The other night I woke from a deep sleep. I lay there for a few moments as my eyes adjusted to the darkness that was all around me. Then, finally, I arose from my slumber and started across the room. While in motion, one of my toes found an immovable object to bang into. Like Bartimaeus in today’s Gospel reading from Mark, I cried out to the Lord in my agony. Although I am not quite sure it was for the same reason.
The main difference between Bartimaeus and myself is that I had my sight obscured by the lack of light in the room where Bartimaeus had no sight.
For the last few weeks, we have been slowly working through the Gospel of Mark and following Jesus along his road toward his eventual death in Jerusalem. Along the way, Jesus has been teaching his disciples life lessons and interacting with crowds. Last week there was the discussion of who would be first, and the week before was a discussion about what keeps us from following Jesus. Today, we come to a full-on view of spirituality.
Jesus encounters many people in the Gospels; some are named, and many are not. Some are healed of various things, and some he speaks too. Some of those that Jesus encounters are told not to tell anyone what has happened, while others, like our chap today, say nothing other than the assurance that his faith has healed him.
Stories of Jesus healing people are not uncommon in Scripture. For some, they are healed by touch, by a mixture of clay, by another action of Jesus, by the words of Jesus, or as in today’s story, the individual’s faith. But, most of the time, the healing is not the actual center of the story, and if we spend too much time focusing on the miracle, we can miss the message.
Another interesting fact is, very often, the subject of the story is not named. We do not know the young man’s name who came to Jesus a few weeks ago with all the stuff. In our Bible study last week, we read the story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well and, although we know her name from tradition, Scripture does not tell us her name. There are many other such encounters with unnamed people, but this week, we learn the man’s name, Bartimaeus, literally the Son of Timaeus.
Jesus and his disciples were leaving the city of Jericho. On their way out, they come across a blind man begging on by the city gate. This is not an unusual occurrence as those who needed to beg would often stand or sit by the city entrance. But as they passed by, a blind man called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Bartimaeus had heard it was Jesus coming, and he had heard about what Jesus had been doing, so he saw his chance and cried out. Those around him tried to silence him because he was causing a disturbance. There is a delicate balance that takes place between the authorities and beggars. As long as they do not get in the way or cause a disruption, they can stay. Bartimaeus was putting that balance at risk, so they tried to silence him. But this just made him shout louder.
Let’s pause here for a little look at the language being used. The Gospels were written in Greek, so there is a loss of the subtly of language in a translation. The Greek word tupholos relates primarily to idolatry, oppression, and willfulness. The term used for “seeing” is anablepo, which generally is associated with a return to covenant fidelity. So, there is more going on here than just the wish of a beggar to see.
The other crucial linguistic use is the name of the man himself, Bartimaeus. As I have already mentioned, Bartimaeus means son of Timaeus, but it is a strange Semitic-Greek hybrid. Some scholars believe that he is an actual person. In contrast, other scholars see a special significance of the story in the symbolic reference to Plato’s Timaeus, who delivers Plato’s most important cosmological and theological treatise, involving sight as the foundation of knowledge.
The healing of Bartimaeus is the last of the healing stories in Mark, and it is significant in that it points to the continued blindness of the disciples as to who Jesus is.
Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus not only by name but by title, “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me.” Thus, Bartimaeus does what Jesus’ disciples have failed to do, recognize Jesus for who he is. The Son of God. According to the usage in Mark, this is the first public proclamation of who Jesus is.
But wait, there is more.
When Jesus calls Bartimaeus to him, the man stands, throws “his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.” As we have seen in previous Scripture passages, the man divests himself of his worldly possessions to follow Jesus. Bartimaeus literally throws off his old self for the new one that he will obtain in the Kingdom.
In his book, What the Story of Blind Bartimaeus Teaches Us About Fear, Surrender and Walking the Path to Joy, Roc O’Connor notes, “Seeing means following Jesus’ way; it signifies salvation, which involves losing one’s life, surrendering one’s possessiveness, letting go one’s demand to rule, and walking with Jesus to the cross…and receiving the healing of his resurrection.” O’Connor continues, “[b]lindness serves here as a metaphor for the all-too-human unwillingness to recognize whatever wounds, hurts, and dis-eases keep us from recognizing God, ourselves, and others.”
In one way or another, we are all blind. We have blind spots toward other people in the hope that one day, they will change. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they do not. We are blind to the suffering of others. Sometimes that blindness is caused by fear, and sometimes it is caused by our biases and prejudices. Sometimes we are blind to others when their rights are slowly being taken away, or they never had those rights in the first place. We are blind to them because their situation does not directly affect us, and therefore, we do not get involved. We all need healing from our blindness.
On the surface of today’s story, Bartimaeus was healed of a physical ailment. But when we drill down just past the surface, we find the remedy to curing our spiritual blindness. A recognition that we are blind and a recognition that Jesus is the Son of God. Bartimaeus cast off his cloak and followed the call of Jesus; what cloak do we have to cast off to be authentic followers of Jesus Christ? What is keeping us blind to the fact that we all need healing, the healing that can come only from God?
We are all Bartimaeus. Cast off your cloak and follow Jesus.