You would have been embarrassed if you were there. Trust me. There was this blind beggar named Bartimaeus screaming and shouting. The great Jesus, the one everyone is talking about, comes to our city Jericho and this scruffy old fool starts raising a royal ruckus.
"Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!" he shouted. We tried to hush him up, but he just yelled louder and louder. We were mortified. But he just wouldn't shut up.
Then Jesus called Bartimaeus over. Gee whiz! We've got this important celebrity in town and everything gets interrupted by a beggar.
"What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asked.
"My teacher, let me see again," he responded.
"Give it a rest Bartimaeus," somebody said. "If Jesus heals someone, it won't be you."
But you know what? Jesus did heal him. "Go, your faith has made you well," he said. And you know what else? Bartimaeus was the only one who got healed that day. The healing got wasted on that beggar. Oh well, at least now he'll be able to go out and work for a living.
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The story of Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52) is typical of Jesus' healing miracles. Somebody asks for help and Jesus provides it. Others didn't ask so they didn't receive.
Bartimaeus' story is particularly poignant, however, because he is so uninhibited. He has a need which he wants to be met and he makes darn sure Jesus knows about it. Jesus interrupts his journey because he sees something special in Bartimaeus _ faith.
As the New Testament says repeatedly, faith is essential to having one's prayers answered. "Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive" (Matthew 21:22). "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you" (John 15:7).
Asking for God to give us what we want seems like a tawdry form of prayer. It may be me-centred, rather than God-centred. Distorted, it can turn into superstition. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, however, points out that in prayers of petition, "we express awareness of our relationship with God. . . . Our petition is already a turning back to him" (no. 2629).
This can be true. Our prayers of petition and intercession are typically something other than an expression of selfish desires. They can be cries of desperation. A loved one has terminal cancer. One's business is headed for bankruptcy. Your husband is committing adultery. In times like these, one howls in grief and desperation. One is powerless to change a bad situation and can only call out to God to halt the devastation.
Like Bartimaeus, we don't care what anyone thinks. We would howl from the rooftop if it would make things better.
But we shouldn't wait till we've reached the end of our rope before turning to God. Prayers of intercession and petition need not be reserved for situations we can't control. We need to ask God's help even when we do have some control.
We ought, for example, to pray for relationships that are going well or which have minor problems well within our power to rectify. Such prayer acknowledges that everything depends on God. It can contribute to God's plan "to gather up all things in Christ" (Ephesians 1:10).
Oddly, given the overwhelming testimony of Scripture, the catechism is reluctant to state that God ever directly fulfills the requests we make in prayer. While it does deal with the issue of why God does not always answer our prayers, it seems almost embarrassed to say that God sometimes does respond positively.
This failure is disconcerting. One concern is that, in some parts of the world, people are leaving the Catholic Church for fundamentalist churches because God's healing power is more evident there. Failing to proclaim that Christ continues to respond in extraordinary ways to human needs through his church only feeds the false view that the church is impotent in regards to such needs.
Signs and wonders are not the core of our faith. But God does answer our prayers and Jesus never refused to help those who came to him in faith. He always found a way.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
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