MARK 8-11: THE CONTEXT
In these chapters, we have two stories of the healing of blind men (8:22-26 and 10:46-52). Between these two stories, Jesus travels with the disciples toward Jerusalem. On the way, he tells the disciples three times of his coming death (8:31-33; 9:30-32; 10:32-34), but they respond to each of these predictions inappropriately, showing that they are blind to the future that Jesus is seeking to reveal to them.
Mark uses these two stories of blind men to bracket a series of stories about disciples who are spiritually blind. Furthermore, he singles out Jesus’ inner circle—Peter, James, and John—for special attention. They were privileged to be with Jesus at the Transfiguration (9:2-8), but seem to be blind to the truths that Jesus is trying to show them.
The story of Bartimaeus is the last healing miracle of this Gospel and ends chapter 10. Chapter 11 introduces Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (11:1) which, of course, is the prelude to his crucifixion.
MARK 10:46. A BLIND BEGGAR WAS SITTING BY THE ROADSIDE
46They came to Jericho. As he went out from Jericho, with his disciples and a great multitude, the son of Timaeus (Greek: ho huios timaiou, the son of Timaeus), Bartimaeus (Aramaic: bar means son of), a blind beggar, was sitting by the road (Greek: ten hodon—the road, the way).
“They came to Jericho” (v. 46). Fifteen mountainous miles downhill from Jerusalem, Jericho is one of the world’s oldest continuously occupied cities.
“As he went out from Jericho, with his disciples and a great multitude” (v. 46). The streets would be filled with pilgrims coming from everywhere and heading for the Holy City. Jesus’ reputation precedes him, and people hope to catch a glimpse of the man whom some think to be the Messiah. Perhaps they will witness a miracle—or receive a blessing—or hear a word of wisdom—or even see sparks fly between Jesus and his enemies. It promises to be a grand parade.
Jericho is the home of many priests and Levites who serve at the temple in Jerusalem. Some are surely in this crowd, perhaps fearful of the impact that this young prophet might have on their lives—lives deeply rooted in tradition. Jesus’ apparent disdain for tradition makes them uneasy. Some surely stand on the sidelines trying to screw up courage to challenge Jesus as he walks by.
“the son of Timaeus, Bartimaeus” (v. 46). Bar means son of in Aramaic, a language similar to Hebrew and the common language of Palestinian Jews in Jesus’ day. Mark gives the Aramaic name (Bartimaeus) and translates into Greek (the son of Timaeus) for Gentile readers.
Bar means son and timao means honor, so Bartimaeus means son of honor. The man’s circumstances (a blind beggar) stand at odds with his pretentious name (son of honor). As a blind beggar, he lives on the margins of society. But Jesus will show him respect and restore his sight so that the man might reclaim the honor accorded by his name.
Mark does not usually name beneficiaries of miracles—he names only Jairus and Bartimaeus in this Gospel. It could be that Bartimaeus is active in the church and is known to Mark’s readers.
“a blind beggar” (v. 46). Most blind men would be beggars. While begging is regarded charitably in that culture, this man’s life would be unpleasant at best.
“was sitting by the road” (v. 46). The roadside is a place for marginal people. The road on this day would be noisy with pilgrims headed for Jerusalem. Imagine Bartimaeus’ difficulty understanding what is happening in the confusion of the noisy crowd. Not only is he blind, but he also seems not to have friends to help him.
MARK 10:47-48. SON OF DAVID, HAVE MERCY ON ME
47When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene (Greek: ho Nazarenos—the Nazarene), he began to cry out, and say, “Jesus, you son of David, have mercy on me!” 48Many rebuked him, that he should be quiet, but he cried out much more, “You son of David, have mercy on me!”
“Jesus of the Nazarene” (v. 47a)—literally “Jesus the Nazarene”—from Nazareth, where Jesus grew up.
“Jesus, you son of David, have mercy on me!” (v. 47b). Mark includes no genealogy, so he may intend this title, “son of David,” to establish Jesus’ Davidic descent—his royal blood. In Matthew, the angel appears to Joseph, addressing him, “Joseph, son of David” (Matthew 1:20), presumably for this same purpose. Mark could also intend “son of David” as a messianic title. Later, Jesus will quote scripture to show himself to be, not only David’s son, but also David’s Lord (12:35-37).
Matthew, who wrote his Gospel for Jewish readers, uses the title “Son of David” eleven times. Mark and Luke, who wrote their Gospels for Gentile readers, use the title only once and twice respectively. Jesus’ Davidic descent obviously means more to Jewish readers than to Gentiles readers.
Until now, Jesus has tried to keep talk of his messiahship at a minimum—scholars talk of the “messianic secret.” But Jesus does not rebuke Bartimaeus for calling him, “son of David,” a title that can be understood messianically. The reason is quite simple. Before now, his time had not come, but now it has. He is ready to enter Jerusalem—ready to confront the religious establishment—ready to die.
It is significant that Bartimaeus focuses on Jesus instead of begging. In that culture, people believe that they earn merit by helping beggars, and pilgrims on the way to the Holy City could be expected to be especially generous. Beggars would depend on special days such as this for much of their income—rather like merchants today who depend on Christmas.
