Mark chose to place this story at the end of a string of stories that teach us something important about faith and the ability to see what is real. Three times, Jesus predicted his betrayal, suffering, and death, and the disciples didn’t understand. They kept fighting about stupid things. They couldn’t see what was important. Then, Mark placed stories of Jesus healing a blind man, like book ends, on either side of the stories where the disciples couldn’t see what was in front of them. Two stories of Jesus healing a blind man on either end, framing three stories in the middle where the disciples couldn’t see what was right in front of their nose.
In chapter 8, Jesus is in Bethsaida, and people bring a blind man to him, asking for him to be healed. Jesus puts spit on the man’s eyes, and asks if he can see. The man said, “I can see people, but they look like trees walking.” Jesus did it again, and after looking hard, the man was able to see. Then Jesus sent him home.
Jesus’ disciples not only didn’t understand what was going to happen to Jesus, but they kept missing the message about the least being the greatest, and the greatest being the one who served.
First, Peter told Jesus not to go to Jerusalem, and Jesus replied, “If anyone wants to become my follower, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever will save his life will lose it, and the one who loses his life for my sake will save it.”
Then, the disciples began to argue over who was the greatest. Again, Jesus said, “If anyone would be first, he must be last, and the servant of all.”
Last, James and John asked to sit on either side of him in glory. “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be the slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.
Same lesson three times. The one who thinks he or she is the greatest is not the greatest. The one who serves is the greatest. Following Jesus will likely involve some suffering. Follow anyway.
Today’s story with Blind Bartimaeus wraps it up. It’s different than the story of the first blind man. That man was brought to Jesus by the crowd. Bartimaeus is told by the crowd to shut up, and leave Jesus alone. The first man is healed slowly, in two stages by Jesus physical touch, and this one is healed immediately by his word. Jesus sent the first man home, and telling him not to go anywhere else, and after being healed, Bartimaeus immediately followed Jesus.
The two stories of the blind men are set in contrast to each other Bartimaeus is a symbol of what a real disciple is like. The first man didn’t do anything for himself. The crowd brought him, and the crowd asked Jesus to heal him. And he was healed. Symbolically, he did see, but only slowly, through a couple different attempts.
Bartimaeus sees who Jesus is right away. He yells out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Even though the crowds try to stop him, he keeps yelling, asking God to step in and help him. After hearing Jesus teach them over and over how we have to serve, and how the least is the greatest, the disciples don’t even step in to help the man. People are ‘sternly ordering him to be quiet,’ and we don’t hear the disciples speaking up on his behalf. Only after Jesus calls him to come does the crowd turn around and encourage him. It’s like they want Jesus to approve of them, but they don’t know how to act. First they yell out, “Don’t bother him,” then as soon as Jesus calls for the blind man, they can’t encourage him enough to come up!”
Jesus also doesn’t just cure Bartimaeus. He asked him first what he wanted. To me, that seems respectful. He’s not assuming that just because the man is blind, that that’s what he needs. Bartimaeus is also different than the disciples in the previous stories. They had been arguing over who was greatest. James and John wanted to share in Jesus’ glory. Bartimaeus just asks for mercy, then when Jesus wants to know specifically what he needs, he says’, ‘My teacher, let me see again.” It’s pretty humble. He asks for what he needs to live a more ‘normal’ life, but that’s all.
At the same time, he also wasn’t swayed by the crowds. He was poor. He had the stigma of being disabled, (in those days they would have thought that he’d sinned), and he had the dishonorable job of begging. He would have been thought of as unclean. No wonder that the crowds were trying to keep him far from Jesus.
But never-the-less, he persisted. Even though he was blind, he saw who Jesus was, and he had the heart to ask for what he needed. And Jesus healed him immediately, and he became a follower of Jesus. He ‘followed him on the way.’
Even though he didn’t count for anything by the standards of the time in which he lived, he had enough faith to know that he mattered to God. Even though everyone was telling him otherwise, he kept daring to ‘bother’ Jesus. And Jesus did know he was worth it.
That’s the final difference between this story and Jesus’ healing of the other blind man, and maybe the most important. When Jesus healed the man from Bethesaida, he told him to go back home. This time, Jesus said, “Your faith has made you whole.”
He had faith enough that it was ok to ask. Sometimes, we may not think our problems are worth bothering God about. In comparison to all the bigger things in the world, our situation may look small. If we were Bartimaeus, that’s exactly what the crowd would say to us. Don’t bother. But that’s not what Jesus said. He was impressed with the mans’ faith; faith in Jesus, that he would care, and faith in his own worth in the eyes of God, contrary to what everyone else was telling him. “Go, your faith has made you well.”
Bartimaeus can tell us about faith, and about prayer. He was asking to have what everyone else had: sight. And having sight also meant that the could have a good job. He could marry and support a family with enough money for housing, food, and the necessities of life.
This story can also teach us about advocating for others. Bartimaeus saw the injustice the inequity of his life, and even in the face of resistance, he persisted. What if we apply that to inequities that we see? Injustices we know about. He persisted, asking for what he needed to be the way he knew God wants him to be. We need to persist in making our country and our world the way we know God wants it to be. In light of all the things that we know are wrong, we persist.
And Baritmaeus, who could suddenly see, and who all along saw more than the twelve, became the next disciple, and followed Jesus. We can too. Amen.