MARK | PART 8: A BLIND MAN REGAINS HIS SIGHT
A SERMON BY PASTOR CHICO MARTIN
Lections: Heb 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52
Jericho: city of palm trees; fragrant moon; everywhere watered by streams.
Jericho: a low plain surrounded by mountainous country; 846’ below sea level, and 3,320’ lower in elevation than Jerusalem, about 15 miles away. Jesus has left Perea, crossed the Jordon River, and five miles west, gone through Jericho, before continuing on toward Jerusalem.
Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, a blind beggar: a man living, literally, in darkness, who represents human nature.[i] Bartimaeus, who has no way of earning a living, takes the lowest place of all, in utmost despair, as Christ approaches.
He asked, ‘Who is it that passes by,’ and was told ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ And then he stood, at the point of utmost despair and utmost hope…And out of this desperate hope he began to cry and shout ‘Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.’ Anthony Bloom calls this cry “a perfect profession of faith…it was because his despair was so deep that he could summon such daring hope in order to be healed, saved, made whole.”[ii]
And Theophylact: “Human nature, then, cried out to Jesus as he passed through Jericho, that is, through this life.” And, “Jesus took pity on human nature, and because of its faith in Him, He made it whole, and it put off the old garment of sin.”[iii]
Human nature “was set free, therefore, from double blindness; for not only did it escape from the blindness of the body, but from that of the mind and heart as well…”[iv]
The healing of Bartimaeus on the road from Jericho provides ‘a fitting conclusion’ to the public ministry of Jesus…as he makes his way, on the pilgrim highway, toward Jerusalem.[v]
Bartimaeus is sitting by the side of the road, and Jesus and his followers are walking passed; Bartimaeus cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me,” over and over, louder and louder, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”[vi] Human nature, appealing directly to the Messiah for its salvation – the Messiah who descends from King David – echoes the language of the Psalter.
The blind man trusts Jesus. The blind man believes Jesus can heal him. Jesus hears his prayer. Jesus calls him and the blind man comes. The disciples encourage the blind man, saying “be of good cheer,” “have no fear.” The blind man throws “off his cloak, he jumped up,” goes to Jesus; he literally presents himself face to face with the divine image: the person of Jesus; the Son of Man; the Son of God; Creator of All Creation, who has the time, is in time, for the least among us.
Augustine says Mark gives Bartimaeus the name of his father, because he had fallen “from some position of great prosperity, and was now regarded as an object of … notorious and … remarkable wretchedness, because, in addition to being blind, he had also to sit begging.”[vii]
Blindness was considered a sign of sinfulness.
Jesus, the light of the world, while he is in the world (Jn 9:5), asks the blind man what he wants, and the blind man answers, to regain my sight; he wants to see what he no longer sees, what he has lost. He is human nature, asking for forgiveness, the forgiveness of its sins. And Jesus says, “Go thy way, thy faith has made you whole.”
For human nature, a spiritual response is necessary to receive the physical blessing;[viii] our sins are forgiven when we are “made whole,” when we are healed.
Immediately our human nature regains its sight and begins following Jesus on the road. On the road again, the man who was blind, when he is made whole, sees the light, and follows Jesus; he changes direction, he turns around, he is saved, and he repents. “Having been made whole, human nature followed Jesus in the way, that is, striving to keep Christ’s commandment in this life. It is here that we must follow Christ.”[ix]
“To be saved means to be delivered from whatever ails, afflicts, or threatens one. The idea of salvation, therefore, can refer to deliverance from physical danger, from spiritual oppression, or from the consequences of sin.”[x]
Human nature, the way of the man who was blind, becomes the way of Jesus; the man who was blind joins the crowd of followers and pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. “Bartimaeus has been transformed from a helpless man who was going nowhere to a restored man who sets out on the road to discipleship.”[xi]
Thus concludes the “discipleship section” of Mark (8:22 – 10:52), “where Jesus prepares his disciples for his coming passion by re-educating them in the revolutionary new values of the Kingdom of God”– framed by two healings of blind men – which have “a symbolic function in relation to the whole section, in which the disciples’ eyes are (gradually) opened.”[xii]
Mark’s focus is ‘discernment’ and ‘discipleship’; Jesus “puts into practice what he has been teaching his disciples.”[xiii] Against the backdrop of the loneliness of Jesus and his joyous fellowship, Jesus teaches us about himself, about prayer, and about discipleship.
