Mark 10:46-52 New Revised Standard Version
46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
Wherever Jesus went he touched lives. He raised the dead, restored the ability to walk, gave sight to the blind. He released people from what was understood to be demon possession and removed the stigma of skin disease. In many cases those whose lives he touched chose to follow him, or at least desired to follow him. Sometimes Jesus sent them back to their communities to share the good news that God was at work in the land.
Jesus was on his way out of Jericho, heading up toward Jerusalem from the Jordan valley, when he encountered a man who was blind sitting alongside the road. His blindness had left him a beggar. While many of those healed by Jesus are not named, Mark gives this man a name. It’s an interesting name because the name and its translation are one in the same. Since bar simply means son in Aramaic, the name Bartimaeus simply means son of Timaeus. We could just call him the son of Timaeus. Nonetheless, the fact that Mark records the name suggests that Bartimaeus might have been known to Mark’s community. They not only knew the story, but the person. Be that as it may, when Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was passing by he called out to him. He cried out: “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” It appears that Jesus’ reputation had preceded him. Bartimaeus proclaimed him the Messiah (son of David). He hailed him king and hoped, perhaps, that the king might notice him. Did he know that Jesus had a reputation for healing people? I expect he did.
It is always dangerous to speak of disability in a metaphorical or analogical manner. We are, I hope, much more sensitive about such things. But in the context of Mark, where Jesus’ closest associates seem unable to recognize him for who he is, this beggar who is blind does recognize Jesus for who he is. It is good to read this encounter in context, because in the verses just prior to this passage the disciples have been jockeying for position in Jesus’ realm. They want the chief seats in Jesus’ coming realm. Bartimaeus, on the other hand wants to see again. He wants to regain his physical eyesight, but he seems to want more than that. He wants to be welcomed into God’s realm.
The word mercy is important here. As Ron Allen and Clark Williamson note, the Greek word is eleō, which is used to render the Hebrew hesed in the Septuagint. Hesed speaks of steadfast love and covenant loyalty. Thus, “Bartimaeus seeks not just mercy (or pity), but a sign of hesed and to be welcomed into the covenantal community” [Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews, p. 160]. We know that often disabilities lead people to being shunted off to the side. They can even be excluded intentionally. Bartimaeus probably was excluded or at least marginalized. But in the realm of God, surely that would change.
There is the material side of the issue, but also the spiritual. If we entertain with the metaphor of spiritual blindness, the question then concerns the ways in which we are blind to God’s presence? Why do we so often miss what God is doing in our midst? Why can’t we recognize a new move on God’s part to introduce or expand the realm of God? Why do we get stuck in ruts of our own making that keep us from engaging in the work of God?
As I was pondering these questions I picked up Ruth Fletcher’s new book Thrive (Energion, 2015). In her introduction to the book she points us to the ongoing existence of “Golden Rule Christianity.” She takes this phrase from historian Nancy Ammerman. This form of Christianity has long been dominant in American life. Such Christians don’t “go overboard” in their faith, with religion being just one aspect of their personal lives. It’s a very individualistic faith and is kept in its place (the church building). Ruth notes that “Golden Rule Christians feel no need to impose their beliefs on others, neither do they find it necessary to change the whole world; rather they are content to do good within their own circle of family and friends” [p. 4]. The disciples saw their world crumbling. They lived under the domination of a foreign power. Their identity as a community was at stake. They saw in Jesus a means to restoring what was, but Jesus had a different vision. He didn’t want to restore what was, but inaugurate something new. We too can fail to see this new realm that God seeks to bring into existence. We lack the vision to engage in world transforming mission. We just want to go back to the way things were.
Bartimaeus may have experienced physical blindness, but he could see the realm of God in a way that the disciples could not, at least not at that point. He doesn’t need one of the chief seats. He just wants to see what God is doing in the neighborhood. When Jesus opens his eyes so he can see (physically and spiritually), he begins following Jesus. He’s in. He wants to be part of this world-changing work.
As we reflect on this passage in the context of Jesus’ ongoing preparation of his disciples for what is to transpire in Jerusalem, how might we pray that our eyes would be opened to the things of God. In what ways do we let go of old visions so we can embrace God’s future?