The name Homer sadly only today evokes a picture in the mind’s eye of Homer Simpson, that American cartoon character who gets himself into all sorts of scrapes.
The real Homer, however, was a Greek scholar of antiquity who wrote two of the greatest poems of any age and poems that have had the greatest influence in western literature. One is called the Illiad and the other is called the Odyssey. The Illiad is about the Trojan war which lasts for 10 years where a group of Greek states lay siege to the city of Troy. The story concerns the last few weeks of the war and the conflict between King Agamemnon and Achilles, the warrior. The second poem, the Odyssey, is about the fall of Troy and the journey home of Odysseus.
In each of these poems the great poet Homer is able to do something which few writers have done before. Paint scenes. Explore motives and intentions which lie deep un the heart. He creates an epic story which gives birth to a million other stories that take up the same themes of love and betrayal, of heroism, of courage and deception, of stories in which people make journeys which are about discovering truths about the world and about themselves.
What we know and believe about Homer is that he was most probably blind. He had never saw any of the things with his eyes that he portrayed and wrote about. Never saw men and women with his eyes, never saw the landscape or the seas. This makes it more remarkable that without his eyes he can read people’s thoughts and hearts, that can explore people’s intentions and motives, can describe things of great beauty.
One of the things that we know about people that are blind is that they often seem to have a sixth sense. Some great musicians, writers and poets have been blind and have gone on to do great things with that same sixth sense.
Today at Mass we hear of a blind man Bartimaeus the son of Timaeus, a man born blind. This blind man is no one’s hero, he is reduced to begging. He sits near the walls of Jericho. Remember in the Old Testament, Joshua has the armies of Israel march round the walls of Jericho blowing the trumpets and the walls fall down.
The only thing that is heard in this sultry day as Jesus approaches the city walls is the voice of Bartimaeus. The Greek words that are used for Bartimaeus calling out is screech or squack, that gives some idea of what his voice sounds like, a voice that is grating and a voice that will not be silenced.
To his pitiful cries for healing Jesus gives him back his sight and miraculously he sees again. It is interesting that Jesus in the end dismisses him and tells him to go, to go away to a normal and healthy life. But instead of going away he follows Jesus. We never hear of Bartimaeus again.
I often wonder whether Bartimaeus ever existed or is he a device in the New Testament, that contrasts blindness with seeing, that contrasts insight to ignorance or foolishness. It is certainly a theme that the new testament returns to over and over again people who see and never understand.
There are plenty of people who appear and disappear in the pages if the new testament. We know that the NT is a far more subtle book than we give it credit for.
Not everyone who is blind is deprived of physical vision. It is possible to see things and yet not really see them. It is possible to see and not want to see what is front of our eyes. It is possible to be deceived by what we think we are seeing. There is that saying, there is none as blind as the blind.
Blindness is a dangerous thing. It is possible to be blind to the danger we do. It is possible to be blind to our prejudices. It is possible to be so caught up in ourselves that we are blind to the pain in others.
Blindness is not just about not seeing things physically round about us.
Sometimes as the story of Bartmaeus tells us there seems to be n cure to blindness, we are condemned to a life of darkness and wretchedness.
But the curing of Bartimaeus gives a different outcome. We don’t always have to be blind. The scales can fall from our eyes. Light can enter that darkness. We don’t have to stumble about.
Bartmeus is the man who can see again. In the end he doesn’t want to leave Jesus as he is commanded to do, why would he leave the one who has given him back his sight, he follows him and won’t leave his side.
What a great thing it is to be released from blindness. Toe be released from ignorance and to see things as they are. To. Be released from blind prejudices to see things clearly. To understand rather to be mistaken. What a great thing it is not to be blind anymore.
I wonder if that is what the real message of Bartimaeus is all about. In the OT, the walls of Jericho come tumbling down, in the new testament different walls come tumbling down.