The Healing of Blind Bartimaeus

Exegesis and Sermon Thoughts on Lectionary readings
Proper 25, Year B

Mark 10:46-52

(Mt 20.29—34; Lk 18.35—43)
46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving[1] Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus,[2] a blind beggar,[3] was sitting by the roadside.[4] 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[5] to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
49 Jesus stood still[6] 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?”[7]
The blind man said to him, “My teacher,[8] let me see again.”[9]
52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.”[10] Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.[11]



Setting of Mark 10:46-52
This is another of Mark’s “on the road” stories, in which Jesus does a significant ministry while “on the road” (en te hodo) to another place. In this case he is passing through Jericho (“came to Jericho...leaving Jericho” v. 46) on his way to Jerusalem. Much of this last half of the gospel is “on the road” to Jerusalem where he is journeying in order to die. The blind beggar is found “sitting along the side of the road” (v. 46), and in the end he “follows Jesus along the way” (which also could be translated “road”: ἠκολούθει αὐτῷ ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ, akoloutheō autos en ho hodos,  v. 52). Mark uses the road expression so often and places so much of Jesus’ ministry in the midst of a journey, that it has led many to believe that it has a theological meaning, as well as a geographical one (9:33, 34; 10:17, 32, 46, 52; 11:8, etc.). Notice that in the book of Acts, the early followers of Jesus were called the people of “the way” before they were called “Christians” (9:2; 19:9; 19:23; 22:4; 24:14; 24:22). There are also a number of sayings, probably not of Jesus, but attributed to him by later reflection of the early church, which emphasize following in his “Way” as the path to salvation: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7:13-14). And the most famous: “I am the way, the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6). One of these days I’m going to do a sermon on how authentic ministry (as well as authentic life) is usually performed while we are on the way toward somewhere else.
It seems to me that two sermons could be constructed on this theme. First that perhaps being a Christian has less to do with believing in Jesus (i.e. doctrine), than in believing in the way of Jesus (i.e. lifestyle). Second, keying more on this story today, and others in Mark where Jesus is stopped on his way to (usually) Jerusalem to heal or help a beggar or paralytic, or whatever, that authentic ministry is often performed while we are on the way toward somewhere else. I can think, for example, of dozens of times when I was in my study trying to plan out a young adult program (or whatever) and someone comes in with a crisis, and I felt too busy to help.

Now back to the story:

