Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126; Hebrews 5:1-6; Mark 10:46-52
The key word in our reading from Jeremiah this Sunday is “remnant.” Though Israel has been defeated by Babylon, a few remain, and will come back. Central to this remnant are “the blind and the lame.” They show both how weak is the remnant and how strong is God, who can save even the weak.
Our Psalm adds “the torrents in the southern desert.” It’s an important image, please watch this video. Where there is nothing, God brings abundance.
(I like this one, too.)
We continue our reading of Mark with the story of blind Bartimaeus. Now it is Jesus restoring the blind remnant.
The story opens with an important but obscure detail: “As Jesus was leaving Jericho.” He is on the road to Jerusalem. Jericho is in the Jordan flood plain, the typical path south from Galilee. Perhaps you know cities like this, such as Denver: it is the last city at the foot of the mountains, before you go up to Jerusalem. The very next verse after our reading, Jesus begins his triumphal entry: Palm Sunday, on the way to Good Friday.
That context illumines Bartimaeus’ cry: “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me. . . . Son of David, have pity on me.” (The word is eleison, as in “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.” It’s what beggars cry, and the response is not just to withhold punishment but to give alms–or better, to give sight.) When Jesus enters Jerusalem, the crowds will say, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” Later, in Jerusalem, Jesus will argue with the scribes about the Christ’s relation to David.
But this is the first time David is named in Mark’s Gospel. Mark says Bartimaeus spoke, “On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth”—not the city of David. In other words, Bartimaeus has a kind of intuition. He is the first of the remnant to cry out in welcome to the true king of Israel as he enters Jerusalem. The king is welcomed not by the wise of this world, but by the weak, the remnant.
Mark gives us another detail: he calls him, “blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus.” In fact, Bar- (like Ben-) is Hebrew for “son of.” Bar-timaeus has no other name but “son of Timaeus” and “blind man.” The son of Timaeus welcomes the son of David: a little contrast to bring out the identity of Jesus the King. I am not the son of David, he is.
In fact, Timaeus, says my Hebrew dictionary, means “the dirty one,” or “ritually impure.” David means “beloved.” The dirty one welcomes the beloved. This is the true entry of the King, and the true meaning of mercy.
Mark repeats a word: “Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’ So they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.’” The word for “call” is just “sound.” The blind man cannot see, so Jesus reaches out another way. (Flannery O’Connor has the great line about Christian literature, “To the hard of hearing, you shout.” But Mark seems to say, “To the hard of hearing, you wave; to the blind man, you shout.”) Jesus condescends to speak as we can hear him.
And he gives him sight.
Then Jesus says, “Go your way”: it’s a strong word, “pull away,” “go home.” Jesus lets him go—but the response of the blind man healed by Jesus is, “he followed him on the road,” to Jerusalem.
An odd detail is that when they call the blind man, “He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.” In part, the “throwing aside” (another strong word) emphasizes the “springing up,” the joy with which he leaps to meet his king and healer.
But I wonder if there’s not more. I’m not sure what it is—these cloaks are ubiquitous in Mark’s Gospel. A cloak is what the woman (to whom, as to Bartimaeus, Jesus says, “your faith has saved you”) reaches out to touch; it is what turns white at the Transfiguration, and what is stripped by the soldiers; it is what the people will put on Jesus’ donkey and strew on his path when he enters Jerusalem; and Jesus will say of the end, “let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains . . . and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak.” Anyway, Bartimaeus does not go back for his cloak, he leaves his old life behind to follow, under the cloak of the king, to Jerusalem.
Our reading from Hebrews tells us what is necessary for this encounter. Jesus is the high priest who “is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness.” But “No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God . . . You are my son.”
Jesus can reach Bartimaeus and the rest of the remnant because in his weak humanity he walks the paths of the world. But he can heal us and lead us to glory because he is also the divine son of God, the true king and the high priest clothed in glory.
What does it mean for you to be part of the remnant, like Bartimaeus?