Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
They 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. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then 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.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way (Mark 10:46-52 – NRSV).
“Mark often conveys a ‘you are there’ quality” (J R Donahue, & D J Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002, 16). The cure of Bartimaeus is a good example of this quality of Mark’s writing.
Matthew 20:29-34 and Luke 18:35-43 report a similar event. Both Matthew and Luke omit the name of the beggar. They also omit the detail of the beggar throwing off his garment.
Jesus continues his journey to Jerusalem. They come to Jericho: “Located fifteen miles northeast of Jerusalem, five miles west of the Jordan River, and six miles north of the Dead Sea, Jericho is a kind of oasis in the midst of some rough terrain. The city had something of a revival under Herod the Great, who built a winter palace in the area” (J R Donahue, & D J Harrington, op cit, 317).
After a brief introduction to his Gospel – 1:1-6 – Mark describes Jesus’ ministry in Galilee – 1:14-7:23. Then, as Jesus continues his journey to Jerusalem, Mark tells us of his ministry beyond Galilee – 7:24 – 10:52. This last section – which contains much evidence of the disciples’ inability to see what Jesus is saying to them – is bookended by two miracles in which blind men are healed – one near the beginning in 8:22-26 and one at the end, before the Jerusalem ministry begins, in 10:46-52.
In Mark 8:18 Jesus says to the disciples: “Do you have eyes, and fail to see?” “‘Remembering’, together with perceiving, understanding, seeing, and hearing, is an essential part of the process of enlightenment in which they have been so conspicuously unsuccessful” (R T France, The Gospel of Mark: a commentary on the Greek text, Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2002, 317). We are reminded of Isaiah 6:9: “Go and say to this people: ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed” (Isaiah 6:9-10 – NRSV. See also to Jeremiah 5:21; Ezekiel 12:2; Psalm 115:5–6.)
“Jesus thus charges his disciples with being no better off than the ‘outsiders’ to whom that text has already been applied. Their privileged insight into the secret of the kingdom of God seems for now to have deserted them. There is, however, the saving addition of οὔπω in vv. 17 and 21, with the implication that their incomprehension, unlike that of the outsiders in chapter 4, is only temporary. The specific use of the metaphor of blindness prepares the way for the next pericope, where the healing of a blind man will be used to symbolise the enlightenment which the disciples so obviously need. Jesus’ attempt to provide that enlightenment, set over against the continued obtuseness of the disciples, will be a major theme of Act Two of Mark’s gospel, now about to begin. At the same time the metaphor of deafness recalls the recently narrated healing of the deaf man, a miracle which is in many ways closely parallel to that of the blind man at Bethsaida. The present pericope, with its focus on spiritual obtuseness, is thus framed between two literal miracles of perception” (R T French, op cit, 318).
a large crowd: “These may have been inhabitants of Jericho, or other pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem for Passover, or a combination of the two” (J R O’Donohue and D J Harrington, op cit, 317).
have mercy on me: The beggar does not ask for money but mercy. The beggar reminds us all that what is on offer in Jesus is not worldly goods.
What do you want me to do for you?: We have just heard Jesus ask this question of James and John – see Mark 10:35-36. How different the circumstances! The two disciples seek prestige and status, the beggar cries out for mercy and the ability to “see”. It is this ability to see that the disciples lack but do not yet recognize the need to ask for it.
Reflection – “Seeing with the eye of the heart”
On the evening of 28 October 1958, Angelo Roncalli stepped onto the balcony at St Peter’s as the newly elected Pope John XXIII. Three hundred thousand people in St Peter’s Square greeted him. Later he reflected in his diary: “I remembered Jesus’ warning: ‘Learn of me for I am meek and humble of heart’. Dazzled by the television lights, I could see nothing but an amorphous swaying mass. I blessed Rome and the world as though I were a blind man. As I came away I thought of all the cameras and lights that from now on, at every moment, would be directed on me. And I said to myself: if you don’t remain a disciple of the gentle and humble Master, you’ll understand nothing even of temporal realities. Then you will be really blind” (Cited in Peter Hebblethwaite, John XXIII – Pope of the Council, London: HarperCollins, 1984/1994, 287-288).
In today’s Gospel – Mark 10:46-52 – we hear of the healing of a blind man, Bartimaeus of Jericho. Together with the healing of a blind man at Bethsaida – see Mark 8:22-26 – we have two bookends, as it were, to a section of the Gospel in which Jesus tries without success to get the disciples to understand him and his mission. Like blind men, they cannot see. Their healing will come eventually through their communion with “the gentle and humble Master”.
The 14th century English hermit and mystic, Richard Rolle (1300-1349), speaks of “the eye of his heart”. Is it not true that people who have grown to love each other deeply, “see” their beloved with “the eye of the heart”? Love is not blind. Infatuation may well be blind, but not real love. Love sees what hate and resentment, prejudice and bigotry, cynicism and ignorance, cannot see. St Paul speaks of love as the very heart of the human journey, the measure of our humanity. As the heart is healed, so we see more clearly what is real. Though it will only be in heaven that we see with absolute clarity: “now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
The blind man calls out: “Jesus son of David have mercy on me!”. “Jesus stood still” – an utterly ordinary yet remarkable detail! This poor and desperate man stops Jesus in his tracks. What can we learn about discipleship and the kingdom of God from this moment – Jesus standing still before the beggar?
Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” This question is addressed to the man’s heart. Mark has already noted that Jesus could see what was in the human heart – see Mark 2:6-8. This should not surprise us. Someone who looks on people, events and things with the eyes of real love, will see the very essence of the other – see also Matthew 12:25 & 22:18, Luke 6:8, 11:17 & 16:15 and John 2:24.
Lord, let me see with the eye of my heart!