Bartimaeus did not have sight in both of his eyes, but this did not prevent him from seeing the answer to three of life’s most important questions.
The first question: What do you want?
Some of us drift from one thing to another. Sometimes, this is because we do not know what we really want. Sometimes, it is because we want too many things. If there are some of us who drift, there are also some of us who get stuck in life because we are fixated on wanting the wrong thing.
In our Gospel today, Jesus asks Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus replies, “Master, I want to see.” But if you are blind, what else would you want, right? Bartimaeus did not really need to wrestle much with himself and his desires to come up with an answer – unlike most of us, right? But Bartimaeus was also a beggar. He could have asked for food or for money. Maybe he had not eaten that day, or maybe he had debts to pay. But he was able to see beyond immediate concerns and had insight into what he truly needed. In asking what we want in life, we should also ask, “What are our deepest needs?”
In our Gospel last Sunday, Jesus asked the Apostles James and John, “What do you wish me to do for you?” They replied, “Grant that, in your glory, we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” If we are kind, we might say that James and John just wanted to remain close to Jesus. But we also have to acknowledge here the very human desire for exaltation and power. But glory is not always good for us. Sometimes, we want the wrong things.
During the filing of certificates of candidacy last October 1 to 5, as the list of politicians aspiring for seats in government lengthened, I found myself musing, “Yes, this may be what they want, but are they the people our country needs?” When elections come in May, we should think along the same lines. In asking what we want, we should not just consider what we desire but also what others need. Maybe praying about what others need will also help us avoid wanting the wrong things.
The second question: What are you willing to give up to get what you want?
In order to receive the miracle he wanted, Bartimaeus had to throw aside his cloak. It is easy to imagine this cloak laying on the ground and catching the coins Bartimaeus was begging for. In casting aside his cloak, Bartimaeus must have also discarded the alms he had spent all day collecting. Nothing comes to us free. Every yes we give comes with at least one no we have to offer; every commitment needs sacrifice.
Considering what we have to give up may also help us discern if we have the right answer to the first question. One of my favorite lines of poetry from Onofre Pagsanghan’s play, Sa Kaharian ng Araw: “Hindi ka ba nangangamba na magising isang umaga at matuklasan mong ika’y mali pala, na lahat ng iyong tinapon at inaksaya ang siya palang tunay na mahalaga?” Are you not afraid of waking up one morning and realizing that all your work and all your striving, all your sleepless nights and rushing in the morning, are but dust and ashes – all for nothing?
The third question: To whom do you go to get what you want?
When Bartimaeus heard that Christ was approaching, he did not cease shouting out – though the crowd tried to silence him, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me!” To get what we want, do we depend only on ourselves? Can we see that for the really important things in life, long hours and hard work will never be enough to guarantee that we will achieve what our hearts long for? For example, no matter how much time you spend caring for your children, earning a living for them, and teaching them what you have learned, there is no assurance that they will grow up to be kind human beings or even just drug-free citizens. A mother once told me, “What I have realized as a parent is this: I do not just believe in miracles… I rely on them every single day.”
And when we go to God and ask that the miracles continue in our daily lives, it should not only be for added insurance so that we will get what we want. Maybe it should also be to ask for confirmation if we have the right answer to the first question. Again, do we want the right thing?
Three important questions in life: First, what do you want? This includes asking the questions “What do you need?” and “What do others really need?” Second, what are you willing to give up to get what you want?” Third, to whom do you go to get what you want? The second and third questions can help you evaluate your answer to the first, but in the end, how do you really know if you want the right thing?
Bartimaeus, after receiving his sight, was told by Jesus, “Go your way.” But Bartimaeus instead followed the Lord as he went on his way. This is the proof that Bartimaeus not only could see but that he could see the light. How do you make sure you want the right thing? The first step is when you consider not just what you want but also what God wants.