Faith that saves: context

Jesus-healing46 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. 47 On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.” 49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage; get up, he is calling you.” 50 He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. 51 Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.” 52 Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:46-2)

Our text serves as a dramatic contrast to the past two assigned texts. Two weeks ago we had the man who had kept all of the commandments from his youth and who had many possessions — an obvious sign in the first century 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 — obvious signs in the first century 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 enters 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. Here is one scholar’s (Lane) outline of the second section of the gospel:

30th-B-insert

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 fail to understand Jesus’ point.

8:22 When they arrived at Bethsaida, they brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 23 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? 24 Looking up he replied, “I see people looking like trees and walking.” 25 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’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.

An interesting bit of background come from Dan Clendenin at Journey with Jesus

If “Timaeus” sounds vaguely familiar, you might be channeling your college introduction to philosophy class.  Timaeus is the title of Plato’s most famous dialogue and the name of its narrator.  In the Timaeus and elsewhere, Plato famously contrasts “seeing” the mere physical world while being “blind” to Eternal Truths.

And so Bartimaeus begs Jesus, “Rabbi, I want to see!”

In his book Philo of Alexandria and the Timaeus of Plato (1983), the classicist David Runia argues that “the Timaeuswas the only Greek prose work that up to the third century A.D. every educated man could be presumed to have read.”  Would that include Mark?

Is Mark contrasting Greek philosophy with the Jewish Jesus for his Gentile audience?  It’s such a tantalizing suggestion.  But as the British like to say, for me, it’s too clever by half.  In my view, this interpretation is at best a “definite maybe.”

The name Bartimaeus suggests other linguistic possibilities.  In simplest terms, the name combines the Aramaic “bar” (son) with the Greek “timaios” (honorable).  So, Bartimaeus is a family name.  He’s just the son of a father named Timaeus.

More subtly and allegorically, he’s the “son of honor” or an honored person.

Still others point to the Aramaic or Hebrew word for “unclean” (br tm‘), suggesting that Bartimaeus is the “son of the unclean.”

I like to combine these ideas.  Bartimaeus, a down and out blind man, a poor person who begs for money, might be dishonored and marginalized by Greeks, he might be unclean to ritually clean Jews, but in Mark’s telling he’s a person we should honor.

As you can see, there is good deal of speculation, to which some scholars add 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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