We could not fault Bartimaeus if he were content with his circumstances. He punches no clock and answers to no man. His life as a beggar, while less than ideal, is familiar and comfortable. However, Bartimaeus’ shout shows that he has heard of Jesus, has been listening for him, and is determined to get his attention. He wants the help that he believes Jesus to be able to offer.
“Many rebuked him, that he should be quiet” (v. 48a). The crowd is trying to enjoy the parade. Bartimaeus disturbs their fun, so they order him to be quiet—but Bartimaeus will not be stilled. Never has he had such hope! If Jesus disappears around the bend, he will never have such hope again. For Bartimaeus, this is literally the chance of a lifetime. He continues to shout—to plead for mercy.
“but he cried out much more, “You son of David, have mercy on me!” (v. 48b). Bartimaeus will not be quiet just to please this crowd. His future—his life—is at stake.
MARK 10:49-50. JESUS SAID, “CALL HIM”
49Jesus stood still, and said, “Call him.” They called the blind man, saying to him, “Cheer up! Get up. He is calling you!” 50He, casting away (Greek: apobalon—casting aside—abandoning) his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
“Jesus stood still” (v. 50a). Amidst the noise of the crowd, Jesus hears the cry of this beggar, and stops in his tracks. Jesus’ ears are attuned to hear the marginal person: The woman with a hemorrhage (5:25-34)—the Gerasene demoniac (5:1-20)—the sick in Gennesaret (6:53-56)—the Syrophoenician woman (7:24-30)—the blind man at Bethsaida (8:22-25)—the boy with a spirit (9:14-29)—little children (10:13-16)—and now this blind man who sits beside the road.
Jesus does not address the blind man directly, but orders the crowd to “call him” (v. 49)—commands them to stop obstructing and to start enabling—turns stiff arms into helping hands. Then, before healing the blind man, Jesus dignifies him—moves him from the wings to center stage—puts him in the spotlight—gives him a starring role. It is a generous gesture by Jesus, who is nearing Jerusalem where he will die.
There are strong parallels between this story and Jesus’ earlier blessing of little children (10:13-16):
• The disciples tried to prevent parents from bringing their children to Jesus just as the crowd tried to shush Bartimaeus (vv. 13, 48)
• Jesus’ instructions to the disciples “Allow the little children to come to me” (v. 14), parallel his instructions to this crowd, “Call him” (v. 49).
• In both cases, Jesus reaches out with authority to include powerless, vulnerable people, modeling authentic Christian ministry.
“He, casting away (apobalon—casting aside—abandoning) his cloak, (Bartimaeus) sprang up, and came to Jesus” (v. 50). Beggars typically sit with their cloak spread on the ground before them to catch coins tossed by passersby. This man’s cloak is as important to his livelihood as boats are to a fisherman or a booth to a tax collector. Just as others abandoned boats and booths to follow Jesus, this man tosses aside cloak and coins to stand before the Son of David. He is quite unlike the rich man who, earlier in this chapter, could not bring himself to abandon his wealth (10:17-27). The blind man’s actions bring to mind:
• The admonition to “lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and… run with patience the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).
• Jesus’ words, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t serve both God and Mammon” (Matthew 6:24).
This is the last healing miracle recorded in this Gospel.
MARK 10:51. “WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO FOR YOU?”
51Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “Rabboni, that I may see again.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus has brought this man to center stage. Now he further dignifies him by asking what he wants. He asks the same question that he asked of James and John (10:36) in the incident immediately preceding this story. James and John responded by asking for places of honor at Jesus’ right- and left-hand—positions where they would be seen and envied—where ordinary people would have to look up to them.
“Rabboni” In the New Testament, we see this word Rabbouni only here and when Mary recognizes the risen Christ outside the tomb (John 20:16). It is a reverent form of Rabbi.
“that I may see again.” The blind man’s petition is very different from that of James and John. He asks not to be seen, but to see—not for honor, but for vision—not to be superior to ordinary people, but to become ordinary himself—not to rule over others, but to join them in their experience of a normal life.
MARK 10:52. HE RECEIVED HIS SIGHT AND FOLLOWED JESUS IN THE WAY
52Jesus said to him, “Go your way. Your faith has made you well” (Greek: sesoken se—healed or saved you). Immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way (Greek: hodo).
“Go your way. Your faith has made you well” (sesoken). The word sesoken (root word sozo) has a happy ambiguity. It can mean healed, made whole, or saved. In this man’s case, all three are true. The man not only regains his sight and, thereby, his place in society, but he also becomes a follower of Jesus “in the way.” In the way to where? To Jerusalem? To the cross? To the open tomb?
“Immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way” (hodo). At the beginning of this story, we found Bartimaeus “sitting by the road (hodon)” (v. 46). Now, at the end of the story, we find him following Jesus “in the way” (hodo). While in verse 46 hodon simply meant “road,” in verse 52 hodo means “the way.” The formerly blind man is with Jesus in the way of discipleship.
It is only a few days until Good Friday. We can’t help but wonder how Bartimaeus will fare during the tumultuous events of the coming week. Given the vigor of his faith, it seems possible that he will fare better than the other disciples. After all, Bartimaeus can see now, but the disciples are still blind.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2015, Richard Niell Donovan