30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 31.7-9 | Psalm 126 | Hebrews 5.1-6 | Mark 10.46-53
Today we continue Mark’s road-trip narrative. The Bartimaeus story opens with Jesus and his band of followers leaving Jericho. We know they are going to Jerusalem, but they are interrupted by a plaintive cry from a blind beggar. The reader already senses the contrast between the disciples and Bartimaeus. (His name means “son of the unclean.”) The disciples, who can see with their physical eyes, are supposed to be receiving spiritual sight by listening to and observing Jesus. But the stories we have heard over these past weeks reveal how blind the disciples are. The story of the blind Bartimaeus is ironic, for it highlights someone who may not have physical sight, but sees at a deeper level, as he cries out of his need and desperation, “Son of David, have pity on me.”
The disciples, on the road with Jesus, must have thought of themselves as part of the “in crowd,” the way James and John did when they asked Jesus to give them seats of power in his kingdom (Mark 10:35-45). While they were physically close to Jesus, they were a long way from understanding and absorbing his message. The blind beggar, with nothing but a cloak, was exactly the kind of person Jesus noticed and invited to come close – while those with Jesus still didn’t know him, still were not his true followers on “the way.”
That crowd with Jesus is given an opportunity to get close to him. He asks them to call the blind man forward. Now they are listening to his word and responding, a sign of discipleship. “Rabboni, My teacher,” is now their teacher as well, showing them how to be his disciples. We have to stop scolding those who call out for help, even when they are disruptive to our sense of decorum. With Jesus, as teacher, we need to reach out to those on the “roadside,” those the crowd passes by because they seem of no or little worth.
This is the first time in Mark that someone is allowed to name Jesus as Messiah. Peter attempted, but Jesus hushed him. Others also tried, but Jesus told them to keep it a secret. When the beggar cries out giving Jesus a messianic title, “Son of David,” the crowd tries to quiet him. They may have thought that, once again, Jesus wanted to keep his messiahship a secret. But Jesus stopped and gave the man his sight. Jesus was ready to enter Jerusalem and show them the truth about what kind of Messiah he was. There, as he predicted, Jesus will suffer and die. The beggar, now that he has his sight, follows Jesus. He will see many things those who had physical sight would miss.
We must make sure we see, and not try to silence, the hungry, the outcast, the immigrant and the lost. Those so-called followers of Jesus were the blind ones. But the Teacher had more to teach them, if they, like the blind beggar whose site was restored, were willing to get up, leave behind what hindered their faith journey and follow Jesus.