Sight Restored - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 22B (Mark 10:46-52)


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.

          Jesus went he touched lives wherever he went. Sometimes he raised the dead. On other occasions, he restored a person's ability to walk. On still other occasions he restored sight to the blind. He was known to free people from what was understood to be demon possession (exorcism) and he 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, though sometimes Jesus sent them back to their communities so they could share the good news that God was at work in the land.

        In our story, Jesus is on his way out of Jericho and heading toward Jerusalem. While he was traveling he encountered a blind man blind sitting alongside the road. His blindness had left him a beggar. While the Gospel writers don't always give names to those who are healed by Jesus, this time Mark gives him a name. It's an interesting name is simply a transliteration of the Aramaic. The word bar in Aramaic simply means son. Thus, the name Bartimaeus could be translated as the son of Timaeus. Nevertheless, 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. Whether or not they knew Bartimaeus when he heard that Jesus was passing by he called out to him. He cried out: “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” Perhaps Jesus' reputation preceded him, but whatever is the case, Bartimaeus takes on the role of the evangelist and proclaims that Jesus is the Messiah (son of David). He hailed him as king and hoped, perhaps, that the king might notice him. 

            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 can see what the disciples cannot see. 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 be pushed to the side. They can even be intentionally excluded. I can imagine Bartimaeus being excluded or at least marginalized because of his physical blindness. So, perhaps Mark is signaling that things will be different in the realm of God.

        Mark doesn't just tell stories for the sake of the story. He usually wants to say something deeper. Thus, here we can see not only the concern for the restoration of physical sight but spiritual sight as well. If we entertain 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?

In the introduction to her book Thrive (Energion, 2015). Ruth Fletcher points us to the ongoing existence of “Golden Rule Christianity.” Drawing upon the work of historian Nancy Ammerman, Fletcher notes that "Golden Rule Christianity" has long been dominant in American life. These kinds of Christians don’t “go overboard” in their faith. Therefore, religion is just one element in their personal lives. It’s a very individualistic faith that 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. He doesn’t need one of the chief seats in the kingdom. 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?

Image Attribution:  Duccio, di Buoninsegna, -1319?. Healing of the Man Born Blind, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved October 17, 2021]. Original source:


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