There’s a bit of deja vu in this week’s gospel reading. Jesus repeats the same question he posed in last week’s reading: “What do you want me to do for you?” The answers to his question in both cases are quite different and produce different results. In today’s gospel, a blind man gains sight as a result of his answer. In last week’s gospel, the answer from James and John results in their being shown the way into the Kingdom of God: through the servants entrance.
These are lessons in prayer. In both of these cases Jesus probably knew what these people wanted from him, but he wanted to hear it from them. This is good advice for anyone with secret desires: Listen to your heart as you say your prayers. Are they said in a spirit of faith, as was the blind man’s prayer in today’s gospel (Mk 10:46-52), or is vanity at the heart of the matter?
“Jesus, son of David, have pity on me,” Bartimaeus prays. “Master, I want to see.”
Jesus was filled with compassion.
“Go your way,” he says. “Your faith has saved you.”
It wasn’t just those words of faith that moved Jesus, but the man’s very presence. This man internalized a truth that would become a 20th century business truism: “Eighty percent of success is just showing up.” This man’s faith was made complete by seeking and finding Jesus. His journey was a faith-based search for salvation and Jesus found his prayer to be worthy.
James and John didn’t seek Jesus. It was Jesus who found James and John and offered them a job: to build a road to salvation. They seemed to view this invitation more as a path to success and power, but as Jesus told them, only his Father could determine their worthiness to enter the Kingdom. Jesus did issue them a license they’d need to carry all along their journey: a cross. And, as is evident in today’s second reading from the Book of Hebrews (Heb 5:1-6), James and John’s prayer was not uncommon among Jesus’ high priests and it was given a strong and clear answer:
“No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was. In the same way, it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest, but rather the one who said to him: You are my son: this day I have begotten you.”
Although this journey isn’t easy, when fueled by faith, it is rewarding. Even the prophets who came centuries before Jesus were using the word of God to take as many people as they could along with them, as we hear in today’s first reading from the Book of Jeremiah (Jer 31:7-9):
“I will gather them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst, the mothers and those with child; they shall return as an immense throng. They departed in tears, but I will console them and guide them.”
This is the answer to every prayer rooted in faith and grown in hope.