Your Faith Has Made You Well: SALT’s Lectionary Commentary for Twenty-Third Week after Pentecost

 
Progressive Lectionary Commentary

Twenty-Third Week after Pentecost (Year B): Mark 10:46-52

Big Picture:

1) This is the ninth week of a twelve-week chronological journey through several chapters in the Gospel of Mark.  With Halloween just around the corner, many families are thinking about costumes, candy, and a night out in the neighborhood; check out SALT’s brief theology of Halloween.

2) This passage is both a bookend and a gateway.  As a bookend, it concludes the central section of Mark’s Gospel (8:22 – 10:52, a section that also begins with Jesus healing a blind man).  And as a gateway, it introduces the next section, Jesus’ triumphant arrival in Jerusalem.  As we have seen over the past few weeks, the primary theme of this central section in Mark is what it means to “see,” understand, and follow Jesus, the Messiah who comes not on a warhorse but as a suffering servant.  Three times Jesus explains this, and three times the disciples fail to see. And now in this week’s story, to culminate this section, Mark presents Bartimaeus as the ideal disciple: though he is blind, he exceeds the disciples in insight; though he is a poor beggar, he exceeds the rich man in leaving behind his possessions; and though the cross is just around the corner, he does not “Go,” as Jesus tells him to do, but rather follows Jesus “on the Way” (Mark 10:52).

3) Jericho is about twenty miles outside of Jerusalem, perhaps a day or two’s journey.  Jericho is also traditionally considered the city where the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land, and so is sometimes called “the city of Joshua” (the name “Jesus” derives from various translations – Aramaic to Greek to English – of the name “Joshua”).

Scripture:

1) Mark rarely provides names for the people Jesus heals, and the name “Bartimaeus” in particular is full of resonance.  Bar means “son of,” and Timaeus may have brought several things to mind for Mark’s early audiences: Plato’s dialogue, Timaeus, includes a paean to sight; Aramaic speakers (Jesus’ mother tongue was likely Aramaic) may have heard a wordplay on a term for “unclean;” and Greek speakers may have heard a wordplay on a term for “highly prized.”

2) In his cry for mercy, Bartimaeus addresses Jesus as “Son of David,” a potent, political, messianic title – and he repeats it even more loudly when “many sternly ordered him to be quiet” (Mark 10:48).  Why do they try to silence him?  Do they consider him uncouth or unclean, too lowly a figure to bother the holy teacher? Or are they worried that such blunt political language will draw unwanted attention from the imperial authorities, especially as Jesus approaches Jerusalem?  Or perhaps a bit of both? Or perhaps Mark is underscoring the fact that this time Jesus does not tell Bartimaeus to keep his identity a secret - since in Mark’s early chapters, Jesus frequently does just that, including at the outset of this section, where Jesus tells Peter “not to tell anyone about him” (Mark 8:29-30).  As they approach the outskirts of Jerusalem, the need for secrecy is set aside. Jesus is coming out into the open.

3) Hearing Bartimaeus, Jesus stops in his tracks and sends for him - recalling the similar scene in Mark 5, where another “large crowd” obscures the woman who had touched his cloak (Mark 5:24-34).  A cloak figures in this story as well, though this time it belongs to Bartimaeus: he “throws off his cloak” and comes to Jesus.  Mark often uses “cloaks” to symbolize a dramatic shift, such as a person leaving behind the old order of things (see, for example, 2:21, 11:7-8, and 13:16). The gesture also distinguishes Bartimaeus from the rich man, who could not bring himself to part with his possessions (Mark 10:17-22).

4) It might at first seem obvious that as Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus, he is asking for his eyesight to be restored – but this only makes it more surprising that Jesus doesn’t heal him immediately. Instead, he asks him the same question he has just put to James and John: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:36; 10:51).  The question does at least two things at once: first, it shows that Jesus wants Bartimaeus to play an active, engaged role in his own restoration; and second, it sets up a vivid contrast between James and John on the one hand, and Bartimaeus on the other.  While the supposed “insiders” display spiritual hubris with their answer, the supposed “outsider” models a fitting blend of boldness and humility: “My teacher, let me see again,” he says - a request that, in the context of this central section in Mark, has both physical and spiritual dimensions (Mark 10:51).

5) It should never cease to strike us that Jesus’ signature line after a healing is not, “Come follow me, for I have healed you” – but rather, “Go; your faith has made you well” (Mark 10:52).  So far from pointing toward himself as the great and powerful healer, Jesus instead describes the event as emanating primarily from Bartimaeus’ audacious, humble, open-hearted faith.

6) And this audacity, please note, continues: though Jesus tells him to “Go,” Bartimaeus instead decides to come along, following Jesus on the Way, the Truth, and the Life – even though they’re just a day’s journey from the coming showdown in Jerusalem.

Takeaways:

1) This is a good week to explore what “faith” looks and feels like in practice.  In Mark, “faith” is typically a synonym for courage (see, e.g., Mark 5:36), a form of chutzpah or audacity, and this week’s story is no exception: Bartimaeus boldly calls out to Jesus; refuses to be silent, even if it rankles the imperial authorities; leaves behind his possessions; asks forthrightly for healing and insight; and follows Jesus all the way to Jerusalem.  For Mark, he is nothing less than the model disciple, bold, discerning, humble, and direct. A consummate “outsider,” Bartimaeus outshines the “insiders” in Jesus’ entourage. As Mark tells it, he is “the last” disciple to join the fold – and as we heard Jesus say just a few verses ago, “the last will be first…” (Mark 10:31).

2) Likewise, this a perfect week to reflect on what “healing” means in Christian life.  As this story suggests, healing can have as much – or more – to do with how we “see” or understand the world as with any physical cure. And likewise, according to Jesus’ signature description of healing, God’s restorative power typically comes “up from within,” not “down from without.”  Our faith – which is to say, our bold and humble courage – is both a gracious gift of God and a vital source of our everyday wellbeing. Accordingly, again and again, Jesus calls us to “take heart” and believe – and at the same time, to step forward and play an active role in our own ongoing restoration: What do you want me to do for you? (Mark 10:49-51).