Text: Mark 10:46-52
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. There he would suffer many things. He must be killed and after three days rise again. But what of the people travelling with him, and those he meets on the way?
In 10:13-16 the disciples rebuked those who brought little children to Jesus, but he said, “Let them come to me, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
In 10:17-31 a wealthy young man asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replies, “Go away and give everything you have to the poor, then come back and follow me.”
In 10:35-45 James and John ask to be given the most honoured places his glory. Jesus replies: “You’re still working with the world’s idea of greatness. In God’s kingdom greatness means servanthood. For even the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Note the common theme of discipleship. Now, on the outskirts of Jericho, comes Jesus’ encounter with blind Bartimaeus. We might well deal with it as a story about a miraculous healing, and dwell on Jesus’ words in v52: “Your faith has healed you.” But it’s equally a story about discipleship, and that’s how I’m going to approach it.
What an unpromising candidate! Yet what a model disciple!
- He doesn’t have a proper name (‘Son of Timaeus’, v46); yet we remember him to this day.
- He can’t see; but he uses what faculties he has to find out what is going on, v47.
- He’s not religious (unable to study the Law; not planning to go to Passover); but he has glimpsed who Jesus really is, v47. Zech 9:9 – ‘Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
- He doesn’t demand his rights; he pleads for mercy, v47.
- He receives little encouragement from others (they try to silence him); but he doggedly persists, v48.
- He doesn’t know much; but he knows what he wants. The Pharisees wanted to outsmart Jesus (Mk 10:2). The rich young ruler wanted eternal life on the cheap (Mk 10:17). James and John wanted to be the top officials in the kingdom bureaucracy (Mk 10:35–36). Any blind beggard might have wanted money. Bartimaeus doesn’t want any of these things: he wants to be able to see, v51.
- He disregards Jesus command to “Go” (cf. v52); instead, he follows Jesus down the road that leads to death (and resurrection). Mk 7:24-30.
And so Jesus continues his journey towards Jerusalem, with one more companion. And this one, at least, seems to understand something of what it will mean for the Son of David ride into the City of David as its rightful King and Saviour.
Mark’s Gospel, while recording the opposition of the Jewish leaders and the obtuseness of the disciples, has other unlikely characters who model discipleship: 5:20 – an former demoniac; 7:27 – a Syrophoenician woman; 14:1-9 – an anonymous woman who anoints Jesus at Bethany; 15:39 – a Roman centurion, the embodiment of Gentile oppression and power.
Jesus’ call to discipleship is not for those who think they can manage on their own, but for those who know they are needy. He doesn’t call those who think they are good, but those who know that are bad. Not the righteous, but sinners. Not the emotionally robust, but the poor in spirit. Not the proud, but the meek. Jesus touches the eyes of the blind, and gives them sight. He teaches the foolish, and gives them wisdom. He supports the weak, and gives them strength. He places him arm around mourners, and gives them comfort. He searches for the lost, and carries them home.
Let us not despair of finding mercy for ourselves, nor be fearful of holding out his call to discipleship to the most unlikely of candidates.