Thought for the day
The journey towards faith has many dimensions. Firstly, there is our need (expressed in the Gospel as blindness). Secondly, the courage to name our need, even in the face of opposition. Next comes our encounter with Jesus and our cry for help, guidance, healing. Naming our need is insisted upon by Jesus as an essential step, because faith is so much more than believing lots of doctrines. More fundamentally, it is an act of trust, a putting of myself in relationship and being able to receive from God whatever it is we need. This is the faith which makes us well.
God, our light and hope, be our guide on the path of life and on the way of faith. Help us to be aware of our blindness, especially when we think we can see. With your healing touch, may we be filled with light and joy. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Mark 10:46 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.
The story of Bartimaeus, apparently incidental, forms an important part of Mark’s teaching on discipleship. Firstly, it constitutes the closing of the discipleship section. This started in Mark 8:22-26, with the story of the man who recovers his sight in two stages and closes here with the story of another blind man. In between, the teaching on discipleship is not understood by the disciples because they have not yet understood what kind of Messiah Jesus is to be. In a word, the disciples are blind and stand in need of (double) healing. This is the first public acclamation of Jesus as Messiah and an important moment after the confession at Caesarea Philippi in Mk 8:27.
Kind of writing
This is a short story, an anecdote. It is significant in itself and also has a special role in Mark’s teaching on discipleship. The blind man is asked to declare what he wants Jesus to do for him. Unlike James and John, whose response to the same question is further glory for themselves, the blind man requests “again sight”, that is, the deeper insight of faith.
Old Testament background
The author may also have in mind the return of David to Jerusalem as recounted in 2 Samuel 19:31-20:3 (not all the details fit the Messiah!).
Blindness (darkness) is used a good deal in Isaiah as a metaphor:
I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. (Isaiah 42:6–7)
I will lead the blind by a road they do not know, by paths they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I will do, and I will not forsake them. They shall be turned back and utterly put to shame— those who trust in carved images, who say to cast images, “You are our gods.” Listen, you that are deaf; and you that are blind, look up and see! (Isaiah 42:16–18)
New Testament foreground
(i) They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.” (Mark 8:22–26)
(ii) David is mentioned regularly throughout the NT (Matt 1:1, 6, 17, 20; 9:27; 12:3, 23; 15:22; 20:30–31; 21:9, 15; 22:42–43, 45; Mark 2:25; 10:47–48; 11:10; 12:35–37; Luke 1:27, 32, 69; 2:4, 11; 3:31; 6:3; 18:38–39; 20:42, 44; John 7:42; Acts 1:16; 2:25, 29, 31, 34; 4:25; 7:45; 13:22, 34, 36; 15:16; Rom 1:3; 4:6; 11:9; 2 Tim 2:8; Heb 4:7; 11:32; Rev 3:7; 5:5; 22:16). Messianic hopes had become focused on a restoration of the golden age of David’s kingdom.
(iii) The author may have in mind the others scenes in Mark which mention David, all of which show Jesus in relation to David and/or superior to David.
And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? (Mark 2:25)
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Mark 11:10)
While Jesus was teaching in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself, by the Holy Spirit, declared, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.” ’ David himself calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?” And the large crowd was listening to him with delight. (Mark 12:35–37)
But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. (1Thessalonians 5:4–8)
In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2Corinthians 4:4–6)
Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:11–14)
Verse 46 Jericho was the last stop on the pilgrim route to Jerusalem. Bartimaeus is strategically placed to attract alms from pilgrims close to the holy city. “Bartimaeus” is not a proper name but means, as indicated, “son of Timaeus”. It is very unusual to have the name of someone who was cured and perhaps here we are to think of a figure, who was later well-known as a fully-fledged disciple (cf. Mark 15:22). The word “way” has a special force in Mark and the literal original of “by the roadside” is “alongside the way” i.e. of discipleship.
Verse 47 The full expression, Jesus of Nazareth, is found only three times in Mark (Mark 1:24; 10:47; 16:6) on the lips respectively of a demon, Bartimaeus and an angel. The blind man is in unusual company! Bartimaeus recognises Jesus as Messiah by calling him Son of David. The only other mention of mercy in Mark is the account of an exorcism (But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” [Mark 5:19])
Verse 48 To be quiet is also found in elsewhere in Mark: Mark 3:4; 4:39; 9:34; 10:48; 14:61. Opposition serves only to give the blind man even more courage.
Verse 49 The only other use of “take heart” is found in “But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” (Mark 6:49–50) “Get up” is also the verb “to rise,” used of the resurrection.
Verse 50 The keenness is well conveyed in the verbs. It is sometimes thought that the outer cloak was essential for the task of begging and that throwing it off meant the beginnings of a change.
Verse 51 There is a very powerful, even painful, contrast with “James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:35–36) The verb translated as “see again” means to “look up” more often in Mark (Mark 6:41; 7:34; 8:24; 10:51–52; 16:4).
Verse 52 This expression has been used before: “He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” (Mark 5:34), The verb “make you well” means also “saved you” and Mark wants us to hear this second meaning. Unlike the disciples, the man “sees”, that is comes to faith and becomes a disciple, following Jesus on the Way (capital w!).
Pointers for prayer
1. In this story Jesus cures the blind man, Bartimaeus. Recovery of sight in the Bible is often a metaphor for coming to faith. Perhaps during your life you have had moments of insight, of deeper understanding, of appreciating who Jesus is for you. What was it that helped you to see more clearly?
2. Who was the ‘Jesus person’ who helped you to see more clearly? Perhaps, as a parent, a teacher or a friend, you have also been a ‘Jesus person’ for another and helped her or him to a clearer understanding of the meaning of life, love and faith.
3. To get to Jesus, Bartimaeus threw aside his cloak so that he would not be impeded. What have you had to discard in order to be able to see more clearly (e.g., an assumption, a prejudice, a rigid opinion)?
4. “Your faith has saved you” Jesus said to Bartimaeus. Recall situations in which you have been grateful for the faith that is yours because in some way it saved you.
Have pity on us, God our saviour. Grant us grace and courage to cast off our sins and turn to you for healing. Show us in Christ the sure path of salvation and strengthen us to follow gladly in the Way of the Gospel.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.