Each of the Gospels takes into account this journey of our Lord from Galilee to Jerusalem. His disciples are with Him. He teaches them, He teaches them the way of the Cross. And they do not understand. There is a message here for all time, and for us today, especially as we observe this Quinquagesima Sunday and prepare for Lent.
The Evangelists see very much in this, that the disciples are on the way with Jesus. They present discipleship as being on the way with Christ. The disciples accompanied Him, and we accompany Him today. St. Mark adds a very meaningful detail. He says the disciples followed Him on the way. The place of the disciple is behind the Lord. And it is filled with good news for us. What it means is that the Lord goes ahead of us. He goes ahead of us in all things, with His light, His guidance, His power to help and save us. He does not ask us to go anywhere He has not gone first, and He did not even spare Himself the mystery of death, through which He passed, revealing the resurrection. It is a tenet of our faith that there is nowhere we can find ourselves in this life that Christ cannot find and help us by His grace. But the sure place of the disciple is behind the Lord, where He leads us, we follow Him on the way.
The Lord teaches His disciples. He did not come to bring us a philosophy or an ideology, but a way. And His way, His teachings, are a way of life. We remember well what Jesus taught His disciples on the way from Galilee to Jerusalem: the Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve; the greatest among you will be the one who serves the rest; the seed planted must die for it to bear much fruit. Our lives give expression to the teachings of Jesus as much, and even more so, as do the words. Above all, His teaching, His way is the way of the Cross. The Lord teaches His disciples, the Son of Man must go to Jerusalem where he will suffer at the hands of men, die, and on the third day be raised up again. The cross of Christ is the one means of salvation for all the world, since by it, He has overcome sin and death, and all things, which only the Son of God can do. A sure way to know what is our way of the cross, is to ask ourselves what is in the way. If something is in the way, of our way with Christ, then it is the way for us not only to address it, but to bring it to Christ, and His cross, because whatever it may be, He has already overcome it. Like Lazarus in the Gospel of John, Jesus raises him from death, this is like our baptism, and then He says, now unbind him. Our whole lives are a shedding of the vestiges of sin and death so that the baptismal grace and life may come to it fullness in us. It is our way, our way of life, the cross of Christ, through which we find true freedom from sin and death and for the grace and happiness of our life with God.
The disciples did not understand. They expected to accompany Jesus to Jerusalem where He would display His mighty power as the Messiah and liberate God’s people. But that is the way of the world. There are many voices in the world, powerful voices, all promising happiness and fulfillment. But when those follow the world, there will only be division, jealousy, and disillusionment. On the contrary, the Epistle reading gives us those virtues which derive from charity, a gift of the Holy Ghost, dying to ourselves, united with the cross of Christ, giving rise to the life of God, in me and around me.
To the misunderstanding of the disciples, the Lord performs the healing which we have in today’s Gospel. If he can give physical sight, he can also give spiritual sight. And the key is faith. The blind man, identified as Bartimaeus in the Gospel of Mark, is a man of faith. He is told Jesus of Nazareth is passing by, the Lord’s human name. But he calls Him by His messianic name, Son of David, have mercy on me. First we believe, then we see. The Gospel says Bartimaeus followed Him on the way. He still accompanies us, an expression and example of discipleship, in faith and understanding, as we, too, follow the Lord.
How good God is that the work of grace is His work in our lives. And what confidence He gives us as we contemplate what He has already given us. He goes before us. He has overcome all things by His cross and resurrection, which Sacrifice we offer in this Mass. He gives us sight and vision to see and to understand. As we prepare for this Lent, we only need unite ourselves with Him, with the disciples, and with Bartimaeus, and with assurance, follow Him on the way.