By Clifford Yeary
Associate Director, Little Rock Scripture Study
The Gospel of Mark tells us of a blind man named Bartimaeus, who would sit at the roadside, begging for his livelihood outside the ancient city of Jericho (Mark 10:46-52).
He hears voices from a sizeable crowd that tell him the man known as Jesus of Nazareth was approaching on his way out of Jericho. Something of Jesus’ reputation is already known to Bartimaeus because he not only calls out to Jesus, he gives him a very special title: “Jesus, son of David” (v. 47).
Bartimaeus has faith that Jesus is the Messiah, and his faith fills him with hope. “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”
The crowd urges Bartimaeus to shut up. Here, for once in Mark, it is not Jesus’ disciples who discourage the needy figure from bothering their master (see Mark 10:13). The crowd cannot intimidate Bartimaeus, however. He calls out to Jesus all the more stridently, “Son of David, have pity on me.”
Jesus hears his plea, but what happens next is a subtle message to us, whether we think of ourselves as true disciples of the master or simply among the throng that follow him. Jesus does not go to Bartimaeus, he gives an order to the people following him out of Jericho: “Call him” (10:49).
The message for us is about our role in mediating Jesus’ mercy. There are voices all over our world, not just far away, but near us, whether homeless or living in our neighborhoods, who in one way or another are hoping for a sign of God’s mercy.
While we ourselves might wonder why God hasn’t answered their cries, we might instead remember Jesus telling the crowd that they are to be the mediators, the ones who ensure that the meeting takes place between the one in need and the ultimate source of mercy.
And so “they” (the crowd, his disciples or all of them together?) call out to Bartimaeus, “Take courage; get up, he is calling you.” Filled with their encouragement and his own firm hope in what the son of David can do for him, Bartimaeus springs to his feet, throws aside his cloak and goes directly to Jesus (10:49-50).
He is blind, so how does he know where Jesus is among the crowd? He could only know because he heard that one authoritative voice say, “Call him” and he knew whose voice that had to be and fixed his location with his ears.
Isn’t it curious what Jesus asks Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus can see that the man is blind, but it is necessary that Bartimaeus express both his faith and his hope.
While there is no surprise when Bartimaeus says he wants to see, do we see all that Bartimaeus is asking, all that he hopes for? The retired Anglican bishop of Durham, England, N.T. Wright, tells us that in the act of throwing aside his cloak as he springs up to go to Jesus, Bartimaeus was surrendering the only way of life, the only way of survival, that he knew: begging.
According to Bishop Wright, Bartimaeus wasn’t wearing his cloak as he sat by the roadside. He would have had it spread out in front of him to collect the coins wayfarers would toss to him. Today, we are used to seeing people begging with upturned hats, empty coffee cans and open guitar cases.
In Jesus’ day beggars spread out their cloaks before them. Bartimaeus tosses his cloak aside because he has no further use for it. In seeking his sight he was also seeking a new way of life, and his faith gave him the courage to pursue it even while he was still blind.
Bartimaeus tells Jesus that he wants to see, and Jesus sees Bartimaeus’s faith and tells him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Bartimaeus immediately receives his sight, but he does not go his way, he instead follows Jesus “on the way” (10:51-52).
– Study questions
What message might we take from the fact that Jesus told the crowd to call Bartimaeus, rather than calling to him himself?
What significance is there to Bartimaeus throwing aside his cloak as he springs up to meet Jesus?
After he healed Bartimaeus, Jesus told him to “go your way.” What does Bartimaeus do instead? In the early days of Christianity what wider meaning was there to the phrase “the way”?
What could we Christians do in your community to give people courage to live fuller, healthier, holier lives?
This article was originally published in Arkansas Catholic June 18, 2016. Copyright Diocese of Little Rock. All rights reserved. This article may be copied or redistributed with acknowledgement and permission of the publisher.
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