In our Gospel reading this Sunday Jesus is on the last leg of his journey to Jerusalem. It’s a steep lonely road up from the Jordan valley into the Judean hills. It’s the same road described in the story of the Good Samaritan, however in this case Jesus is the Good Samaritan, and the person lying on the side of the road is a blind beggar. The question however is, how blind is he? Yes, he’s physically blind; he can’t see with his eyes, but he ‘sees’ Jesus far more clearly than almost anyone else in the gospel including the disciples.
The story begins with a large crowd leaving the city of Jericho on their way to Jerusalem. It’s far safer to walk together in a crowd on this road, because it’s a road where sole travellers have often been attacked by robbers, and it’s good to have company on such a long walk, to be able to talk and joke and even sing together. It was common for travellers to sing the psalm of Assent as they literally climb the 25 kilometres up the dusty winding road to Jerusalem. In a crowd like that there’s often a lot of noise and movement.
As they head out of the city gates our attention is drawn to a blind beggar sitting still and not moving. He’s not going anywhere, but he would love to. He depends on the charity of those passing by for his livelihood. His wooden begging bowl laid out on his cloak before him is empty and expectant. Such a large crowd must mean it is someone important going by, someone who could afford a few coins and make his day a bit easier. So with some sense of urgency he asks who is going past. He doesn’t want to lose any opportunity. When he hears that it is Jesus of Nazareth everything changes in Bartimaeus.
His heart beats a little faster, his hope rises not for coins now but for sight. He calls out. He shouts to be heard above the noise of the crowd. It’s almost hopeless but he doesn’t give in. He makes such a racket that people nearby start abusing him as a dirty old beggar cursed by God. But Bartimaeus is used to such abuse and shouts all the louder, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Yes, he sees Jesus. He knows who Jesus truly is, and what’s more he puts his trust in Jesus in a way that so many others fail to do. And then everything stops!
There is a still point in this passage where Jesus stood motionless. And when Jesus stood still everyone else stops. The conversations cease, the noise of feet raising the dust stops so that you can hear not just the cry of the hawk overhead but the hoarse raised voice of a beggar in the gutter. Jesus has heard him, and calls on someone to bring the beggar to him. Where a moment before all he got was abuse and a few well aimed kicks, now strong arms help Bartimaeus up and kindly voices tell him that Jesus wants to see him. It shows the positive power of leadership to effect change in how we deal with one another. Bartimaeus throws his beggar’s cloak away. He won’t need that anymore, and with a spring in his step he makes his way through the crowd to Jesus.
Standing before him Jesus asks,
“What do you want from me?”
With deep respect Bartimaeus says, “My teacher, let me see again.” And all of a sudden ‘shape and texture and colour’ flood back into Bartimaeus’s world as Jesus says, “Go, your faith has made you well.” What joy! What absolute euphoria Bartimaeus must have felt, what deep gratitude he carried in his heart as he immediately does go on his way following Jesus.
This is the last miracle in the gospel of Mark and it’s a double miracle, of physical sight but also of faith. A blind beggar in the gutter saw Jesus for who he truly is and followed him wholeheartedly. We too are invited to join Bartimaeus as he follows Jesus on the hazardous roads of life.