Thought for the week - 24 October
“Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”
I’ve sometimes wondered which would be worst: to be completely blind or completely deaf. Not that I would want to be either. To be completely deaf would be to be deprived of the enjoyment of music, of the sounds of nature, of the laughter of children.
To live in a completely silent world would be awful. But you can communicate with others. You can learn to lip-read and you can learn sign language. You can read and you can write. But to live in a world of complete darkness, totally deprived of sight must be to live in a frightening place.
If you have been blind from birth then that is the only world you know. But if you have your sight taken from you, you are suddenly plunged into an unfamiliar world of complete darkness. You are pushed to the edge.
When Bartimaeus the son of Timaeus lost sight his we are not told. But being a blind man he is one literally on the margins of society, reduced to sitting by the side of the road begging. As Jesus and his disciples are leaving Jericho Bartimaeus becomes aware of Jesus’ presence and cries out: “When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” People, perhaps the disciples, try to stop him but he cries all the more: “Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stops and says, “Call him here.” “And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” Bartimaeus throws of his cloak and runs to Jesus. “51Then 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.” 52Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.”
In this short passage from St. Mark we are invited to look at various things. There is far more to the story than first meets the eye. It is not a simple healing, though of course it is that. It is the fulfilment of prophecy. This incident is the fulfilment of the promise made in that passage from Jeremiah which was our Old Testament reading. “8See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labour, together; a great company, they shall return here. 9With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father
to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.”
In a similar way the prophet Isaiah announces that the Messiah would come “to give sight to the blind, to make the deaf hear, to heal the sick and to free the captives.”
In giving sight to the blind man – as indeed with the other healings in Mark’s Gospel – Jesus is giving us his credentials; he is announcing who he is. On one level He is simply Jesus of Nazareth. And that is who Bartimaeus is told he is. "When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out”. And what does he shout? Not “Jesus of Nazareth”, but “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” It is the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, the one on the edge of the road who recognizes Jesus for who he really is: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
There is tremendous irony here. The healing of the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, is the final incident in St. Mark’s account of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem that will end in his death and resurrection. Earlier in his account of this fateful journey to Jerusalem St. Mark tells us several times how the disciples fail to recognize who Jesus really is.
The disciples are blind to the true nature of Jesus and the path that the Messiah, the Christ, must take. We hear them squabbling about who should be the greatest among them. We hear James and John asking for the top places in Jesus’ kingdom. They are the blind ones who still cannot recognize who Jesus really is. The ones closest to him are yet blind to his true nature.
So often in the gospels it is the ones on the margins of society who recognize Jesus for who he really is. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” So cries the blind beggar. He recognizes Jesus for who he is and for what he can do. And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.
” 50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51Then 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.” And his blindness is taken from him and his sight restored. “52Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” And his response is simple. He does not ask for a place of honour or power in Jesus’ kingdom. “Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.