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Reflections on the Gospel: October 18th 2012

Mark 10:46-52

46They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

What I am Learning:

The setting of this story is worth remembering. Jericho, the scriptures say, was a city whose walls fell down at the sound of Joshua's trumpets, giving the People of Israel their first toehold in the land. Jesus' name is actually Joshua - we say it the way we do because of the fact that this Hebrew name has been brought through Greek, Latin, and then to English. Jesus/Joshua is moving to change Jericho - only this time physical walls don't need to come down.

What walls need to come down?  In the last few chapters Mark has shown us Jesus/Joshua's critique of human striving for status as not of God. He shows that the Roman Empire was one big striving for vain status, and that this striving had infected his nation and his disciples. Instead of the mutuality and servant leadership intended by Jesus, we want to play king of the hill. It infects us still today and God's trumpets still sound to make them fall in us.

To change metaphors a bit, this story shows us that in their need for status, the disciples have been blind to the Reign of God. As Jesus was leaving Jericho the blind son of Timaeus, BarTimaeus (bar meaning "son of" timaeus) calls out. This name is probably an invention. In Aramaic it might mean "son of poverty" or "son of the unclean." It also brings to mind the Greek word "timao" which means honor/status - an ironic name then.

See also:

Most folk in the first century would see his blindness as a punishment from God for some sin he or his family committed. No matter what Mark is trying to reference in the name, the meaning is clear: BarTimaeus has little or no status, with humans or with God. But BarTimaeus asks for mercy anyway. The crowd call him to be quiet, but he asks for mercy anyway.

What does mercy mean? The social sciences have given us a new understanding of "mercy" than we had before. Mercy, we thought, meant to forgive a sin. The social science folk have helped us to see that in the first century there were patrons and clients. Patrons and clients both had responsibilities to each other: patrons to support the clients and clients to give public honor to the patron.

By calling Jesus/Joshua "Son of David" in public he as already done his part of a patron/client relationship. By asking for mercy, he is asking Jesus to be his patron, to heal him. (Notice that Jesus does not forgive him for some past sin that caused God to "punish him.") Jesus honors the relationship and asks what lowly, blind BarTimaeus wants. Sight. Upon receiving that sight, he follows Jesus/Joshua.

Many have said that blind BarTimaeus shows us that while Jesus' disciples, now and then, have been blind to the Reign of God a blind man could see it perfectly.

But I wonder if there isn't another, complimentary way to see this text: The disciples have been blind to the servant-leadership and mutuality intended by Jesus. But nonetheless they have been calling out his name in hopes for a cure for their blindness, even as they followed him.

We too, are blind to the mutuality and servant-leadership of the Reign of God. We too, catch glimpses from time to time, sometimes enough to recognize our own blindness - calling out for healing, refusing to be silent, casting off our cloaks and running in our blindness to the one who sees and can give us vision of Reign of Peace.

See also a great piece from David Lose in this link