Last February the New York Times Op/Ed page ran a column by Arthur C. Brooks, the President of the American Enterprise Institute. The column was remarkable not merely because the President of a decidedly right-leaning was writing for a decidedly left-leaning publication, but also because of the column’s subject matter. The column not about government or politics or economics – things for which the American Enterprise Institute is known – but about love and how Mr. Brooks met his wife. (It was Valentine’s Day.)
In just a moment, we’ll get to Bartimaeus and the Gospel text we just heard, but so as not to keep us in suspense, let me tell how Mr. Brooks met his wife. Brooks writes:
She was 25, I was 24. We spent only a couple of days together and shared no language in common. But when I returned to the United States from that European music festival, I announced to my parents that I had met my future wife. Of course, I had to convince Ester first…
Brooks tells how he began to learn Spanish, how he quit his job and moved to Barcelona, how he regularly fended off suitors who yelled out marriage proposals to her from moving cars. It took two years, but she finally said “yes.” Brooks and his wife have now been married 24 years, have three children, and – when they visit her native Barcelona – Brooks says that men still shout out to her from moving cars. “Demasiado tarde!” he shouts back. Too late!
I bring up Arthurs Brooks because his advice to young people today – take some risks; don’t let your fears get the better of you; of course rejection is a possibility, but take courage and pursue love anyway – pertains to today’s gospel lesson. Three times in today’s gospel lesson, the blind beggar Bartimaeus takes a risk: 1) He cries out to Jesus, 2) he tells Jesus what he wants, and 3) he follows Jesus.
The first risk is easy to appreciate: Even when those around him tell him to be quiet, Bartimaeus cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The third risk is likewise easy to see: “He regained his sight and followed him on the way.” Following Jesus is risky; it could change our life. But it’s the second risk I want to focus on: Bartimaeus told Jesus what he wanted:
Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” [Bartimaeus] said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.”
It’s risky to tell someone what we want. When we tell others what we want, we open ourselves to the possibility of not getting what we want, and experiencing rejection and disappointment. Telling others what we want makes us vulnerable. “But for Bartimeus it’s Jesus,” you might say. “Of course he’s going to give Bartimaeus what he wants. What kind of a risk is that?” I would say, It’s even more risky to tell Jesus what we want. Because in telling Jesus what we want, we – like Bartimeus – risk having our eyes opened to see Him as we’ve never seen Him before. And the more we see Him, the greater the chance that we fall in love with Him.
When Brooks fell in love with his future wife, it led him to learn a new language, to quit his job and to move to a new country. In a way, the same thing happened to Bartimaeus: When he met Jesus, Bartimaeus had to learn a new “language,” the language of sight. When he met Jesus Bartimaeus lost his job; he could no longer beg. And When he met Jesus, Bartimaeus left his “home,” his spot at the side of the road, and followed. The text doesn’t say that Bartimaeus fell in love with Jesus, but I bet as soon as he saw Jesus and realized what Jesus had done for him –Bartimaeus loved Jesus.
When I try to imagine what that moment must have been like for Bartimaeus, I wonder if he saw and felt what Rhiannon Giddens sings about in
“Black is the color” of my true love’s hair
His face so soft and wondrous fair
The purest eyes and the strongest hands
I love the ground on where he stands.
Arthur Brooks’ advice to young people in regards to love – take some risks; don’t let your fears get the better of you; of course rejection is a possibility, but take courage and pursue love anyway – is advice to us in regards to Jesus. I wonder if we might like Bartimaeus have the courage to call out to Him, to tell Him what we want, to let Him heal us, and to follow Him on the way. For if we are willing like to take a risk on Jesus, I bet we’d know a love that would change our life. Not to learn Spanish, quit our job and move to Spain, but to learn His language of love, to quit and leave behind anything that stands between us, and to follow Him on the way.