Bartimaeus: location

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?

These gospel verses are the last healing and miracle in the Gospel of Mark. It is easily passed over as another miracle among many, but the story of Bartimaeus (bar-Timeaeus; lit. Son of Timeaus) is in some ways the most significant since it is the one miracle not recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures. There are general promises in Isaiah that promise healing and deliverance (Isaiah 29:1; 32:1-3; 35:1-10) along with specific promises that in the day of the Messiah the blind will have their sight restored (Is 42:18; 61:1-4).

The story should also be considered in the light of the readings that have preceded it. Unlike the rich man (Mark 10:35-45) who had everything but spiritual insight, Bartimaeus – who had nothing – saw clearly. Unlike the disciples and the Twelve who are “on the way” (hodos) their vision of Jesus and the Kingdom is coming only in fits and starts. What they seek is glory and prestige. Bartimaeus seeks healing

They came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging.

In a simple opening verse, Mark provides two “locations.”  The scene takes place on the outskirts of Jericho located fifteen miles northeast of Jerusalem and five miles west of the Jordan River. Since the Transfiguration (Mark 9) Jesus has been heading towards Jerusalem, predicting his fate, and now is near the endpoint of his ministry and his life.

The other “location” is Bartimaeus’ position in life. He is blind, perhaps since birth, and supports himself by begging near the city gates. He likely has a cloak (cf. 10:50) spread out before him where those passing by can leave coin or alms. He could not be farther socially that the rich man of vv.35-45. His lack of status will be emphasized again when the crowd rebukes him and orders his silence because he dared to speak above his position in society (v.48).

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