Anglican Episcopal Church
“They came to Jericho.”
“They came to Jericho.” I suppose there is nothing particularly unusual in this observation or statement which begins our passage this morning from the Gospel of Mark. Jesus and his disciples after all went to all sort of places across ancient Israel, and even beyond, preaching the Good News of the Gospel to any who would listen.
They were constantly on the move. So, it should come as no surprise to find Jericho on their itinerary, for Jericho itself was arguably a more important, and probably larger, town at the time than even Jerusalem, our Lord’s ultimate destination, if seen from a purely economic or commercial perspective. Jerusalem may have had the Temple, but Jericho was a crossroads of ancient trade routes between East and West, a meeting ground of peoples and cultures.
What is perhaps unusual in this narrative is the fact that no sooner do Jesus and his disciples arrive than they once again leave. For, the very next line in the passage begins, “As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho…” Now, the Gospel of Mark is well-known for being fast-paced, but this must be a speed record. In and out, hello and goodbye all in one verse. I for one would like to know what on earth Jesus and his disciples did and said while in Jericho. Yet, the only hint we have of their activities and impact is Mark’s observation that, upon leaving, Jesus and the disciples are now also accompanied by “a large crowd,” and an apparently somewhat unruly or rude one at that.
For, encountering a blind beggar outside Jericho who is crying out to Jesus “by the roadside,” the crowd does its level best to, well, shut him up, probably causing an even greater uproar and commotion in the process. “Many sternly ordered him to be quiet,” the narrative tells us, which predictably enough brings this poor beggar to cry “out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me.’” Curiously, of the three blind men Jesus is recorded to have healed in various Gospel accounts, only this one, “Bartimaeus son of Timaeus,” is actually named; named twice, one could almost say, since Bartimaeus means Son of Timaeus, in a peculiar mixture of both Greek and Aramaic. It is almost as if Mark goes out of his way to tell us that this nobody was somebody. He had a name and identity. Maybe even a passport.
This is also tellingly the only place in the entire Gospel of Mark in which our Lord himself is named, “Son of David.” Twice no less within two short verses. Bartimaeus, the Blind Beggar, sees in Jesus what others apparently are blind to, including the disciples. Jesus is indeed the Son of David, as Bartimaeus rightly names him; but not just a wise ruler or sage as was for instance Solomon, David’s son and successor on the throne. Rather, Jesus is the Messiah, the One who is to come. And as Bartimaeus had called out to our Lord, so our Lord now calls Bartimaeus to himself and grants this poor wretch precisely what his own disciples seemingly lack; the healing which comes from faith alone.
The story of the healing of Blind Bartimaeus also has the distinction of being the very last of Jesus’ healing miracles as recounted in the Gospel of Mark. Some scholars believe it thus marks a kind of turning point in the Gospel, coming as it does immediately after the quarrel among the disciples about who among them is to be the greatest and shortly before our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem. In other words, while the disciples are in the dark about the true meaning of Jesus’ Gospel and the Cross, even a blind beggar along the roadway sees intuitively the healing power of Jesus’ word. Even a blind beggar knows Jesus as the transcendent Christ.
Bartimaeus’ agenda is much simpler and more straightforward than that of the disciples. Unlike them, he does not want to be the greatest. He does not ask to sit at God’s right hand or left. He simply wants his sight back and so begs our Lord for mercy. Touched, Jesus demands nothing of him and does nothing particular to him. Yet recognizing his faith, he heals him on the spot, returning him to sight. Bartimaeus then, we are told, follows Jesus on the way.
The phrase, “followed him on the way,” could simply mean of course that Bartimaeus walked behind or alongside Jesus and the disciples on the pathway or road, perhaps out of idle curiosity, just to see where he was going. But it could also mean that he became a genuine follower of Jesus, and this seems the more likely interpretation. The clear implication is that this blind beggar restored to sight, comes to see and understand the true meaning of the Gospel and the Cross as well.
Bartimaeus is never heard from again in Scripture or any place else. He becomes for us a kind of Everyman seeking sight, enlightenment, and healing as the world outside Jericho comes and goes and seemingly passes him by. The Jericho of old could as well be the Budapest or Birmingham of today. Bartimaeus saw in Jesus his one chance for healing, and he was not about to let it pass him by. He is a man of faith after all, as our Lord himself observes.
Amid the hubbub and insecurities of contemporary life, we still need faith. We still need mercy and insight. “Call him here,” says Jesus in response to Bartimaeus’ prayer. Our Lord calls us still today of course. The question for us is: Will we respond as did Bartimaeus so long ago, spring up, throw off everything, and follow him on the way…?
The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs