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They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
Mark 10:46-52 (NRSVA)
Our passage begins with Jesus and his disciple’s leaving Jericho. They are heading for Jerusalem. It is the place to which Jesus pointed in two of his three predictions regarding his suffering, death, and resurrection. There is a deepening sense of imminent arrival. Everything from here happens in and around the City of David.
Characteristically our passage recounts a healing. Large crowds file past a blind man. Bartimaeus is begging. His is not a business of hope. It is about survival. He will never make plenty. On a good day there may be enough.
If anyone is stuck it is this blind man.
But on hearing that this crowd is gathered around Jesus, Bartimaeus shouts his request: ‘Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!’ It is raw, desperate, demanding. To him this must look like an only chance – get Jesus’ attention now or this begging will be the whole story. The crowd’s dismissive objections strengthen his steely resolve as he prays still louder: ‘Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!’
And it pays off. Jesus hears, stops, and commands the crowd to call him. We detect a mood change as the followers move from abuse to encouragement. Bartimaeus casts off his garment, springs to his feet, and comes. A spontaneous and enthusiastic response.
Jesus’ inquiry into motive seems absurdly unnecessary. Blind men want to see.
And so it is with Bartimaeus. There is no contentment with his situation; no holding onto the past; no concern for dignity. On Jesus’ part there is no touch, no prayer, no preparing of mud. His role is reduced to the acknowledgment of trust.
And so blind Bartimaeus sees.
We are left to wonder if perhaps Mark is deliberately contrasting the simple faith of Bartimaeus’ with that of the disciples. Next to this spontaneous trust stands the faith of the twelve. They seems complex: stuck in their silent response to Jesus’ predictions; stuck in the ways of the self-serving world around them; stuck in a limited and safe understanding of the kingdom.
But this newly seeing beggar is so different. He demonstrates courage in the face of adversity; responds to Jesus’ invitation with unbridled enthusiasm, and; knows exactly what he wants from the Messiah.
When Jesus puts it all together he – perhaps for the sake of the disciples – names it ‘faith’.
And so did the early church. They named the cry of Bartimaeus, ‘The Jesus Prayer’, and encouraged this man’s plea to be heeded as an example of genuine faith.
Perhaps it can become your prayer for today: ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me’.
Bartimaeus is an example of faith for the disciples, for the early church, and, of course, for us.
Those who see Bartimaeus dismiss him as a disturbance even while Jesus sees him as a person of faith. When do you see faith most clearly? When do you find it most difficult to recognise?
Who is most ‘stuck’ in this passage? Who is most ‘set free’?
What do you think it is about the ‘Jesus Prayer’ that captured the imagination of the early church? Why do you think they believed it to be so exemplary?