In post-exilic Israel, after the Hebrew people returned from Babylonian captivity, on Yon Kipper, the High Priest entered the holy of holies; on the tenth day of the seventh moon, ‘the Sabbath of Sabbaths,’ the high priest went into the inner sanctuary of the temple, where the arc of the covenant had been kept, and there he would sprinkle the blood of a bull and of a goat and leave incense to atone for his sins and the sins of his people; and the fate of the people would be sealed for a one year period.
In Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, Paul explains how Jesus is able to save us now (when all the other priests of time could not):
- all other priests had died, and so needed to be replaced, but Jesus lives forever – he holds his priesthood permanently – so we have one high priest, Jesus himself, who atones completely, for all time, for the people who approach God through him;
- the high priest, Jesus, is permanent and eternal; he lives ‘at the right hand of God’ where he also intercedes for us (Rom 8:34);
- the high priest Jesus, by living a sinless life, was able to make one sacrifice, sufficient for all time; instead of offering the blood of animals, he offered up himself; he was both priest and sacrifice, the unblemished lamb that was to be slain;
- yet the high priest Jesus was raised to life, in the holy place of God, where he is appointed to stand with each and everyone of us – as a defense attorney might in a court of judgment – and says, this one has no sin, because I nailed it to the cross on which I was crucified.
Our human nature receives this assurance, assurance that frees us from guilt and fear of failure, that our past, present, and future sins are all forgiven.
Jesus the high priest saves us now, and now Jesus the Word of God communicates his presence and speaks his assurance, that by hearing, we may believe; in Scripture and in prayer, God speaks to us directly through the speech that he has raised to life; and especially, in the prayer of the Psalter, we are taught, as the disciples are taught, how to pray, how to make our desire known to ourselves, in the presence of the one who has atoned for us:
- We are to be persistent;
- We are to echo the language of the psalter;
- We are to go to him, when Jesus calls us; we think we are calling Jesus, but he is calling us; all we are doing is answering;
- We are to tell him what we want, when Jesus asks; we are to tell him.
- We are to listen, when we despair, for the sound of approaching, total, perfect hope.
“This is the point at which, having gone inward, we will be able to pray; and then, ‘Lord, have mercy’ is quite enough.”[xiv] We can hear the refrain in Luke (18:1-8):
18 Jesus was telling them a parable about their need to pray continuously and not to be discouraged. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him, asking, ‘Give me justice in this case against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused but finally said to himself, I don’t fear God or respect people, 5 but I will give this widow justice because she keeps bothering me. Otherwise, there will be no end to her coming here and embarrassing me.” 6 The Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 Won’t God provide justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he be slow to help them? 8 I tell you, he will give them justice quickly. But when the Human One[a] comes, will he find faithfulness on earth?”
It takes courage, when Jesus calls, to go to him; the disciples encourage Bartimaeus. “Take courage, stand up” they say; and Bartimaeus is transformed, sets out on the road to discipleship, an example for us all: that we too might, as we pray in today’s collect, “when we inherit God’s promises, be made worthy of them…”
Chrysostom says, “He will save you assuredly; yet he will do so just in the way he has promised. But in what way has he promised? On our willing it, and on our hearing him. For he does not make a promise to blocks of wood.”[xv] Meanwhile, we are to be so transformed in attitude that we will learn to love what God commands us to do.
Clement of Alexandria says, “The commandment of the Lord shines clearly, enlightening the eyes. Receive Christ, receive power to see, receive your light, that you may plainly recognize God and man.”[xvi]
[i] Theophylact, The Gospel According to Mark, 92
[ii] Anthony of Sourozh, “Beginning to Pray,” in The Bible and the Holy Fathers, 379
[iii] Theophylact, ibid, 93
[iv] Cyril of Alexander, in The Bible and the Holy Fathers, 597
[v] WBC, Vol 34b
[vi] see Mt 20:29-34; Lk 18:35-43
[vii] Augustine, “Harmony of the Gospels 2:65,” quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Mark (NT Vol 2)
[viii] Ladd, 75
[ix] Theophylact, ibid
[x] WBC, Vol 34b
[xii] George Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, 233
[xiv] Anthony of Sourozh, ibid
[xv] Chrysostom, “Homily on 2 Thessalonians 3.4,” quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Mark (NT Vol 2)
[xvi] Clement, “Exhortation to the Greeks 11” ibid