with, his appearance had long faded into insignificance. But apparently he thought that he needed to buy our friendship. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to us, he was spending beyond his means and had to resort to crime to maintain the appearance of a generous friend. He did not realize that he needed no other body nor money to stay friends with us.

Disability and illness can be understood in many different ways. It all depends. Notion of health has changed over the years. Disability and sickness are no longer mere physical problems. Emotional, mental, social, and spiritual conditions are all part of what causes a sense of being unwell. No physician alone can bring health back to a patient without a community of caring people that creates healthy minds and spirits. A long time ago, health used to be strictly a matter of spirit. For a long time, people used to think that unwell people were cursed by the gods, and sickness was caused by malicious spirits. People avoided and discriminated against seriously ill people, mentally disturbed individuals, and physically disabled or disfigured persons. They did this because they were afraid to come under the same spell. It is good that science made us abandon those false beliefs. However, it was a mistake to throw away totally the belief that human nature is spiritual as well. When we see health only as a matter of a physical body, we are seeing only a half of our reality.

It was women who knew how to treat the sick people many years ago. Women found the healing property of many plants. They probably found it accidentally, as they were looking for edible plants and spices, and cooking vegetables that some of them cured sicknesses and eased pains. Also, women were traditionally caregivers at home. While others were afraid to be near the sick people, mothers and wives did not fear them: they looked after them and often brought them back to health. People were afraid of women who could heal, and saw them with suspicion. They thought that those women were in possession of a power that no man was allowed to possess. They even branded them as witches who challenged God. They persecuted and often burned them at the stake. It was only during the last two centuries that human beings have come to consider health as a concern primarily for science rather than for religion.

Today, we find our thinking has gone full circle and come back to the way the human race used to think in earlier times. Partly due to our dissatisfaction with the way today”s health care is run, people are now rediscovering the traditional herbal medicine and the importance of the emotional and spiritual work in the art of healing. Science did not lose our trust completely, however. But it has come to be seen as a part of a broader health care system.

I am speaking about how people used to see disability and sickness in order that we can understand the mind of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar in today”s Gospel. I suspect that Bartimaeus suffered not so much from blindness itself as he did from discrimination, isolation and loneliness. Blind people, just like other disabled and disfigured people, were abandoned by their families, and discriminated against by the community as persons cursed by God. They became nobody. No one spoke to them nor listened to them. They were ignored. So when Bartimaeus cried out, "Son of David, have mercy on me", he was crying out for attention. Yes, he did ask for sight, because he thought it was a way to re-join the human community. So this story tells us about the importance of community and relationship for a healthy life. It is speaking about healing, not just the cure of a disability. Curing refers to the alleviation of the symptoms. Healing is the recovery of a sense of wholeness.

We are not quite completely healthy until our wholeness of body and spirit is achieved. The road to wholeness begins with caring relationships. Bartimaeus must have been very desperate for a relationship with other human beings. The way he cried out to Jesus, "Son of David, have mercy on me." tells it all. The phrase "Son of David" had a very special meaning for the Jews. It meant the second coming of King David. Under David, the Hebrew nation had the most glorious time in history. Everybody was waiting for the return of King David, the ultimate chosen one of God, indeed the Messiah. No one was allowed to use the name lightly. Doing so was as bad as committing blasphemy, and deserving of capital punishment. Indeed Jesus had to die on the cross precisely because of the allegation that he claimed to be the Messiah. Bartimaeus was putting both Jesus and himself in danger by shouting out this phrase. On the other hand, it is also possible that there was no such danger, because people would have ignored or tried to ignore beggars. So it might not have mattered all that much, what he was shouting. We still ignore beggars when we run into them. We don”t hear what they say.

In either case, what should be noted in this story is that Jesus acknowledged Bartimaeus” cry and responded. He broke a taboo and brought an outcast back into the community. What is unique about the healing ministry of Jesus Christ is not his miracles. When you look at literature from other cultures, you will realize that miracle stories are not uncommon. In fact, many religious figures also performed miracles. Jesus” uniqueness was his concern for the persons he came into contact with. He was mainly interested in people. He saw people as whole persons no matter what their physical or mental state. Bartimaeus could feel that Jesus had immense compassion and an infinite capacity for healing. He knew that Jesus gave people a sense of wholeness. This is why he kept calling him by a name that endowed Jesus with the highest possible status, even though it was blasphemy under the normal circumstances. This is why the people around him were embarrassed and so afraid that they tried hard to shut him up. But Bartimaeus never shut up. He kept calling for the "Son of David" and begging for attention. Jesus heard this and told the disciples to bring the beggar to him. The blind man saw in Jesus Christ what other people could see but did not see. Bartimaeus saw in Jesus the power that would return him to the human community.

We live in strange times. We have never seen the time when medical science could do so many things: things which were unthinkable even a decade ago. We are also surrounded by miracle drugs. Then how come so many people are unhappy about our health services. I know ”how come”. The system lacks the warmth of a human community. We are unhappy about our health system, because it only seeks to cure but not to heal. It does not restore wholeness. It lacks compassion and community. Today”s Gospel story tells us how important it is for us in the healing process to live in a caring community. Jesus showed our community of faith how to bring back wholeness into the lives of people.

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