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 (by the way!). 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 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.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 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.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
This is the climax of the discipleship catechism. The action of Jesus to empower the crowd to "raise" Bartimaeus points to our call to participate in the on-going power of God's raising people to new life in this world.
At the beginning of the encounter Bartimaeus sits beside the way. Using Mark’s phrase of “the way” as a metaphor for the practice of discipleship we can understand Bartimaeus to be a non-disciple at the outset. Bartimaeus is not engaged in the practices of a disciple.
At the end the of the encounter Bartimaeus joins Jesus on the way. He engages life as a disciple. Bartimaeus shows the audience what it looks like to follow Jesus. This is the exact opposite of the wealthy landowner in chapter 10. “Bartimaeus, like the rich man, encounters Jesus ‘on the way’ (10:17, 46). The rich man could not liquidate his fortune, but poor Bartimaeus throws away his garment, his sole element of livelihood (beggars spread out their cloaks to receive alms (Myers, Binding the Strongman, 282).”
The healing of Bartimaeus’ sight can be understood on a metaphorical level. Sitting beside the way, not engaged in life as a disciple, left Bartimaeus blind to Jesus. He could not see and follow. Bartimaeus regains his ability to see Jesus and follows, thus encountering the world as a disciple.
"Only if the disciples/reader struggles against the internal demons that render us deaf and mute (keep us beside the way), only if we renounce our thirst for power - in a word, only if we recognize our blindness and seek true vision - then can the discipleship adventure carry on (Myers, Binding the Strongman, 282)."
We have traced the idea of social resurrection through several healing stories in Mark - 1:31; 2:11; 3:3; 5:41; 9:27.
In each of these instances Jesus raises someone to new life from a state of being socially dead. This metaphor points us to a reality that sometimes people can be physically alive but have no means of participating in life-giving practices, thus socially dead. They cannot participate in the life of the community, they cannot fill their role in society, they cannot provide for a family, or they cannot contribute to the community. They do not experience the fullness of life which the promise of God for the world.
Jesus raises these people to new life and gives them the ability to participate in the life of the community. In all of these encounters, Jesus is the catalyst for the moment of social resurrection. He raises the people up.
When social resurrection happens for Bartimaeus, it is the crowd who does the raising. For the first time in the Gospel Jesus empowers the crowd to participate in social resurrection. This becomes another aspect of following Jesus. We too are empowered to do this!
Verse 49 could be translated in this way - “Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; be raised (egero), he is calling you.’”
Jesus empowers the crowd to help raise Bartimaeus to new life. Upon hearing the crowd, Bartimaeus casts off his cloak, his social marking as a beggar, one who does not fully participate in the life of the community.
This is our role as disciples of Jesus Christ. We are called to help raise people to new life. We are called to draw people back into relationship, back into community, so that all experience the fullness of life.
Questions for Modern-Day Disciples
- When are we sitting beside the way (blind to Jesus in our midst) - not engaged as disciples?
- How does Jesus help us to “see” the world as his disciples?
- How do we raise people to new life (participate in social resurrection)?