Stop whispering your prayer, perhaps it’s time to shout! – Sunday, 30th week in ordinary time – Mark 10:46-52
This text precedes the triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (Mark 11:1). Today’s text is somewhere in the days preceding the Holy week and this we can safely surmise because in the next chapter Jesus enters Jerusalem and we are also told that today’s miracle takes place in Jericho and the distance between Jericho and Jerusalem is about 46 kilometers if you were to drive today.
The text of today is also to be found in the Gospel of Matthew 20:29-34 and in the Gospel of Luke 18:35-43. Mark’s Gospel is the only one which mentions the name of the blind man; he is Bartimaeus son of Timaeus. Bartimaeus, which is sometimes seen as his given name, is actually the man’s “last name.” Bartimaeus is an Aramaic phrase: bar Timaeus, where “bar” means “son of.” In Matthew’s Gospel we are not told the name of the man whose sight is restored but we are told there are TWO men who call to Jesus for help. Matthew and Luke also place this miracle story in Jericho and just before the entry in to Jerusalem though Luke will also give us the narrative of Zacchaeus the ‘famous’ tax collector of Jericho before he pens down the entry into Jerusalem.
Today I want to focus on what we can learn from Bartimaeus.
1. Illness at the time of Jesus meant that you were a sinner. Illness and sin were seen as two sides of the same coin. So, Bartimaeus was used to being looked down on and even silenced in public. But having lived through his situation he knows how to deal with people who try to silence him. When the crowds try to silence him and even do so “sternly” ordering him to be quiet he realizes that this may be the last chance he ever has. Many of us too feel silenced in our own homes, work places and lives. We feel relegated to a corner because of illness, physical challenges, challenges in our life caused at birth or may be just a dominating person who controls our lives. Bartimaeus knew when to cry out and to whom to cry out to. He knew that no one except the ‘Son of David’ could help him. Incidentally this title, ‘Son of David’ appears only here in the Gospel of Mark. The blind man had no sight but had insight. He grasped who Jesus was and what he could do even when his own disciples failed to understand Jesus.
2. When Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus he asks not for sight or for wealth but he asks for mercy. How strange is the request! One would have thought that this persistent blind man would want his sight and yet twice he cries out for mercy. If this insightful man knew who Jesus was, he also knew what Jesus could do for him. So, the question we need to ask ourselves is what do we want from Jesus? The rich young man wanted eternal life, James and John wanted glory, but this guy, blind and parked on the roadside, wants only mercy. He doesn’t even specify the nature of the mercy until Jesus puts the question to him plainly.
3. Notice that Jesus heals the Son of Timaeus with a word. When he raises the little girl, he touches her first, taking her by the hand. When he heals the deaf and mute man he first puts his fingers in his ears and touches his tongue. Not here. For the blind man of Jericho, Jesus simply speaks the word — or the Word — “your faith has made you well,” The way the Lord may choose to heal some one else may not be the way he may choose to heal us and that also IF he chooses to heal us.
4. In the final verse, Jesus names faith as what impels Bartimaeus; “Go, your faith has made you well.” The rest of the story shows us what that faith is. Bartimaeus’s faith is not merely about reciting the correct confession or subscribing to certain dogmas. It is his unrelenting conviction that Jesus can and will rescue him from his need. We see this faith in what Bartimaeus does and that brings us to the final point.
5. Bartimaeus followed Jesus on the way. Jesus told him. “go your way” and yet Bartimaeus doesn’t “go your way,” as instructed, but “followed him on the way,” (verse 52) as a new disciple. The Lord has done so much for us in our life and set us free after which we ‘go OUR way’. The Focus of our life is always us not HIM. For the blind man the focus was Jesus and so he FOLLOWED HIM ON THE WAY. The end of that way was the cross, for the very next verse of the Gospel of Mark will find us in Jerusalem walking with Jesus and his latest disciple Bartimaeus who followed him to the cross.
6. Finally, faith can make us well. This is not magic, or superstition, or some simple fix of course. It seems clear, to me at least, that when Jesus says, “Your faith has made you well” he is not saying that these people somehow believed their way into wellness. Rather he is pronouncing their wellness, declaring it, making it happen for them. It is Jesus who heals, and faith that receives that healing.