Sight and insight.
Introduction: Today’s Gospel is the end of the Way section. Immediately after this, Jesus arrives almost to the city of Jerusalem. When Jesus began this way-journey, a blind man was part of the story. That blind man was healed in steps. The Way section ends with the story of another blind man. Remember along the way the Disciples had been blind and deaf to the teaching of Jesus. Listen to the words and deeds of this blind man and the words and deeds of Jesus. Bartimaeus provides a dramatic contrast to the previous two stories of “non-discipleship”–the rich man and the ambitious disciples. For Mark he symbolizes the “true disciple.”
Sermon: The place is Jericho. As Jesus was leaving with his disciples and asizable crowd, Bartimaeus sat by the roadside begging. So by the side of the WAY or ROAD is a blind man. He takes the initiative and cries out. “Jesus son of David, have pity on me.” And many rebuked him. (More rebuking going on here.) But the blind man kept calling out all the more.
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” They do it. Jesus’ disciples today can take example from the unnamed disciple whose words stirred Bartimaeus’s courage and faith. “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” What an interesting blind man, “he threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.”
Jesus asks the same question which he asked James and John in last week’s Gospel: “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man doesn’t ask for a place at Jesus right or left. He says, “Master I want to see.”
Jesus told him, “Go your WAY; your faith has saved you.” And Mark tells us, “immediately he received his sight and followed him on the WAY.”
If we just separate out the verbs that describe Jesus’ action in this passage we have a kind of summary of his life: comes, hears, stops, calls, waits, questions, listens, heals, passes on.
If we just separate out the verbs that describe Bartimaeus’ actions we have a kind of summary of his life and ours: off to the side, he hears, shouts, is abused, shouts louder, hears, throws off his cloak, jumps up, goes to Jesus, listens, asks, receives sight, follows on the way.
The Gospel will continue to tell us about where the WAY is leading Jesus. We never hear again about this blind man. But he is offered to us as a model of discipleship. First of all he is no dummy. He is located on the road leading out of Jericho toward Jerusalem. This road would be the final 15 miles up to Jerusalem along the Pilgrim’s way. It was the same road as the one in the story that Jesus told about a man going in the opposite direction, away from Jerusalem toward Jericho, and falling among thieves. The one who Jesus tells us is a neighbor to him is not the priest or the levite, but the Good Samaritan.
Probably many beggars would have seen this as a good place to beg on the road leading out of Jericho. It is similar to the bridges going into and out of Mexico. The odds were good that pilgrims would have the mood and means to give alms.
The blind man is also persistent. The crowd can’t dissuade him from making himself known to Jesus. He is also enthusiastic. “He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.” Now remember this man was blind. How do you vision him running toward Jesus? He seems a bit reckless.
What is hindering us from coming to Jesus. What are our trappings? How do we respond when we are rebuked and people try to silence us?
Who are the blind of our day? Do I recognize my own blind spots? Who is Bartimaeus today? The beggars by the wayside of our economic and social structure both reveal and call us to the poverty and lowliness of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Along the way the apostles have been wishing for status and privilege: the beggar simply for his “vision”. Only if the disciples/reader struggle against the internal demons that render us deaf and mute, only if we renounce our thirst for power—in a word, only if we recognize our blindness and seek true vision and insight—then can the discipleship adventure carry on. This man receives his sight and has his insight affirmed.