Today’s reading is Mark 10:46-52:
Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
Today’s text from the end of Mark 10 is yet another miracle, as Jesus gives sight to a blind man, but Jesus is not the central character of the scene. Jesus does what he normally does in Mark: he travels around with his disciples in tow and performs a miracle. However, Bartimaeus represents something unique among the many people on whom Jesus performs miracles. His actions are distinct and present to the reader a model for coming to follow Christ; the story of blind Bartimaeus is the story of every Christian. Bartimaeus recognizes God, recognizes his weakness, accepts Jesus’ call leaving the worldly behind in faith, and follows Jesus.
The scene begins with Jesus and his followers. This is the first part of the good news of the gospel, the part without which nothing else could happen. There must be Jesus, there must be God incarnate, and there must be followers, there must be people serving as living proof of Jesus’ power. Without Christ or the crowd, nothing would have happened to Bartimaeus, just as surely as we as Christians would be unchanged without Christ and his church as a living testament. Next, after Bartimaeus hears the crowd is there because of Jesus, the reader hears Bartimaeus’ reaction, a shout of “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
As a beggar, Bartimaeus could have just accepted the boon of more people passing him by, of a few more dollars; however, Bartimaeus recognizes he has a problem that runs deeper than his immediate poverty, a problem of humanity’s fall, of brokenness, a problem made manifest in his own blindness. So, in faith, Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus for mercy. In so doing, he recognizes Jesus’ status by using the messianic title of “Son of David,” and he recognizes Jesus’ power, as well as his own brokenness by asking for mercy.
Then, the crowd rebukes Bartimaeus for his shouting, but he will not be deterred, and shouts even more. Bartimaeus is not just interested in following the crowd, he is not trying to fit in, he is seeking Jesus, and even when others discourage him, he persists. This sort of earnest faith serves as an example to all of us, and Jesus responds, stopping and telling his disciples and the crowd to call him; Jesus has rebuked the crowd for their initial disregard towards Bartimaeus, and instead asks that the poor, blind man, who has been obnoxiously yelling at everyone be brought to him.
With the encouragement of the crowd, Bartimaeus rushes to Jesus in response, “throwing his cloak aside.” This last bit seems like a meaningless detail, and on the surface taking off a cloak is much less important than recognition of the Messiah or a miraculous healing. However this sort of action is a symbol in the gospels of renouncing everything to follow Jesus. Consider the similar case of Mark 1:18 when the disciples Simon and Andrew drop their nets as they decide to answer Jesus’ call. This is all to say that Bartimaeus is not just coming over to Jesus to beg for money; he has eagerly left his old life behind to seek Jesus, having faith that Jesus can heal him. Jesus makes this distinction clear when he asks Bartimaeus what he wants, he could ask for money or for his sight. And Bartimaeus demonstrates his faith once again by trusting that Jesus is capable of healing him.
Also, Jesus’ question illustrates the nature of a God’s relationship to us. God is not capriciously sitting around heaven helping some and hurting others. God is not a glorified clockmaker who has set the universe in motion perfectly. God gives us the opportunity to participate in His work, God wants us to have a say in the world, God creates us with free will and will not force healing on a blind man who does not ask for it. This is the nature of love and of a God who is love (1 John 4:8), that God works cooperatively with us and through us, God calls us to a personal relationship, not just to be arbitrarily healed.
This personal relationship is reinforced in Bartimaeus’s response as he now identifies Jesus not by his messianic title, but by “Rabbi.” Bartimaeus now recognizes Jesus as his personal teacher not just as the Messiah; for Jesus must not be only God incarnate as the Messiah or only our model of morality, he must be both. Then, as Bartimaeus again proves his faith by asking for healing, Jesus heals him and says, “Go, your faith has healed you.” If the point was not yet clear, Jesus emphasizes it one more time; Bartimaeus has been healed not by some arbitrary decision, not by destiny, not because of good deeds he has done to deserve this, but because of the faith shown in his persistent recognition of Jesus as the Messiah and in believing Jesus was capable of healing his blindness. Finally, having been healed, Bartimaeus follows Jesus.
Our lives as Christians are not complete when we first recognize Jesus and are healed. Rather, we must continue to follow in Jesus’s ways. We all are called, as Bartimaeus was called, to recognize Jesus for who he is in his glory, to recognize ourselves in our brokenness, to leave all in a leap of faith for Christ, and to follow in Christ’s footsteps.
Greg Scalise ’18 lives in Canaday Hall.