Faith that saves: on the way

Jesus-healingThe passage is 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

Locations. 46 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 places 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).

Who is this?.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.”

Though Bartimaeus was blind, he understood a great deal about Jesus. There is a division of opinion about the expression “Son of David.” Some scholars hold that it is a generally accepted, polite moniker for a Jew. Others hold that it is a title with Messianic overtones as indicated in documents from the Qumran community. Others take it more literally because in Judaism there was a tradition that Solomon, as David’s son, was specially enabled by God to heal (Josephus Antiquities 8.41–47). There is something compelling, in the shadow of the City of David, to suspect that the Markan Messianic “secret” is becoming unveiled.

Many among the 1st century Jews held that the Messiah would be a military, conquering figure like King David who warred against the Jebusites to capture Jerusalem (2 Sam 5:6-10). But this is not the “Son of David” to whom Bartimaeus cries out. He cries out to the One who brings mercy not wrath and will enter, not as conquering hero, but humbly on a donkey. As Jesus drew near to Jerusalem, his previous hesitation to allow people to name him as the Messiah seems to be gone.

Notes

Mark 10:46 Jericho. At this point, Jesus was only fifteen miles northeast of Jerusalem and five miles west of the Jordan River. Some scholars offer that the crowd was possibly following Jesus, came out from Jericho to see him, or were part of a larger pilgrimage crowd moving towards Jerusalem.

Mark 10:48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more. The crowd thought that Bartimaeus was not worthy to call out to Jesus, impose demands upon him, or take his time, so they told him to be quiet. The blind man did not back off, but continued to cry out to Jesus. This is expressed in the imperfect tense (ekrazen) emphasizing that his call was ongoing.

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