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Blind Bartimaeus

In closing the discipleship section, Mark presents Bartimaeus as the most powerful paradigm of discipleship on offer. The discipleship section opened with the healing of an anonymous blind man, and both healings begin the same way, with the phrase kai erchontai eis and then the place name, either Bethsaida or Jericho. Jesus has traveled from Galilee to Judea and restored the sight of the blind in each.


Further, this story is the last miracle in Mark’s Gospel, and it’s significant that Jesus here is identified as “the Nazarene” (Nazarēnos, 10:47), as he was in the story of his first miracle (1:24). It’s more than a statement of Jesus’s hometown origins, and it’s more than a verbal tie linking stories opening and closing his healing ministry. It also suggests the presence of the divine power that flowed through Samson, identified as a naziraios theou (Judges 16:7 in the LXX), a Nazarite of God.


Jesus and the disciples will begin their final ascent to Jerusalem, going two thirds of a mile in vertical elevation over a distance of roughly 150 stadia, or eighteen miles; the way of the Cross is arduous. But, just as Jesus and the disciples depart, along with a great multitude coming with them, they encounter Bartimaeus, a blind beggar sitting “alongside the way” (para tēn hodon), soliciting alms from all those making the Passover pilgrimage (10:46).


Hearing that Jesus is approaching, he cries out to Jesus the Son of David for mercy (10:47). Only Bartimaeus among men and women calls Our Lord by his holy name of “Jesus” in Mark’s Gospel; it’s as if he knows Jesus’s identity. But, whereas the demons who called Jesus either by name (5:7) or by some other appropriate appellation (1:24) sought to best him or at least escape with their demonic hide, Bartimaeus calls Jesus by name seeking mercy. “Son of David” means Messiah: most Jews believed the Christ would be a new David, the ultimate inheritor of the promises to David (see especially 2 Sam 7:13–14) who, like David, would make war on the nations oppressing Israel, pacify the land, and establish a kingdom. For all the talk of the messianic secret in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus here does nothing to reject the title, even as a multitude travels with him, and he will shortly enter Jerusalem displaying deliberate messianic symbolism.


As with the hemorrhaging woman, who had her illness and felt shame and had to fight her way through the crowd as an obstacle, the crowd here tells Bartimaeus more or less to shut up, drowning out his voice (10:48), which is all he has, since, being blind, he can’t really fight his way through the throng to seize Jesus, unlike the woman. But like her, he persists, crying out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And so Jesus stops and tells those in hearing to call Bartimaeus, and so they do: in obedience, they tell him, “Take heart; rise, he is calling you” (10:49).


“Take heart” (pharseō) is exactly what Jesus told the terrified disciples in the second boat scene (6:50), and here, Bartimaeus responds, unlike the disciples then. In Mark’s Gospel, “rise” is always redolent of the Resurrection, to which all miracles ultimately point because it’s that which powers all healings. Jesus is calling Bartimaeus to wholeness like he will one day call the faithful dead to wholeness.


And yet, Jesus asks Bartimaeus what he wants him to do for him (10:51), just like he asked James and John what they wanted from him (10:36). Unlike the brothers, who, in their blindness, ignored the Passion prediction, Bartimaeus wants to see. Indeed, having employed the very name of Jesus, he now calls Jesus rabbouni, which, in Jewish literature, is employed never in addressing human beings but only as a direct address of God.


Using the same words with which he dismissed the healed hemorrhaging woman in Mark 5:34, “your faith has healed/saved you” (hē pistis sou sesōken se with hupage), Jesus sends Bartimaeus on his way, no longer blind: “And immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way” (10:52). Mark expressly employs the language of discipleship here, “follow” and “on the way.” Having sought sight and received it, Bartimaeus has now left the sidelines “alongside the way” (10:46) and joined Jesus “on the way” of discipleship, the way of the Cross, the way of the Lord.




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