Having Our Eyes Opened to Encounter Jesus
Bible reflections published by the Catholic LGBT organization New Ways Ministry (USA), March 22, 2020
During Lent, we are called to pay closer attention to gifts of love, mercy, and forgiveness which God offers us all -year round. Catholic LGBTQ people and Allies have experienced that love and mercy in so many unique ways, through so many powerful experiences. Below are readers’ reflections for the Fourth Sunday of Lent.
MARK 10: 46-52
46 As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving Jericho, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus-ben-Timaeus, was sitting by the side of the road. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Heir of David, have mercy on me!”
48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Heir of David, have mercy on me!”
49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him here.”
So they called to the blind man, “Do not be afraid,” they said, “Get up; Jesus is calling you.” 50 So, throwing off his cloak, Bartimaeus jumped up and went to Jesus.
51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus questioned.
The blind man replied, “Rabbuni, I want to see.”
52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” And immediately Bartimaeus received the gift of sight and began to follow Jesus along the road.
Submitted by: Katherine Kashka Location: Overland Park, Kansas
How did Bartimaeus lose his sight? I like to imagine he lost it in an accident, an injury resulting in an impairment. But the more important part is what Bartimaeus does after he loses his sight. So many of us have been injured by those we love and by the institutional Church. How do we respond? Do we call out to Jesus for healing or do we turn away from Jesus in shame and hide our injuries?
A few years ago I was deeply hurt when at an Easter Vigil mass an Archbishop told the congregation during his homily (in so many words) that LGBT people were not welcome in the Catholic Church. I was deeply hurt by these remarks which caused mental and emotional injury. Instead of turning to Jesus for healing and help, I turned away, ashamed of my injury and resulting impairment.
It wasn’t until many years later I found myself calling out to Jesus just as Bartimaeus did, “Help me, Jesus, for I am injured and in need of your healing love.” Luckily, I was met with open arms by a trusted priest who listened and showed me the way back to Jesus.
While I do not consider myself fully healed, I no longer consider myself unworthy. Jesus loves each and every one of us and is ready to help us heal our wounds if we but ask.
Bartimaeus did not turn inward and hide his impairment. Instead, he faced the cold, judging stares of strangers to ask for Jesus’ help. And as promised, Jesus rewards him greatly. We could all learn a little from Bartimaeus by trusting Jesus just a little bit more this Lent.
Submitted by: Rev. Greg Greiten Location: Archdiocese of Milwaukee
John’s Gospel contains a Greek word that has always captured my attention: “Aposunagōgos.” It means “to be put out of the synagogue.” If a person were to confess Jesus to be the Christ, the religious leaders cast the individual out of the place of worship.
In the seminary, my deepest fear was that the priests and faculty members would learn I was gay, and cast me out of my faith community. For many years, I lived in the shadows of secrecy hoping and praying that those closest to me would never learn that I was gay. The fear of being rejected by family, friends, and other important people in my life left me isolated and suffering in silence.
Unfortunately, far too many LGBTQ+ individuals in the Catholic community experience the same pain when thinking about stepping out of the closet and openly embracing one’s sexual identity. Far too many members have been cast out of their places of worship. Many parish staff members and Catholic school teachers have been fired for civilly marrying someone of the same gender. Many others worry about whether their sexuality or gender identity will prevent them from receiving appropriate medical care. And church leaders turn a blind eye toward this kind of discrimination.
In the story of the man born blind, Jesus healed and reached out to the blind man who had been cast out from his place of worship by leaders who treated him with disdain and arrogance. Jesus’ example to seek out those who have been separated from their places of worship inspires me. His witness demonstrates the love of God flowing through him, and his willingness to fulfill his mission. Our mission as a church is to minister and to serve one another, not to cast people out of the community. As an openly gay Catholic priest serving in ministry, I know it is my obligation to foster a more welcoming, hospitable environment for the entire LGBTQ+ community.
Submitted by: Katherine Pezo Location: United States
Since Bartimaeus was disabled, in his era he likely would have been cast aside or seen as a sinner. That’s probably why so many keep him quiet when all he wants to do is to encounter Jesus. But he persists in encountering him. Jesus does not listen to those who want to separate Bartimaeus from him–Jesus wants to speak to him too, to love him. This is who God really is, a God of love who wants to meet LGBT people, the marginalized ones of this time, even when people say otherwise and try keep us away from him. Despite everything, I will always run to meet Jesus and encounter him even if others say I am doing differently with my existence.
