Today Mark concludes his three ways of dying with Jesus with one of the meaningful narratives of his gospel: the cure of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar.
He began his teaching on how we're to die with Jesus back in chapter 8, stressing the death which comes from being totally open to whatever God wants of us. In chapter 9, he expanded that death to include our accepting everyone in the community as equals, even the most powerless. Finally, we heard Jesus' non-negotiable command to imitate his ministry by becoming servants and slaves to all.
Never dreaming anyone would ever separate the two passages, Mark created our Bartimaeus narrative as a contrast to last week's James and John passage. Only twice in his gospel does Jesus ask anyone, "What do you want me to do for you?:" here and last week. James and John stupidly ask for the glory seats; the blind beggar for something significantly different.
Bartimaeus has already shown himself as a potential perfect disciple by immediately responding to Jesus' call, even throwing aside his only possession: his cloak. So when Jesus asks him, "What do you want me to do for you?" Mark's readers are leaning in like the thousands of people in those old E.F. Hutton commercials, waiting to learn what answer an ideal follower of Jesus will give.
"Master," the blind man replies, "I want to see."
Mark presumes that simple request should always be our prayer: just to see what the risen Jesus wants us to see on that specific day, in that specific place, with those specific people around us. How is he expecting us to die today in ways we hadn't noticed yesterday?
Notice also how Jesus responds: "Go your way; your faith has saved you," instead of, "Go your way; I cure you." Mark is convinced it is our faith in Jesus' dying and rising that opens our eyes to our own dying and rising.
Just one last point - the evangelist ends his narrative by mentioning, "Immediately he received his sight and went behind him on the way." Remember Mark began this whole question of dying and rising with Jesus in chapter 8 by having Jesus tell Peter, "Get behind me, Satan." Finally, we've found the perfect disciple, one who follows behind Jesus instead of being an obstacle in his path. If you turn the gospel, not lectionary page, you'll discover Mark's very next passage describes Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem. He only has six more days to live. Bartimaeus is following him to his death ... and resurrection.
Though Jeremiah was convinced that the only way 6th century BCE Judaism could be salvaged was by undergoing a complete destruction and rebirth in the Babylonian Exile, he was just as convinced that Yahweh would eventually bring the Chosen People back home to live their faith in a more meaningful, less ritualistic and legalistic way. "They departed in tears, but I will console them and guide them."
Many in our church today need to hear, be convinced and adopt this same hope. How do we change structures which the late Cardinal Martini recently referred to as being 200 years behind the time? It takes a lot of hope to believe that one day we'll return to the faith of Jesus.
Perhaps it's important to also zero in on the faith of the author of Hebrews. He believed the reason Jesus could save us was because he became completely one with us. "He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness." It's consoling to know the risen Jesus is suffering through these times with us. Though it doesn't take away the pain, somehow it makes it more bearable.