As we make our way to All Saint’s Day, I have committed two articles to explore minor Bible characters that inspire us to grow closer to the Lord. Last week I wrote about Titus. This week, we take a close look at Bartimaeus, the blind man whom Jesus healed according to Mark 10:46-52.
We begin with a statement for reflection: Let it not be said that when Jesus visits us, he leaves as quickly as he came without making a difference in our lives.
Persistence, courage, and passion–not a melancholy faith–are the ingredients for effective discipleship.
In Mark 10, scripture tells us that Jesus exited Jericho no sooner than he entered the city, another way of saying that he did not make much of a difference in the lives of people there. He did, however, meet a blind man, Bartimaeus, on the roadside.
Mark’s concise artistry is telling: “They came to Jericho . . . he was leaving Jericho. Bartimaeus was sitting on the roadside.”
Unlike the gospel of Luke, which informs us that Jesus had dinner with tax collector Zacchaeus while in Jericho (Luke 19:1); and unlike the gospel of Matthew, who mentions that Jesus ran into two unnamed blind men, Mark wants us to focus in on this peculiar individual.
It is Bartimaeus’s story that has lessons to teach us and shows the power of persistent faith in the face of all odds.
The first thing we notice about Bartimaeus is that he knew Jesus: he “shouted” out to Jesus and called him “Son of David.”
This is one of the few times Jesus is accredited with a royal title by a person in Mark’s gospel. It speaks to Jesus’ growing influence, as well as Bartimaeus’ courage: It was not appropriate for a person on the margins or with a disability to approach a person of stature (rabbi or otherwise) without first being acknowledged by said Rabbi.
No wonder the disciples tried to silence Bartimaeus. Even then, Bartimaeus did not give up in asking for a blessing: “Have mercy on me!”
There is something about Bartimaeus’s deep knowledge of Christ and his persistence that challenges our own search for God: Do we seek Christ’s face and mercy even in the face of steep odds, others who try to silence us, or situations that inhibit us from getting to Jesus?
Or do we let Jesus walk by without transforming us?
Bartimaeus’s persistence worked, and Jesus called him over. The blind man threw off his cloak and “sprang up” to meet him. He did not hesitate for a moment to come to Christ.
When Jesus asked Bartimaeus what he wanted, Bartimaeus bypassed mercy and expressed his deepest need, “Heal my sight!” He did not mince words.
Too often, we hesitate to approach Jesus and tell him of our deepest needs. We beat around the bush, stumble along, and ask Jesus what we need with half-hearted pleas common of mediocre faith.
This blind man risks everything in becoming vulnerable, exposing that which kept him outside of the city walls and beyond the reach of friends.
Jesus healed Bartimaeus and said that Bartimaeus’s faith was a factor in that miracle. In other words, it was persistence, passion, and an unrelenting pursuit of Christ that made a difference.
But the story does not end there. Bartimaeus “followed Jesus on the way.”
He could have easily entered Jericho, returned to family, or went to live a comfortable life in a city known for its bustling economy. Instead, he followed Jesus without ever considering the destination, future, or outcome of that radical life of discipleship.
Although the historical accuracy surrounding this story is fraught with varying traditions among the gospel witnesses, Mark’s purpose is quite clear: He does not want us to be the type of people whom Jesus visits and leaves as quickly as he came without ever making a difference in our lives.
Mark wants us to follow Bartimaeus’s example by recognizing Jesus for who he is, being persistent in prayer and our relationship to Jesus, and following Jesus with unwavering faith.