The healing has an unusual amount of detail, especially about Bartimaeus himself, leading many scholars to believe that it is an actual occurrence. However, it also appears to have been used as a model for the Early Church (and for us?) for conversion and discipleship. In the story, Jesus (of course) heals the blind man, but the fact that Bartimaeus is the center of the story gives the impression that the real function of the story was to offer a model of perseverance and encouragement to believers and would-be believers. “[T]he special angle from which it is told suggests that it had long been used in the church as a vehicle for instruction on certain aspects of Christian discipleship.”[12] Bartimaeus is seen as something of a paradigmatic figure for the early church for new Christians: he was blind before, but when he could “see,” he became a follower of Jesus (cf. 1:18; 2:14). The story would appear to Mark’s readers like this: Aware of his blindness and helplessness, Bartimaeus maintains his faith, recognizes the presence or Christ even when others did not, and calls out to him. (The Greek construction, erxato krazein, implies that he cries out to Jesus continually.) Others around him discourage him, but he persists and calls out even louder. Jesus then hears and responds. It would be easy to see the early church using this story in their own catechism.
Note that when Jesus heals in this story, he uncharacteristically does not tell the blind man to not tell anyone (he doesn’t tell him to use a double negative, either). And note, in contrast to the Rich man of earlier in the chapter (vss. 10:17-22), that not only does the man get healed and become a follower, he also throws off his cloak (in which he keeps the booty he has collected from the tourists). In this he accomplishes what the rich man was unable to do. Myers makes much of the “implied class contrast between discipleship of Bartimaeus and the nondiscipleship of the rich man.”[13] Notice that the man at the top of the economic scale rejected Jesus’ call, but the man at the bottom did not even wait for a call, but sprang up and left his “fortune” to come after Jesus. In the hierarchy of Jesus’ new order, the last have become first (“leap up”), and the first choose to become last (walk away “downtrodden”).
There is also a contrast between this story and the previous one between Jesus and James and John. In both, Jesus responds to their requests with “What is it that you want me to do for you?” But the requests are vastly different. In the first, driven by their blindness, Jesus offers nothing but discipleship (“can you drink the cup which I drink...?) and to the blind beggar he offers sight, (or the internal strength to empower him to make himself see again). “The blind man who asks simply for mercy is given sight. But the disciples’ demand power, which blinds them to the necessity of suffering. The “Sight” of the blind man leads to salvation. He follows on the way as a disciple.”[14]  “Only if the disciples/reader struggles against the internal demons that render us deaf and mute, 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.”[15]
Its position at this particular place in Mark’s Gospel is also important in the narrative. First, it concludes the middle section of Mark (8:27-10:53, which both opens and closes with a healing of blind man story), and second, it is a transition story to the triumphal entry which follows.
The blind beggar, described only as the “son of Timaeus” calls out to him from the roadside (Bar means “son of.” For Mark to say “Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus” was for the benefit of non Palestinians who did not know Aramaic.) Bartimaeus calls him “Son of David,” which in many circles would have been considered a politically charged messianic title. The Messiah was to be a militarist king from the house of David. Mark has not used this title before in the Gospel (which is by now more than half over). Perhaps he allowed it because it was used in the Hebrew scriptures when Zion’s King processed into the sanctuary (cf. Ps. 118:26 and Zech. 9:6), and for Mark it anticipated the acclamations of the crowds toward Jesus in the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.[16] If that is the case, what is Mark’s point? Is he affirming the political/militarist image of the Messiah of the beggar and the later Jerusalem crowds? Or is he simply letting stand without comment authentic political expectations of the crowds concerning Jesus? And if Jesus did not see himself as a Messiah of the political, militarist king variety (which most believe he did not), then why did not Jesus correct the beggar?
Incidentally, it is not clear to me whether or not Mark saw Jesus as a political leader, but it’s certain that the Romans did. How about Jesus? How much of his self identification was as a religious leader, and how much as a political leader?


