Readings for October 28, 2018
There are numerous references to blindness in the Bible. Leviticus 21:18 lays out the rule that a blind person must live outside of their community. Jeremiah writes of gathering the blind and lame in consolation. In each of the gospels, Jesus mixes metaphors to equate physical blindness with spiritual blindness, often times accusing the religious elite of being blind.
All of these references to blindness lend themselves to the story of Bartimaeus. Importantly, Bartimaeus’ tale stands out in a couple of ways. First, in all of Jesus’ healings, it is rare that the person healed is named, yet Bartimaeus gets top billing in Mark’s gospel. Next, what is perhaps even more rare is that Bartimaeus is not a named king or nobleman, but a beggar (given the rules from Leviticus). As someone who studied some English in college and has a little practice analyzing literature, I can’t help but consider, of all the characters who were not named, why Bartimaeus? I believe doing so is a literary point of emphasis, elevating the story of a blind beggar’s faith.
As someone who needs to beg to survive, Bartimaeus is quite used to being persistent with his call for alms, dismissing those that ignore him and paying no attention to those who rebuke him. He exhibits all of his persistence as he calls out for Jesus’ help. Jesus obliges but first asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus doesn’t presume, he asks. As a beggar and someone living outside of the community, there are likely any number of things Bartimaeus may want and, as the Son of God, Jesus knows full well what they are. But Jesus knows that the exchange between he and Bartimaeus leads to the heart of the healing. And so, for much the same reason that we are encouraged to pray–to enter into a relationship with Jesus–he encourages Bartimaeus to ask for what he wants. “I want to see.” And just like that he is healed.
However, before the healing, Jesus praises Bartimaeus for his faith. At first read, this is a bit surprising. Wasn’t Bartimaeus just a beggar doing what he does everyday? Begging? No, I think it was much more–he was acting on his faith. The key indicator of that faith is when told Jesus will see him, Bartimaeus throws aside his cloak in a triumphant, perhaps even boastful gesture. However, as the crowds press in, it is unlikely he will find his cloak again, and Bartimaeus must know this. As a beggar, he must also know that he depends on that garment not just for clothing but also for shelter, as he almost assuredly slept outside. So if the healing doesn’t happen, Bartimaeus will be even worse off than he was before he asked Jesus to heal him. But without the instruction to do so, without the promise of a new life, Bartimaeus casts aside his own life, casts aside all of his belongings, and goes to Jesus in complete faith, in blind faith. In stark contrast, this is something that the unnamed rich young ruler in last week’s Gospel reading (Mark 10:17-30) could not do.
Bartimaeus displays confidence in things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1), the actual definition of faith itself. And in so doing, Bartimaeus becomes the personification of faith and the portrayal of the gifts that come from faith. Living a defined faith is a pretty good reason for him to be referred to by name in the Bible, while so many others are not.
My life and all that I am given, spiritually or physically, is a gift from God. Upon receiving his sight, Bartimaeus follows Jesus, reciprocating the relationship Jesus started. Upon receiving my own gifts, I am commanded to do the same. And so in humble gratitude, confident in what I hope for but may not fully see, I will follow Christ.
Lord Jesus, as you heal Bartimaeus you also open my eyes to what I am called to be. Thank you for healing me with your Word. All glory and honor to you, from God the Father, through the Holy Spirit, one God, forever. Amen