Last week’s gospel focused on two apostles who were brothers, James and John. They were known as the Sons of Thunder. Today we encounter a fellow called Bartimaeus which means, Son of Fear.
It sounds like a nickname, but it could also have been a family name. Speaking as a man, it’s hard to say which would be worse.
I once knew a guy called Hawkeye. Everybody called him Hawkeye because he was a good hunter. Hawkeye is a name that commands respect. Hawkeye had a son named Zach. Like his dad, Zach held his head high. He honored his father and was proud to be known as Hawkeye’s son.
Not so for Bartimaeus, the “son of fear.”
Put yourself in his place as a young man,. What would you do if you were saddled with a family legacy of cowardice and timidity?
Maybe Bartimaeus tried to clear his name by swimming a river, climbing a mountain or killing a lion. Maybe, one night at a local bar, he had enough of the ridicule and fought back. But someone took a pipe to his head and beat him senseless and maybe that’s how he lost his sight.
Who knows how he lost his sight? All we know for certain is that Bartimaeus was blind as a bat which meant that all he could do with his life was sit by the side of the road and beg for some scraps to eat. We don’t know how Bartimaeus got there, but that is where we find him: crouched in some bar ditch, calling out in a strained and desperate voice, “Son of David, I am the Son of Fear, have pity on me.”
A pitiful prayer. The kind of prayer that a person prays when they realize that, deep down, their name isn’t Thunder, it’s Bartimaeus?
“Son of David, have pity on me!
Have you prayed that prayer? I know that I have. And I know that I’m alone…because Bartimaeus was not alone. We come across a lot of people in the Gospel
praying that same kind of prayer, the pray that rises from deep-seated fear.
Like the fear in the eyes of the woman accused of infidelity and about to be stoned. Like the fear caught in the throat of Peter drowning in the waves, “Lord, save me!” Like the fear in the plea of the man crucified next to Christ on Calvary, “Remember me, Lord, when you come into your Kingdom!”
Jesus heard those prayers just as he hears your prayers, all your prayers, even the pitiful ones; even the fearful ones.
The Lord heard the prayer of Bartimaeus. But, the did you notice, he did not change Bartimaeus’ name? He changed Simon’s name to Peter and Saul’s name to Paul. You’d think he’d extend a similar grace to a guy Bartimaeus, aka Scaredy-Cat.
I think I know why: to remind the rest of us that no one can truly walk in faith unless they first walk in fear.
Go back to the scene at the roadside ditch. At the start of the start of the story, the crowd is telling Bartimaeus to shut up and mind his place. But then, when Jesus calls to him, Bartimaeus stands up and, with hands groping, heads in the direction of the voice, the voice of Christ, calling him to walk in trust, not in fear. On that day, Bartimaeus learned that, unless you face your fear, you will never behold the face of the Lord.
I like to think that, from that day on, Bartimaeus he was proud of his name because, for the rest of history, his name would sound more like Hawkeye than Scaredy-Cat, a name to remind us all that faith and courage go hand-in-hand.