Good Zeal

Blind Bartimaeus and the philosopher’s cloak, or when our answers go begging

I think each of us has ideas about how the world works, at least for our little corner of the world. We cloak ourselves in the security of what we know (or think we know) – our own personal cosmology for our own personal corner of the cosmos. But today’s Gospel reading from Mark 10 invites us to throw off the cloak of our own ideas and perceptions and seek the sight that comes from Jesus.

In the passage, blind Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, sits at the roadside begging. Perhaps in a sense he is not just the son of Timaeus, but a descendant of Timaeus, Plato’s work in which the central dialogue partner, so named Timaeus, sorts out the nature of the cosmos. He concludes that sight is the sense that is of greatest benefit to humans because through it we can observe the workings of the universe and from that derive the wisdom of philosophy.

But the Gospel writer tells us of a greater vision, a greater wisdom, than that of mere philosophers. And so in true wisdom this “son of Timaeus” recognizes his blindness, throws off his philosopher’s cloak, and calls out to the Son of David saying, “I want to see.”

I know that I have my own ideas about how things ought to be and my own personal answers to every conceivable situation – my own miniature version of the Timaeus filled with my own conceptions of the universe. But I hope that like blind Bartimaeus I can recognize my ultimate sightlessness and let my answers sit begging on the side of the road, seeking the sight that only Jesus can give. I hope that I can toss away my philosopher’s cloak, and anything else that keeps me from springing up to follow the Son of David.

Postscript: Even within the physical world of the monastery – our tiny little microcosm of the cosmos – we can have our own ideas about how the world works. Rooms and chairs and any number physical constellations of the goods of the monastery can get anchored in our mind as to “this is how it is.” One of the wonderful (and sometimes challenging!) aspects of hospitality is experiencing the space through the eyes of guests who sometime utilize Retreat Center rooms, furnishings, lawns, etc. in a far different way than I could ever imagine. Sometimes I’m delighted by the novelty. But sometimes I am challenged to throw off my cloak of habit and see the space with fresh eyes. My assumptions have to go begging.

St. Benedict tells us to receive the guest as Christ. This, too, takes a particular type of vision, recognizing the Lord in the stranger at the door, and in turn, helping them to receive the sight that Jesus can give.

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