The Blind Beggar

He is more than what we think we see.

The Scripture

Mark 10:46-52
told by Deborah

As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho — followed by a large crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the side of the road. When he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

People who were standing nearby tried to shush him, but he just shouted all the louder: “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stood still. “Call him here,” he said.

And they called the blind man, telling him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”

Throwing off his cloak, he leaped to his feet and came over to Jesus.

“What is it that you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked.

The blind man replied, “Rabboni, let me see again.”

Jesus answered him, “Go; your faith has healed you.”

Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Photo of a flower

Reflection by Deborah Beach Giordano
October 28, 2018

Another Interruption

Bartimaeus shoutingOnce again, just as Jesus is heading out of a town, his journey is interrupted. But, unlike the man of means who ran out to intercept the Lord, this time it is a blind beggar who sits by the side of the road and shouts at him.

Initially, the locals, disturbed by his yelling, tell Bartimaeus to be quiet; they’ve heard enough from him over the years. Chances are, he’s in the same neighborhood every day, maybe even sitting in the same spot, where passers-by might toss a few coins in his direction.

But then, as now, most people would hurry past, turning their heads, avoiding his shouted demands and, most of all, those terrible sightless eyes. But when Jesus heard the man’s voice, he stopped in his tracks.

There is a sense in the text of a moment frozen in time; an instant in which the whole world is still; watchful, waiting. Jesus stands, motionless, as if struck to the heart by the man’s cry. Then, curiously, the Lord does not summon Bartimaeus, but speaks to those standing nearby, “Call him here.”

Sight Unseen

And, all at once, those who had callously told the beggar to shut up now offer words of encouragement. “Take heart!” they say, “Get on your feet! He’s calling you.” It was as if Jesus’ acknowledgement of the blind man gave others the ability to see him — no longer merely a noisy nuisance to be ignored and silenced, but a human being with hopes and fears and desires. A new creation. Stand up and be counted.

Throwing off his cloak, the blind man leaps to his feet and comes over to Jesus. We are not told how he was able to get there; perhaps Bartimaeus had grown adept at navigating in his perpetual darkness, or possibly — and I’d like to think this was the case — a bystander guided him to the Lord. Maybe someone else chose to stand up and be counted, too.

Face to Face

Bartimaeus and Jesus, face to faceNow, finally standing in Jesus’ presence, the fellow who shouted and yelled for attention is speechless. It is another freeze-frame moment: it is as if all of the noise and hubbub of the crowd has grown silent and still, waiting, as Bartimaeus meets the Lord, face to face.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks, not assuming, as most of us surely would, that the blind man would want his sight restored. Bartimaeus replies — as we would expect, “Rabboni, let me see again.”

And so it was; the miracle we were expecting. Immediately — one of Mark’s favorite words: with no delay or hesitation; instantly — the blind man regained his sight.

But there is more to the story. Jesus’ response to Bartimaeus’ prayer began with a sending forth: “Go, your faith has healed you.” Perhaps he had been called by Jesus in more ways than one: perhaps Bartimaeus was being summoned to discipleship: sent forth to carry the Gospel to others; to pay it forward, as we might say.

Healed through Faith

It may seem surprising that Jesus does not lay claim to the miracle of the blind man’s restored vision, but attributes it to Bartimaeus’ own faith. But we mustn’t be misled: this isn’t an example of Jesus’ humility, nor proof of the power of blind faith (so to speak); the clue lies in the first word Bartimaeus speaks at their face to face encounter. I’m sure you noticed it.

Bartimaeus calls Jesus “rabboni.”

Mosaic of Mary Magdalene and JesusThis word, spoken softly, confronts us more powerfully than any of the man’s earlier shouts. It appears only one other time in all of the Gospels, in Mary Magdalene’s cry of joy and recognition of the Lord on Resurrection morning (John 20:16).

Rabboni! Dearly loved, deeply respected teacher.

Just as Jesus recognized Bartimaeus, so, also, did he recognize Jesus. Initially acknowledging the Lord as the messiah (“Son of David, have mercy on me!”), when they meet face-to-face Bartimaeus addresses Jesus his Teacher — with a capital “T.” Rabboni! In your light I see Light (Psalm 36:9).

And the blind man says this before his sight is restored.

It is Bartimaeus’ faith in Jesus that brings about the miracle. And, perhaps, it is the cause for Jesus’ apostolic charge to him: “Go forth!” The man is healed and commissioned to ministry; his faith in Christ has brought restored vision and a responsibility to share the Gospel.

From Then On

This passage concludes with the statement that Bartimaeus “followed Jesus on the Way.” This may mean that Bart went along with the disciples and the crowd, walking with Jesus out of Jericho; or, perhaps, that he led his life following the the Way that Jesus taught. I prefer the latter interpretation, affirming that this man of vision obeyed the Lord’s instruction to “Go forth,” and spread the Good News of God’s great love and mercy.

But What About…?

The Gospel reports of miraculously restored health and strength challenge our faith and understanding; for what of the faithful souls who do not receive the gift of healing? Have the blind, the deaf, the disabled, the diseased, the addicted, and the broken somehow failed to “believe” enough? Are our prayers too feeble, our doubts too great? What does it mean for those Christians who have not “been made whole”?

Perhaps the fault lies not in our limits (or limbs!), but in our limited understanding. While I do believe that genuinely miraculous healings can and do happen, they are, in our human yearnings, sadly rare. What is more common, and more “heal-able” in Gospel terms, is what Jesus appears to do during his encounter with Bartimaeus: opening of the eyes of the community.

In Jesus’ recognition of the blind man, the people around him also saw Bartimaeus — as if for the first time. He was no longer an alarming local loudmouth, but another human being, a person they wanted to encourage and lift up, rather than shut down. Despite the differences between the ways in which the sighted and the blind navigate in the world, we are all members of the same community; likewise with all those who face challenges of any sort; in faith terms, we are all children of God. Jesus didn’t teach us to pray to “Our Father,” by accident.

Beyond “leveling the playing field” to the degree possible for those with handicaps, our greatest Christian witness is to behave as true children of God and followers of our rabboni, Jesus. It is at once the easiest and the most difficult Way to follow:

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength,’ and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
    ~ Mark 12:30-31

Christ’s grace and healing love,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Excercises

Who do you not see?

To combat exclusivity, think on this:

“Be merciful, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
    ~ Ian Maclaren (Reverend John Watson)