My Dear People,
Jesus and his companions arrive at Jericho, an ancient city fifteen miles from Jerusalem, the site of Israel’s first conquest in the Holy Land (Joshua 6). After passing through the city, they are accompanied by a sizable crowd, probably including both Jesus’ followers and pilgrims heading toward Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover (Mark 14:1). Every year all Jews in Palestine who were able would travel to the holy city to celebrate Passover, commemorating the exodus from Egypt. Bartimaeus (Aramaic Son of Timaeus), a blind beggar, is strategically located at the roadside where he can beg for alms from passing pilgrims. In contrast to the festive crowds walking along, he sits, emphasizing his social isolation as a disabled person.
Sensing something unusual, Bartimaeus inquires and is told that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by. He has evidently heard enough about this miracle-working rabbi to stir his faith. Bartimaeus is the only recipient of healing in Mark to address Jesus by name. This is also the first time in the Gospel that the title son of David has been applied to Jesus. The title literally means “a descendant of David,” but for the Jews it had much greater meaning as the heir of God’s promises, the Messiah-King who would restore the Davidic monarchy and rule over Israel forever (2 Sam 7:12-16; 1 Chron 17:11-15; Ps 89:21-38; Jer. 23:5-6). Moreover, one of the promises associated with the coming of the Messiah was the opening of the eyes of the blind (see Luke 4:18). Have pity on me is a plea often lifted to God in the Psalms. (Ps 6:3; 25:16). Blind Bartimaeus already sees much more than those around him.
Yet, as often happens, here are impediments in the way of coming to Jesus: many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. Perhaps there is a quiet solemnity to Jesus’ procession out of Jericho, and the blind man seems to be making an unseemly commotion. But it is a callous reaction, given Jesus’ many works of healing. Those following Jesus have not yet learned to bring people to him instead of sending them away (see 6:36). But Bartimaeus is undaunted by this public reprimand. Like the Syrophoenician woman (7:25-29), his determination is only toughened in the face of an obstacle. And Jesus cannot refuse such bold, exuberant faith, even when it interrupts his messianic journey. He is totally accessible: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Joel 3:5; Acts 2:21). It is the first time that Jesus allows public acclamation of his messianic identity. Up to this point it has been a secret (Mark 8:30), but now that the fulfillment of his mission as suffering Messiah is near, the time has come when it can be openly revealed. “nothing is secret except to come to light” (4:22).
Instead of calling the man himself, Jesus asks those around him to reverse their previous stance: Call Him. Ironically, they now reassure the blind man, Take courage; get up, he is calling you—as if Bartimaeus were the one needing encouragement. His response is a model of enthusiastic and decisive faith: he sprang up and came to Jesus. To cast off his cloak symbolizes his leaving behind his former life, as Christians are called to put off their old nature at baptism and throughout their life (Rom 13:12; Eph 4:22; Col 3:8-9; Heb 12:1).
Jesus asks the same thing he had just asked James and John (10:36), challenging Bartimaeus to express his faith in concrete form. Unlike the sons of Zebedee, Bartimaeus does not ask for any special honor for himself, but only the restoration to wholeness that is part of God’s messianic promise. Jesus replies as he had to the hemorrhaging woman (5:34), Go your way; your faith has saved you. The man’s faith is his absolute confidence in God’s power to do the “impossible” through Jesus (10:27). The Greek verb sozo, meaning both “heal” and “save,” calls to mind the eternal salvation of which Jesus has been speaking along the way (8:35; 10:26, 30).
Bartimaeus is healed physically, but even more, the eyes of his heart are enlightened (see Eph 1:18)—an image of what happens to every Christian at baptism. He demonstrates the perfect response to being healed: as he follows Jesus on the way of discipleship (Mark 10:52), the way through Jesus’ passion and death to the resurrection and eternal life. Bartimaeus is the only recipient of healing whose name is recorded by Mark, suggesting that he became a disciple and was known in the early Church.
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Vincent Clemente