This text is used for the Lectionary Year B on October 25, 2015.
This is the final pericope of a section of Mark that began in chapter eight with the healing of the blind man of Bethsaida (8:22-26). In between these two stories of the blind seeing is instruction on discipleship and all three of Jesus’ passion predictions. Also between these two vision stories are the disciples who time and again cannot see who Jesus is and what way they are walking as they journey with him, especially as they turn toward Jerusalem. As evidenced in the previous pericope, even as they draw close to Jerusalem and Jesus talks bluntly about his coming death, the disciples are still fighting about who will have the places of honor next to him.
We learn that the disciples and Jesus came to Jericho. It is speculated that they arrived in Jericho on Friday and spent the Sabbath day in the town. Now, it is Sunday morning, they are leaving Jericho for the approximately thirteen mile journey to Jerusalem. The next chapter opens later that day with the Triumphal Entry. As they leave the town that their ancestors had once surrounded with trumpets and shouts of faith, another voice trumpets out over the many who are following Jesus. “Son of David,” cries out the voice, “have mercy on me!” The voice will not be silenced.
The title “Son of David” is only used here, though its tones are echoed in the forthcoming entry into Jerusalem. Was this a generic title that one would have used of a miracle worker or does the blind man see something in Jesus that no one else around Jesus sees, using a title to declare that Jesus is Messiah? We do not know what Bartimaeus intended by the use of this title, but we do know he intended to be heard and heard he is. In verse 49, three times we hear the word “call.” First, Jesus instructs the crowd to call him, then they called him saying, “he is calling you.”
Without hesitation, Bartimaeus throws off his cloak, likely spread out to collect alms from those passing by (in other words, this was his primary possession for making a living as a blind beggar). He throws off his cloak and springs up and comes to Jesus. Unlike the healing of the blind man in chapter eight, when Jesus takes spit and mud and spears it on the unnamed man, in this story Jesus does nothing to heal Bartimaeus. It is not by Jesus’ words or any action Jesus takes that Bartimaeus is healed. It is Bartimaeus’ faith that heals him.
The preacher should pause here and notice an important detail. Notice that the question Jesus asks Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?” is the same one he asked James and John in the previous pericope. The disciples responded by asking for places of honor and Jesus told them they had no idea what they were asking. Bartimaeus asks to see, and he is given his request because of his faith. Pay attention, in this concluding section about discipleship, Mark is telling us that what we most need is the ability to see—to see Jesus for who he is.
What do we make of this? How is it that the outsider who had not even met Jesus suddenly becomes the one who can really see? We cannot answer that question, but we can see. We can see that it is often the outsider who has the most to teach us about Jesus. We can recognize that it is not the most theologically sophisticated who always sees Jesus most clearly. As people of the way, as the people of the Church, we must take this humble lesson. We do not go out into the world just to teach, we also go to learn. Time and time again as we read the story of the early Church in Acts, we find it is outsiders pushing boundaries of understanding and opening the Church to the wild and raucous work of Holy Spirit. Outsiders have a place and when we hear them crying out for Jesus, we are fortunate if we can participate in calling them to come, see, and tell us what it is they see.
After Bartimaeus receives vision he leaves everything behind (his cloak is left lying on the ground where once he begged) and follows Jesus. It is interesting, Jesus did not even ask Bartimaeus to follow him. In fact, he said “go.” But Bartimaeus can now see, and seeing he is drawn to follow Jesus on the way. This is the climatic ending of Mark’s section on discipleship. This is what discipleship is all about. We catch a vision of Jesus and leave everything behind to follow him on the way.
There are many sermons that can be woven out of this vibrant text. Along with a focus on the call of discipleship, or the role of the outsider, or an emphasis on seeing Jesus for who he is, one could also focus on the question, “What is faith?” Faith is one of those words we use often, but rarely describe. Jesus said Bartimaeus had faith. If we use his story to help define faith we might notice the following: Bartimaeus cried out to Jesus and did not stop even when the crowds demanded he be silent, when Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was calling him he dropped everything and sprung up to come to him, he told Jesus what he most desired and his desire was to see (which surely includes understanding who Jesus is and what the way of Jesus is all about), and finally, he follows. This is faith. One wonders if it was faith enough for Bartimaeus to stay around Jerusalem to cast his eyes upon the cross, and even more, one wonders when he heard the report of the women running from the tomb with news that Jesus had been raised, if Bartimaeus could see the glorious news of resurrection.
Dr. Rusty Edwards
University Baptist Church, Hattiesburg, MS
Tags: discipleship, faith, outsiders, healing