Leaving our cloaks behind

Pastors corner with Fr Henry Ibe

In today’s Gospel, it takes blind Bartimaeus to recognize Jesus as the “Son of David”, as he cries for help concerning his blindness. The “Son of David” is a messianic title, which implies that Jesus is the long-awaited Saviour, in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. The Lord had made a promise to King David: “I will raise up your offspring to succeed you…and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Sam. 7:12-13).Paradoxically, the people around who thought they could see tried to stop the blind man. Perhaps, they thought he was asking Jesus for money, and that’s a spiritual blind spot on their part. The blind man was looking for a different kind of “pity” from Jesus – the restoration of his sight. So, those who thought they could see ended up revealing their own blindness – spiritual blindness.
On Jesus’ invitation, Bartimaeus left his cloak and ran towards him. In doing so, he left his entire existence behind – his possessions, his sickness, and all his worries. He made a great leap of faith! In those days, the cloak played a very significant role in the lives of ordinary people. It was the most multipurpose item of clothing then. It guarded against frequent temperature changes, and served as blanket at night, especially for the poor. For the blind beggar also, the cloak would have served as the “bank” for all the alms he collected. Nevertheless, he left everything behind and, after his healing, did not look back as he followed Jesus along the way.
Today, we are invited to reflect on our own blind spots, and to leave our cloaks behind as we follow Jesus. There are two kinds of cloaks that can impede our spiritual progress. First are the good things that we have but which can make us blind towards God and our neighbour. It could be money, career, academic pursuit, fashion, sport or relationships. These are the things we wrongly depend on for fulfilment, and we sometimes tend to idolize them. These things are good and should bring us satisfaction, but there is a problem when they blur our vision of God and those around us. When the good things of life get in the way of our spiritual advancement, it is probably time to reconsider. Only through the lens of Christ is our vision not blurred. If we rely entirely on material things to satisfy our deepest longings, they become a hindrance instead of aiding our spiritual journey.
The second type of cloak to be laid aside is our sinful inclinations. When the cloak of insensitivity to the needs and sufferings of those around us bogs us down, we need our vision restored, and the cloak left behind. When we are so work-driven that it takes precedence over our family relationships, that is a cloak that needs to be left behind. When we always readily point out what is wrong with everyone else, without sparing a moment to ponder our own inadequacies, that is a cloak requiring to be abandoned. When we indulge in gossips and cast slurs on other people, damaging their good name, that is a big cloak we need to leave behind. When we participate in corporate decisions that disadvantage large communities of peoples, or our political decisions contribute to global inequality and worsening poverty, ignorance and disease, that is a heavy cloak that needs to be left behind.
Dear friends, as the blind Bartimaeus left his all-important cloak by the side of the road to follow Jesus, we too are called to cast our sinful habits aside, especially in the confessional. There we unburden ourselves as we receive absolution and renewal. And just as the man called out to Jesus to have mercy on him, we too should ask the Lord to help us. The Prophet Joel assures us that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Joel 2:32).
It was the power of God that moved Bartimaeus to leave his cloak behind, the same power that moved Moses to leave his shoes behind at the Burning Bush (Ex 3:5). That same power summons us today. Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s promise in the First Reading, to gather his people“from the far ends of the earth; all of them: the blind and the lame, women with child, women in labour” (Jer.31:8). He is the ideal High Priest in the Second Reading, who acts for us in relation to God. Also, the Vatican Council II declares Jesus as “the goal of human history, the focal point of the longings of history and of civilization, the centre of the human race, the joy of every heart and the answer to all its yearnings” (Gaudium et Spes #45).
Today, he asks the blind man: “What do you want me to do for you?” This is the same question that he asked the sons of Zebedee last week, and that is exactly what he asks us today: “What do you want me to do for you? The challenge is for us to recognize our blind spots, and then call out like Bartimaeus: “Master, let me see again!” In doing so, we need the persistence of the blind man. The people around tried to stop him, but he would have none of that. In fact, the more they scolded him the louder he shouted, and he was heard in the end. Thus, we must not let anyone, or anything discourage us from approaching our Lord of mercy and compassion. We can rest assured that our God, “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20).
Let us pray today for the Lord to heal our blind spots, that we may see again, and for the grace to leave our cloaks behind. Amen!