Look up and follow Jesus
46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:46-52 ESV)
The story of the healing of blind Bartimaeus is one of those ‘feel good’ stories – if you’re predisposed to a blind person getting healing and you are not currently calling out for a miracle yourself! (This is always an issue, I think, with the miracle accounts in the Gospels.) Bartimaeus, doesn’t stay silent, even when the crowds clearly want him to be quiet – the Greek is more forceful than that – maybe ‘shut up’ would convey things better – and they want him as silent as Zechariah coming out of the temple – your lips can move but no sound is to come out. It raises the question ‘Why?’ but Bartimaeus isn’t mute – he wants mercy and Jesus stops – he and the disciples and the crowd are leaving Jericho – and with some irony, I think, Jesus gets the crowd now to tell and usher Bartimaeus into his presence.
Jesus doesn’t presume to know what mercy Bartimaeus is seeking – and we might be surprised at that – after all, if we are blind, who wouldn’t want their sight? Well, maybe we wouldn’t if we have a greater problem! Bartimaeus wants to ‘see again’ – αναβλέπω̉ [ana-blepo] – which can also mean ‘look up’ – to heaven, to God. And Jesus tells him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well” and sight is restored and Bartimaeus’s version of ‘go your way’ is following Jesus ‘on the way’ – interestingly ‘The Way’ (Acts 9:1,2) was the first name given to the followers of Jesus before ‘Christian’ (Acts 11:26).
So there it is – a nice story for Bartimaeus – and we can go home now! [stop reading now!]
What do we see in our mind’s eye as the words and the story appear before us? What have we noticed? What have we heard?
Well, here is a story about two sons. Bartimaeus means ‘Son of Timaeus’ and he might have had his own name but we’ll never know. Timaeus is tricky to translate depending on which Aramaic root word you use – there are two root words in discussion – one means ‘honour’, ‘worth’, ‘price’ – while the other means ‘unclean’, ‘impure’, ‘unchaste’ even ‘abominable’ – and perhaps the blind beggar – disabled – is viewed as more the latter than the former – and perhaps that is the reason that the crowd wants him to shut up – because his presence – even though they give him alms – and he is a living witness that life could be a lot worse for most of them – makes them feel unclean and ‘bad’. Yet, Jesus treats Bartimaeus with honour and he is a person of worth.
The second son is Jesus called the ‘Son of David’ – a Messianic title – the hoped for ‘special one’ from God, his anointed – there’s no hint of divinity here – God’s human representative – whom Bartimaeus keeps shouting to – but … he is first identified as ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ and as Nathaniel said after Philip found him and told him that they’d found the Messiah – Jesus – “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). Is Jesus the ‘not good’, the unclean, the impure? And yet Bartimaeus can see! Perhaps Jesus drew the affliction out of Bartimaeus and into himself?
These two sons interact and in the verse before this scene Jesus finished telling his disciples – after a question from another two sons – James and John – about whether they could sit on Jesus’ right and left – that the “Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
It would seem that it doesn’t matter whose son and daughter you are – family, country, corporation – it doesn’t matter who ‘owns’ you or how you are limited, Jesus offers help and mercy and he is prepared to serve you!
The second thing to notice is the cloak. Bartimaeus throws it off when he comes to Jesus. This and his crying out are signs of faith that Jesus will have mercy. How he knows about Jesus we don’t know but the word about Jesus was getting out and about, hence the crowds. Scholarship assumes more than knows the cloak to be a sign of Bartimaeus’ disability, a way that people can interact with him – maybe even throw money at him – and not get close to him or touch him or he them, plus it has practical uses of warmth and shelter. And Bartimaeus throws it off – presumably he doesn’t need it now – Jesus will help him.
But let’s consider for a moment that his cloak is his livelihood. We don’t know how he was blind – presumably from birth – and his cloak sums up his economic ability – he begs. What skills does he have to earn a living? Can he read or write? Can he cook, clean, or make a table and chairs? How long will it take for him to learn? How will live in the meantime? Will he still beg but change the sign ‘Was blind, now can see, am learning an apprenticeship as a carpenter, still hungry’? Faith is more than an assent that God is good or even a trust that he is – we still have to get up in the morning and live through the day and the question becomes, ‘Will we do it with faith or as if we don’t have faith?’.
I can imagine Bartimaeus, if he had no other means of support, going to another part of Jericho and pretending to be blind to survive! Of course, I don’t know he did it – and yes, I assume he didn’t – but my point is that faith in Jesus has consequences personally, economically, politically, in all our relationships – and there is a part of living where Christians say that we’re not doing something again but instead following Jesus by – insert a behaviour that Jesus wants you to do. And I’m not talking about for one day – this could be – often is – for the rest of your life. And I’m not talking about the sins of youth – this can and does apply to the disciples of Jesus at any age. (We don’t know how old Bartimaeus was.)
We can go our own way but Bartimaeus becomes an example for us that with choices before us, following Jesus is the best way to go. What stops people doing that is more often fear – that we will not be happy, that God will not provide (as we wish), that we will look stupid to the world, that God is not reliable or even real, that we will become ‘less’ in some way, certainly less in control – and there are many more fears.
And yet the world for Bartimaeus got it wrong! They were pretty insistent for him to be silent – and whether the news about Jesus had already got to him, or it was desperation, or both – Bartimaeus cried out for help to God’s anointed – and he was helped. That promise is something Jesus also gave in such words as “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9 ESV) and what people learn is that Jesus does help in his way and in his time – sometimes then and there, sometimes not as we would want it, but the truth here is that Jesus will never walk past someone calling out and not help. He stops. He listens. And he calls people to him. Will they come and receive what Jesus has to give? His love casts out fear (1 John 4:18).
You do wonder what Bartimaeus must have thought when Jesus, a week or so later, was crucified. Again we can imagine Bartimaeus thinking, ‘Jesus healed me – how can the authorities treat him as a criminal to be cursed by God and executed?!’. The world really wanted to shut Jesus up! Did Bartimaeus go to Golgotha and look up at Jesus on the cross? Did he hear Jesus say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do?” (Luke 23:34)?
What is there to see and hear? Only ‘God with us’ serving us so that we may have life again after the death we’ve created and now live with Jesus through faith – and in eternity with Jesus through all our senses in something we can’t even really imagine. Jesus became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus died so that we might have life as sons and daughters of God – a new birth given in Baptism.
And we then live each day seeking how to follow Jesus by choosing out of the options before us to stay close to Jesus – to look up at his cross for comfort and challenge – and there is deep assurance, dare I say, confidence that this God has mercy on us!
- Mark 10:46 - 52