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Our text serves as a dramatic contrast to the past two assigned texts.
Two weeks ago we had the man who had kept all of the commandments from his youth and who had many possessions -- an obvious sign in the first century that he had been blessed by God -- but he is not able to part with his possessions. He is not able to follow Jesus. In our text, we have a man who is blind and a beggar -- obvious signs in the first century that he was a "sinner" and not blessed by God (see John 9 for this traditional view and Jesus' rejection of it). However, the blind-beggar, throws off his cloak (v. 50) -- perhaps his only possession, and is able to follow Jesus.
Last week we had James and John seeking positions of honor at Jesus' side when he enters his glory. In our text, we have a man who is sitting by the side of the road (hodos = "way") -- might we say, "sitting in the gutter" -- crying for mercy (or pity) now -- certainly not a position of honor.
The two stories of healing of persons who are blind form bookends to the discipleship section of Mark (8:22-10:52). The section begins with the healing that requires two touches from Jesus in order for the man to see everything clearly (8:22-26). It is the only miracle story that is unique to Mark. Our text, the healing of blind Bartimaeus, concludes the section.
Actually, both healing stories serve dual purposes in Mark's narrative -- they conclude one section and begin a new one. The first healing of the blind man is both a conclusion to what goes on before, and an introduction to the discipleship section. In the same way, our text concludes the discipleship section, and it is an introduction to what follows. I will highlight some of the phrases and themes that connect our text to what has happened before and what will happen later.
It is likely that the two miracles of healing the blind men highlight the "blindness" of the disciples that is illustrated in the incidents between the healing stories. "Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember?" (8:18). The disciples in Mark would have to answer, "Yes," to those questions.
One theme/word that our text picks up from previous discipleship section is hodos = "way".
At the beginning of the section, we are told that Jesus and his disciples are on the way when Jesus asks, "Who do people say that I am?" (8:27).
It is on the way that the disciples argue about who was the greatest (9:34-35).
Jesus is back on the way ("journey" in NRSV) when the rich man runs up to him. Because of his riches he goes away. He does not follow Jesus (10:17).
They are back on the way ("road" in NRSV), going up to Jerusalem, when Jesus tells the twelve what will happen to him -- the third passion prediction.
When they come to Jericho, Bartimaeus is sitting by the way ("roadside" in NRSV) (10:46). He is not yet "on the way," but by the side of the "way". He is an outsider. However, our text ends: Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way (10:52).
In this section we have the example of disciples not fully understanding -- or seeing the way of Jesus, but the healed/saved blind man does.
Williamson (Mark, Interpretation Commentaries) has this brief statement: "... the cure of Bartimaeus is climactic in the sense that its outcome marks the goal of this Gospel in the life of its readers: He followed Jesus 'on the way'." [p. 196]
This contrast between Bartimaeus and the disciples is also illustrated by answers to Jesus' question: "What do you want me to do for you?" which he asks twice in this chapter (10:36, 51). The two disciples want positions of honor. The blind man wants to see.
This question underlines the importance of getting our deepest desires straight. What do we want Jesus to do for us?
Another theme/word connection is sozo = "to save," "to heal". This word occurs four times in this section.
For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it (8:35)
They [the disciples] were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" (10:25)
Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
Our text is an example of "who can be saved" and how one is saved. With humans -- whether a rich man entering the kingdom of God or a blind man seeing again -- it is impossible. With God, all things are possible (10:27).
Since this text occurs on Reformation Sunday in the Lutheran Calendar, it could be used to illustrate that our salvation comes solely through the work and miracle of God. Not through our own abilities.
What is the "faith" (pistis) that saved/healed the blind man? Previously, this word has always been related to miracles.
Jesus sees the faith of the friends and forgives/heals the paralytic (2:5)
During the storm at sea, Jesus sees the fear of the disciples and asks: "have you still no faith?" (4:40)
To the woman with the flow of blood who touched Jesus, he says: "Daughter, your faith has made you well [or saved you]; go in peace, and be healed of your disease." (5:34)
The opposite of faith in the second occurrence is fear. A characteristic of faith in the other two verses and in our text is the fearlessness of those having faith; Fearlessly tearing open a hole in the roof; fearlessly the unclean woman touches Jesus' clothing; fearlessly (and loudly) the blind man shouts to Jesus: "Have mercy on me!"
