For the past Sundays, we have been following Jesus, accompanied by his disciples, on the road to Jerusalem. The journey begins with the cure of the blind man in Bethsaida and concludes with the cure of another blind man in Jericho, the last town before Jerusalem. Jesus heals Bartimaeus, just as the Lord is leaving Jericho for the holy city. In between the two miracles, Mark recounts the three predictions of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection and the apostles’ reaction to them.
Obviously, Mark points to the apostles’ negative reaction as indicative of their own spiritual blindness to the identity of Jesus and the meaning of discipleship. Along the way, Jesus patiently educates and enlightens them (in the same manner that he gradually heals the blind man of Bethsaida)… in the hope that at the end of the journey, the apostles would fully know him and understand his mission (just as Bartimaeus is instantly and completely healed of his blindness). For it is only when one can see Jesus that one can follow him all the way to Jerusalem, as Bartimaeus does.
Bartimaeus is not just any character in the gospel. He stands as a model of a true disciple of Christ. Even before seeing Jesus physically, Bartimaeus recognizes him as the Son of David. It is this faith that moves him to boldly shout for Jesus’ help, heedless of the critical crowd. Upon being called, he throws aside whatever stands in his way, springs up and approaches Jesus who asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” As soon as he receives his sight, he immediately follows Jesus on the way.
In this short incident, we see all the elements of Christian discipleship: deep faith, recognition of one’s need, persistent prayer, readiness to let go, promptness in responding, and eagerness to follow.
How much we can learn from Bartimaeus and from ordinary people, especially from those who lie on the margins of society!
While we are reflecting on the spiritual blindness of the apostles vis-à-vis the physical blindness of Bartimaeus, allow me to speak of another blindness which equally and desperately needs healing. I refer to the blindness that is caused by the proliferation of fake news, malicious lies and pernicious deceptions. It is a blindness that spreads like the pandemic and is as destructive and fatal as Covid-19. Just think of the untold suffering of countless patients and the unnecessary deaths caused by the irresponsible disinformation spread by covid-deniers and anti-vaxxers.
The Church herself is not spared from the evil works of extreme rightists who spin lies about the Pope, aimed at undermining his authority and dividing the Church. The Church always welcomes sincere and constructive criticisms (they help purify and reform her), but not falsehood. Commenting on the persistent Church attacks from a media outlet, Pope Francis remarked, “There is, for example, a large Catholic television channel that has no hesitation in continually speaking ill of the pope. I personally deserve attacks and insults because I am a sinner, but the Church does not deserve them. They are the work of the devil.”
Likewise, this blindness is rampant and equally disastrous in our national and political life. We are once again in the merry season of the elections. I dread to think what will happen to our country if the minions of trolls and revisionists, who tirelessly engage in their craft of character assassination, twisting the truth and tampering with history, succeed in deceiving the electorate into voting for their candidates.
Whoever engages in lies and deception is doing the work of the devil, as the Pope reminds us. Whoever goes against the truth goes against God, for the simple reason that God is Truth. (cf. Jn 14:6)
Satan is “a liar and the father of lies.” (Jn 8:44) The first recorded fake news was from the devil who lied to Adam and Eve that if they ate of the forbidden fruit, they would become gods. With the devil’s deception, suffering and death entered the world.
The same consequence awaits us and our nation, if we allow ourselves to be fooled and deceived by the spreaders of lies, fake news, historical revisionism and conspiracy theories. God help us!
He certainly will, if we do our part in fighting this evil. This is a summons for us to put our acts together as a community. The youth have a valuable and important role in this crusade for truth since its battleground is the social media, which is their turf.
As Jesus heals Bartimaeus of his blindness, so will he heal us of ours. In him we place our hope, who is “the light [that] shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn 1:5)*