A common theme of Mark is the question, “Who is Jesus?’ and, then “How are you going to respond?” Faith is not in what Jesus can do, but in the person of Jesus, and if Jesus is who Mark is describing him to be, choosing to put our trust in him and following him in the way.
I have often wondered which of the senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell (and I could include intuition on this list) I could live without. The loss of taste and smell I would find really difficult because I love my food and wine, and without either of those, they are nothing. I could do without touch, although I recognise how much danger that would put me in, not knowing I had hurt myself.
I have tinnitus, a constant ringing in my ears, consequently, I do not know silence, and the idea of silence seems appealing. Just recently I put olive oil in my ears to clear the wax. The resultant deafness was disturbing, although I still had ringing in my ears. I am a visual and I think this is the one sense that I could not do without. The idea of blindness is an idea of a world without beauty.
But I have also wondered whether there is a difference between being born blind, and never knowing what sight is, what a particular colour is, how a bird looks, compared to having once had sight and then lost it. Would it mean more to someone who had lost heir sight compared to someone who never have had sight, to receive sight?
I want to suggest that there is another aspect to these miracle accounts concerned with the receiving of sight, that it is not just a story about healing of physical blindness, but about healing of spiritual blindness, restoration of spiritual sight.
So we are introduced, by Mark, to the blind man on the road leading out fromJericho. It is unique that Mark names him. He doesn’t normally name the receivers of Jesus’ miracles, but this time he does. His name is “Bartimaeus” and, we are told, he is the “son of Timaeus”. This is particularly odd, because Bartimaeus means son of Timaeus, we actually get a repetition of his name.
Mark wants to give this story authenticity. Bartimaeus is a significant person of the early Church inJerichoand amongst those in the congregation of which Mark was a part. This is the account of one of their members, someone they knew.
Bartimaeus was “a blind begger” – Bartimaeus was not born blind, but had become blind since birth, because when asked by Jesus what he wanted he says, “Let me see again”.
Jesus “stood still” – this is more than just stopping walking, halting his journey, it is concerned, also, with taking a stance, or a position on something. Here is the pint to be made. “Jesus says, ‘Call him here.’” – so Jesus gives instruction to the crowd for Bartimaeus to come to him. This is more than just an invitation to come to Jesus, though, it is an invitation into the fulfilment of the kingdom; the eternal and continual invitation that Jesus makes to us all – come follow me. Jesus is asking us to continue to invite people to come and see Jesus, to allow their spiritual sight to be open.
Encouraged by the crowd, Bartimaeus “throws off his cloak” – as a beggar, he may not have been wearing his cloak, but laid out to receive the money and gifts that people would give. The “throwing off” is a sign that he was willing to lay aside anything that would get in the way of getting to Jesus. How often can we, and others, not be followers of Jesus because we are unwilling to give up something, whether it is an illness, something we believe in, a career, finances. We can get so used to our situation in life, even if it is bad, that we cannot give it up for something better.
Unaided, Bartimaeus, makes his way to Jesus who asks him “What do you want me to do for you?” The same question applies to us, “What is it that we truly want?” Sometimes, I suspect, we want to receive all the benefits from Jesus without being willing to be open to see spiritually; see Jesus for who he really is.
There seems to be a transition in Bartimaeus’ understanding of who Jesus is. Initially, when he heard that Jesus was passing by he calls out, “Jesus Son of David” – a nationalistic, messianic, political hope. This is a misplaced understanding of Jesus and the Markan Jesus would normally silence such incorrect understanding of him. But, now Bartimaeus calls Jesus “teacher” – a transition to discipleship, where Jesus is the master.
This is enough for Jesus, “Go, your faith has made you well”. It is not his faith that he can be healed of his blindness by Jesus, rather it his faith in Jesus that has led to his healing. He has accepted Jesus as his teacher, he has become a disciple; he has received salvation, for the words “made you well” are the same word that is used to describe salvation.
So, then “followed him on the way” does not simply mean that Bartimaeus joined the crowd that followed Jesus to Jerusalem, it is more likely that, because Batimaeus was known in the early church, that it means that he became a follower of Jesus, in the way of discipleship.
Our society may be able to see physically well, but it has become spiritually blind; it can’t see for looking. I remember once living in a Vicarage that had wonderful views, but after a while I stopped looking, took it for granted, until visitors would come and comment on it. The challenge for us as Christians in this modern society is that we need to change the presentation of the message of the good news of Jesus in order that our society can ‘see’ it again. The message has not changed, it is eternal, but how we present the message needs to change in order that it can be heard again.