I can’t stress enough the importance of today’s gospel pericope. Those who regard it as just another miracle story have no idea how it fits into Mark’s gospel and theology. There’s not enough space in this brief commentary to delve into all its facets. But, for a start, it must be exegeted in the context of the preceding narrative. Mark never thought anyone would hear it independent of James and John’s misguided request for the “glory seats.” Their demand not only is rejected by Jesus, it shows they don’t know 101 about true discipleship. Mark expects us to contrast the two brothers with Bartimaeus, the blind beggar.
First notice how often the word “call” is used in reference to Bartimaeus. “Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’ So they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take courage; get up. Jesus is calling you.”
Those for whom the passage was originally intended would have automatically heard such a call as a call to discipleship: a call to follow Jesus. As with all biblical calls, the readers were expected to reflect on their own calls by Yahweh or Jesus. That’s why it’s important to see how Bartimaeus responds; it should be a model for our own response. “He threw aside his cloak, sprang up and hurried to Jesus.”
There’s no hesitation. The beggar instantly answers Jesus’ call. He throws aside what is probably his only possession - his cloak - and immediately comes to Jesus. He graphically demonstrates the characteristics of the perfect disciple.
Jesus then asks him the same question he put to James and John a few verses before. “What do you want me to do for you?” We remember their ridiculous reply. But here we’re face to face with an ideal follower of Jesus. How does such a generous person respond to such a request? Mark’s readers are bending in closer than people in an E. F. Hutton commercial to hear what Bartimaeus has to say.
“Master, I want to see.”
Authentic followers of Jesus ask only to see where he wants us to go; to see what he wants us to do; to see what our discipleship entails. Forget about the glory seats.
That’s also why Jesus’ response is so significant. He doesn’t say the expected, “I give you your sight.” Instead, he says something all Christians understand: “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Our faith gives us our sight. Our faith helps us see what Jesus expects of us.
Finally, notice the last line. “He followed him on the way.” Mark started his series of three narratives on dying with Jesus back in chapter 8 with Jesus commanding Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” Finally we have a picture of the perfect disciple: someone following behind Jesus, not someone standing in front of him. The very next passage in Mark’s gospel describes Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Bartimaeus is following him down the road to death and resurrection. We, and all disciples, are called to do the same.
Today we could also reflect on Jeremiah’s insights about Yahweh, and apply them to Jesus as the God who leads us out of the many “exiles” we experience in life; the God who offers the only security we need to live a fulfilled life.
Or we can learn from our Hebrews author and think of Jesus as the great high priest who pleads our cause with his heavenly Father.
But there’s something about Mark’s Christology that supersedes the other two - mainly because it demands our participation. Our Christian faith never was intended to be a spectator sport.