The story of blind Bartimaeus is the last healing miracle recorded in Mark. It rounds off the set of stories which began with the healing of the possessed boy, 9:14-29. Although the healing of Bartimaeus again reveals something of Jesus' messianic credentials, the story focuses on the response of Bartimaeus himself. He tenaciously cries out for mercy and ends up following Jesus. The persistent faith of the blind man is the focus of this story, a faith that leads him on the road to Calvary.
v46. Jericho was some 30 Klms. northeast of Jerusalem, a rather dilapidated old town, but with a new section to the South housing Herod's winter palace. Jesus was journeying, with a large crowd, on the pilgrim's way to Jerusalem. Beggars were a common sight on the journey. Mark actually names our particular beggar - Bartimaeus, son of Timai. The names of those healed rarely get mentioned in the gospels.
v47-48. Once Bartimaeus gets wind of Jesus' presence, he starts shouting out for attention. His appeal, "have mercy on me", is the common appeal to God for help, eg. Ps.4:1, 6:2,..... He sees Jesus as God's servant, and therefore, the channel of God's mercy. The title, "Son of David", is a declaration of Jesus' messianic credentials. Jesus does not silence him, for he is now heading toward Jerusalem and is about to enter the city as the Messiah. Jesus no longer needs to hide his identity. The crowd, constantly pestered by crying beggars, tries to shut Bartimaeus up, but he cries out all the more.
v49-50. Finally, Bartimaeus gets the nod, jumps up, throws aside his outer garment (used to receive any coins) and comes unaided to Jesus.
v51-52. Jesus knows what he wants, but in typical fashion draws out the beggar's faith. The term "Master" is a title of dignity. "Let me receive my sight" ("I want to see") demonstrates the strong confidence Bartimaeus has in Jesus as the source of God's blessing. Bartimaeus, a man of faith, is immediately healed and joins the disciples on the way to the cross. At the gates of Jerusalem, the triumphant Messiah, the "Son of David", will encounter the blindness of Israel, but here, on the pilgrim's way, he encounters a man of faith, to whom he declares "your faith has saved you." This man comes to see through faith, and follows on. cf. 2Sam.5:6-8.
What makes for a good Christian? I was speaking with a family concerning the loss of their father. The son said of his father: "He was a good Christian. He never went to church, but he believed in God."
I have learned to limit my presumptions about a person's standing in the sight of God, for it is between them and Jesus. Whether they attend church or not, whether they are a fine person, or badly flawed, their standing before God is their business, and theirs alone. So, my answer to the son was quite straightforward: "If your dad has made his peace with God, then he is at peace with God." Yet, the question remains, "What makes for a good Christian?"
Of course, the question is loaded by the word "good". It's a bit like the description of a person's career in the terms of: "He has had a very successful career." What is "success"? I suspect that success in our eyes is quite different to success in Jesus' eyes. As for "good", I am happily able to quote Jesus' words, "no one is good except God alone."
So what about the "good Christian", or should we say the "true believer"? Our passage for study serves as one of those crucial turning points in the gospel. By itself it seems little more than another story authenticating the messiahship of Jesus. Yet, it serves a quite different purpose. In concluding the central section of the gospel and pointing toward Jesus' passion, it unlocks the secret to membership in the kingdom of God.
Entrance into the kingdom of God had certainly eluded the religious leaders of Israel. It was still eluding the disciples who doubted their power to heal in the name of Jesus and who sought greatness through status. Yet, a blind man unlocked the secret. The blessings of the kingdom are for those who, in faith, persistent faith, cry out to God for mercy and who, having found that mercy in Christ, follow on to Calvary.
Like Bartimaeus, we can permit no obstacle to turn us aside from the source of our eternal salvation. Like a bulldog we must hold onto Jesus for divine grace. And like Bartimaeus we must follow in the way. Of course, all of us are constantly aware of our doubts, failings and weakness, yet Christ has gone before and so in the shadow of his cross we stand secure, by grace through faith.
1. What is the meaning of the term "Son of David"?
2. Define "faith". cf. 8:48, 17:19.
3. Why can a mustard-seed-sized faith move mountains, and what is the mountain?