Related to this fearlessness is the expectation that Jesus can and would do something. The people of faith won't let buildings, social & religious customs, or crowds keep them from pursuing Jesus' mercy.
The verbal form, pisteuo = "to believe, to have faith, to trust" is used three times in the discipleship section -- all in chapter 9.
Jesus tells the father of the demon-possessed boy: "All things can be done for the one who believes." (v. 23)
The father cries out: "I believe; help my unbelief!" (v. 24)
Finally, Jesus says: "If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea" (v. 42).
Believing, at least in the first two instances, is the expectation that God can do the impossible, which may be easier for "little ones" to believe than us "big ones".
A reaction I had to re-reading this story centered on the thought, "What if this happened to me during a Sunday service?" How would I react if someone started shouting out in the middle of a service, "Have mercy on me"? How would the other worshipers react?
I think that we would be like the disciples and try to silence the disrupting person.
I am not Jesus. I have discovered that I seldom have the ability to heal blind people or any sick persons or even hangnails.
We frequently say or sing in our liturgies, kyrie eleison = "Lord, have mercy". Perhaps those words should be shouted! A liturgical possibility would be to create a confession/absolution dialogue based on this text. The congregation could shout the prayer of the blind man. The worship leader could tell them to be quiet -- they are in church, you know. They shout it out again and again. To the question, "What do you want me to do for you?" They could respond with different ways that we are blind. Finally, a word of absolution would be announced. Their faith has saved them. They can see clearly the evils in the world, the sins in their own lives, and the way to follow Jesus to new life.
This would certainly give a new understanding of the kyrie in our liturgies.
This is the first time a connection is made between Jesus and David in Mark. This discussion will continue in chapter 11 when Jesus, coming into Jerusalem, is blessed for bringing in the kingdom "of our ancestor David!" (11:10). Our text also looks ahead to the triumphant entrance, because Bartimaeus who followed Jesus on the way, was probably one of "those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, "Hosanna!..." (11:9).
The relationship between the Messiah and David is a question that Jesus raises in 12:35-37. "How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the son of David?"
Our text goes from discipleship (as it looks to previous stories) to Christology (as it looks ahead to future discussions).
An important key to this story is found in verse 47: "Having heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth." This whole miracle scene begins with someone telling the blind man -- an outsider -- that it was Jesus of Nazareth.
Related to this, Jesus' call to the blind man is mediated through human agents. He tells others, "Call him here." They do and he responds.
There is the combination of human activities and divine activities to produce the miracle.
1. Jesus comes to Jericho
a. People share that news with the blind man.
b. The blind man responds by persistently calling after Jesus (in spite of the crowd's objections).
2. Jesus tells others to call the blind man here.
a. The people bring Jesus' call to the blind man.
b. The blind man responds by leaving his possession, jumping up, and coming to Jesus.
3. Jesus asks a question.
France (The Gospel of Mark) notes: "The crowd's sudden and complete change of heart indicates the authority of Jesus: they are now as enthusiastic as before they were dismissive, and become the medium for Jesus' call to Bartimaeus" (p. 424).
a. The blind man responds with an answer of his need.
b. Jesus declares him healed and it happens.
c. The blind man responds by following Jesus.
We should see ourselves both as the blind man -- in need of the divine miracle so that we can be saved and follow Jesus on the way; and as members of the crowd who need to see the blind man in a new and different way. Rather than seeking to keep the poor and disabled and needy away from Jesus, We need to share the news about Jesus with such people who are on the "side of the way" -- the outsiders. Do we believe that Jesus calls them to his side? If so, we need to share the news. Do we believe that Jesus has called us to his side? It means leaving everything behind and following Jesus -- which from Jericho means an uphill road to the cross in Jerusalem.
Faith Lutheran Church, 1000 D St., Marysville, CA 95901