Bartimaeus: context

This coming Sunday is the 30th Sunday in lectionary cycle B. The gospel is the story of Bartimaeus, a blind man, who cries out to Jesus for pity. Despite the rebuke of the bystanders, Bartimaeus calls out even more vigorously. And in so doing he encounters Jesus who asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” Our text serves as a dramatic contrast to the past two assigned gospels. Two weeks ago we had the man who had kept all of the commandments from his youth and who had many possessions, taken as a 1st century sign that he had been blessed by God. But he is not able to part with his possessions. He is not able to follow Jesus. In our text, we have a man who is blind and a beggar, understood as signs that he was a “sinner” and not blessed by God (see John 9 for this traditional view and Jesus’ rejection of it). However, the blind-beggar, throws off his cloak (v. 50), perhaps his only possession, and is able to follow Jesus.

Last week we had James and John seeking positions of honor at Jesus’ side when he entered his glory. In our text, we have a man who is sitting by the side of the road (hodos = “way”) crying for mercy (or pity), certainly not a position of honor.

Let us remember where we are in Mark’s telling of the Gospel, which I would suggest in this part of the gospel is an extended exploration of not only Christology, but also the challenges of discipleship. Some of what goes before also includes

The Gradual Healing of a Blind Man (8:22-26) ————

  • First Passion Prediction Unit (8:27-9:1)
  • Questions to the disciples and Peter’s Confession (8:27-30)
  • The First Passion Prediction and the Demands of Discipleship (8:31-9:1)
  • The Transfiguration (9:1-13)
  • Healing a Possessed Boy (9:14-29)
  • Second Passion Prediction Unit / More Instructions for Disciples (9:30-50)
  • Interlude – teaching the crowds “Across the Jordan” (10:1-31)
  • A Third Passion Prediction and More Instructions for Disciples (10:32-45)

———–The Healing of Blind Bartimaeus (10:46-52)

The first account of the giving of sight comes after a section in which Jesus has performed miracles (feeding the 4,000) only to have the people request more signs.  At this point Jesus warns them of the “leaven of the Pharisees.”  Yet the apostles still seemed a bit bewildered and failed to understand Jesus’ point.

When they arrived at Bethsaida, they brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him.  He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. Putting spittle on his eyes he laid his hands on him and asked, “Do you see anything?  Looking up he replied, “I see people looking like trees and walking.”  Then he laid hands on his eyes a second time and he saw clearly; his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly. (Mark 8:33-25)

Mark’s narrative continues with teachings about the true nature of the Messiah and what it means to be a disciple.  That brings us to the story of healing Bartimaeus who was born blind. It is as though these two healing stories form bookends to this section – yet the stories are slightly different. In the first account we are not given a name for the blind person and are left to assume, given the location of Bethsaida, that the person is Jewish.  In the second account, the names are Hellenistic and we have some room to speculate that Bartimaeus is gentile. His calling out to Jesus as “Son of David” – like the Syro-Phoenician woman – hints at also being Gentile. While there is a good deal of speculation, some scholars propose that there is a missionary paradigm being described. The Gentiles are people “born blind” who suddenly see in the light of Christ. The Jewish folk are people born in the light but have lost their sight; the restoration process will come only in stages. The missionary paradigm is that Jesus’ first mission is to Israel, but the ending mission will be to the whole world.

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