When Jesus speaks to Bartimaeus he asks him what he wants. He listens to him and his experience, instead of just doing what seems to be right or assuming things of him. This is what the Church and its members must do for LGBT people. After all, we are all called to imitate Jesus.
Part of my journey as a transgender person was to listen to others, to hear their lives, and encounter worlds not my own. In doing so my own faith was enriched and I saw the need to educate myself on LGBT issues, as well as begin to desire better for LGBT people in the church. I grew in love and self knowledge in imitating Jesus.
Submitted by: Betsy Linehan, RSM Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
“What do you want me to do for you?”
“Why do you ask, Jesus? Isn’t it obvious? I want to see.”
But some years ago a friend, Bill, shared this question, from this reading, as a turning point in his coming to a life-changing decision: to leave his religious order and marry. He heard the question, in a way for the first time, and answered deeply, and freely, as himself. Not what he should want as judged by others; and not his concept of what Jesus would want him to want. Jesus was not giving the blind beggar – or my friend — a test.
At that privileged moment Bill, this precious and unique child of God, said what he truly wanted. And followed the new path, with his partner, until death did them part.
But notice what precedes Jesus’ dialogue with the blind beggar. People scolded the blind man, tried to silence him. For once, perhaps, he refused to be silent. Jesus heard, and called him over. Bartimaeus jumped up and threw off his cloak.
LGBTQ+ people and allies recognize all parts of the story, not only its ending. We have been silenced, scolded, judged unworthy. We have cloaked ourselves for safety. May the day come, over and over, when we hear Jesus’ question spoken to us. May we throw off our cloaks, and leap forward, to respond in faith and joy to the One who loves us unconditionally.
Submitted by: Cristina Traina Location: Skokie, Illinois
Until Jesus gave him sight, Bartimaeus was stuck. But as I know from friends, physical blindness has work-arounds. People who cannot see cultivate other “eyes” that help them navigate the world: hearing, touch, smell, skill with cane and dog. Did Bartimaeus really need sight to get his rear in gear and follow the path Jesus was breaking? Or did he just need to understand himself differently?
Hidden in today’s gospel is an insight: Jesus’s healing means removal of whatever keeps us motionless, glued to one spot while he and his followers pass by. For LGBTQ folk who prayed not to be “that way,” the moment of seeing that freed us to join the parade was realizing that God loves us as and not in spite of who we are. For others, it was the realization that the Church’s ambivalence or downright animosity does not erase God’s fervent love for us.
At Second Baptist Church in Evanston, Illinois, the Rev. Michael Nabors recently reminded his congregation that when God told Abram to get up and go, Abram—a very ordinary guy—heard, and got up, and went. And became Abraham.
Jesus also calls us very ordinary people to follow and be saints, precisely in and because of our ordinariness, our blindness, or our LGBTQ-ness. Maybe the healing we need to join the retinue is just the realization that already God loves and calls us to follow with the tools we have, inviting others in turn.
Submitted by: Michaelangelo Allocca Location: Brooklyn, New York
“ ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus questioned.” This moment in the story of the healing of Bartimaeus is spellbinding to me for so many reasons. First, superficially it seems absurd: part of me wants to say to Jesus, “A blind guy is asking you to have pity on him: what do you think he wants, a makeover?” But that’s just the point, as Pope Francis and others point out: Jesus does the man the courtesy of treating him as a person, not a problem; of not assuming He knows what the man wants, but rather listening to him and giving him the chance to speak and be heard.
But then also, “what do I want Jesus to do for me?” is not necessarily as easy as it sounds. LGBT+ folk often can identify with this scripture passage, since, just like the blind and other “disabled” people, we too are labelled, marginalized, other-ed, “less-than”ed, “intrinsically-disorder”ed. I think, for instance, of gay teenagers whose high school claims it fully supports them as equal children of God, but assigns them a “Catholic ethics” textbook which equates homosexuality to pedophilia.
Hence, there may be a temptation to answer Jesus, “please take away my queerness, it’s too hard.”
The challenge is to have faith that, no matter the hardships and heartbreaks, our identities are not disordered, but part of how we are “wonderfully made,” (Psalm 139:14) for the greater glory of God.