The healing has an unusual amount of detail, especially about Bartimaeus himself, leading many scholars to believe that it is an actual occurrence. However, it also appears to have been used as a model for the Early Church (and for us?) for conversion and discipleship, so if there was an original historical kernel, it has been buried in metaphors and symbols intended to teach the church something about discipleship.
Jesus acts in the story, but Bartimaeus is the real center of it. This gives the impression that the authentic function of the story was to offer a model of perseverance and encouragement to believers and would-be believers. “[T]he special angle from which it is told suggests that it had long been used in the church as a vehicle for instruction on certain aspects of Christian discipleship.”[1] Bartimaeus is seen as something of a paradigmatic figure for the early church for new Christians: he was blind before, but when he could “see,” he became a follower of Jesus (cf. 1:18; 2:14; 10:52). The story would appear to Mark’s readers like this: Aware of his blindness and helplessness, Bartimaeus maintains his faith, recognizes the presence of Christ even when others did not, and calls out to him. (The Greek construction, erxato krazein, implies that he cries out to Jesus continually, not just once.) Others around him discourage him, but he persists and calls out even louder. Jesus then hears and responds. It would be easy to see the early church using this story in their own catechism.
Note that when Jesus heals in this story, he uncharacteristically does not tell the blind man to not tell anyone (he doesn’t tell him to use a double negative, either). And note, in contrast to the Rich man of earlier in the chapter (vss. 10:17-22), that not only does the man get healed and become a follower, he also throws off his cloak (in which he keeps the booty he has collected from the tourists). In this he accomplishes what the rich man was unable to do. Myers makes much of the “implied class contrast between discipleship of Bartimaeus and the nondiscipleship of the rich man.”[2] Notice that the man at the top of the economic scale rejected Jesus’ call, but the man at the bottom did not even wait for a call, but sprang up and left his “fortune” to come after Jesus. In the hierarchy of Jesus’ new order, the last have become first (“leap up”), and the first choose to become last (walk away “downtrodden”).
There is also a contrast between this story and the previous one between Jesus and James and John. In both, Jesus responds to their requests with “What is it that you want me to do for you?” But the requests are vastly different. In the first, driven by their blindness, Jesus offers nothing but discipleship (“can you drink the cup which I drink...?) and to the blind beggar he offers sight, (or the internal strength to empower him to make himself see again). “The blind man who asks simply for mercy is given sight. But the disciples’ demand power, which blinds them to the necessity of suffering. The “sight” of the blind man leads to salvation. He follows “on the way” as a disciple.”[3]  “Only if the disciples/reader struggles against the internal demons that render us deaf and mute, 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.”[4]
Its position at this particular place in Mark’s Gospel is also important in the narrative. First, it concludes the middle section of Mark (8:27-10:53, which both opens and closes with a healing of blind man story), and second, it is a transition story to the triumphal entry which follows.
The blind beggar, described only as the “son of Timaeus” calls out to him from the roadside (Bar means “son of.” For Mark to say “Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus” was for the benefit of non Palestinians who did not know Aramaic.) Bartimaeus calls him “Son of David,” which in many circles would have been considered a politically charged messianic title. The Messiah was to be a militarist king from the house of David. Mark has not used this title before in the Gospel (which is by now more than half over). Perhaps he allowed it because it was used in the Hebrew scriptures when Zion’s King processed into the sanctuary (cf. Ps. 118:26 and Zech. 9:6), and for Mark it anticipated the acclamations of the crowds toward Jesus in the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.[5] If that is the case, what is Mark’s point? Is he affirming the political/militarist image of the Messiah of the beggar and the later Jerusalem crowds? Or is he simply letting stand without comment authentic political expectations of the crowds concerning Jesus? And if Jesus did not see himself as a Messiah of the political, militarist king variety (which most believe he did not), then why did not Jesus correct the beggar?
Incidentally, it is not clear to me whether or not Mark saw Jesus as a political leader, but it’s certain that the Romans did. How about Jesus? How much of his self identification was as a religious leader, and how much as a political leader?


Other tidbits:
10:46-52 This is the last story in a long section that began in 8:22, that dealt with Jesus teaching about discipleship and talking about his decision to go to Jerusalem to die. It began with the story of the healing of a blind man and now it is ending with one.

The Oxford commentary calls this story an “acted parable’ because so many of its parts are symbolic of something larger:
  1. the granting of physical sight to Bartimaeus symbolizes the true ‘insight’ which is necessary for any disciple of Jesus.
  2. The consequence of the miracle is presented in language that is almost certainly deliberately evocative: the miracle is due to Bartimaeus’ ‘faith’
  3. which is said to have ‘saved’ him, i.e. not only healed him physically but also brought a much deeper and more profound ‘salvation’; 
  4. and Bartimaeus then ‘follows’ Jesus ‘on the way’: this is the language of discipleship, and Mark’s wording is almost certainly meant to suggest that Bartimaeus becomes a full disciple, ‘following’ Jesus on the way which Jesus treads, i.e. the way of the cross.[1]

In Matthew’s version there are two blind beggars, but doesn’t give their names. Cf. Matthew 20:30: “There were two blind men sitting by the roadside. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, ‘Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!’” Perhaps Matthew wants to enhance the drama of the story. Here it is a single blind man, who is a beggar. Bartimaeus’ ability to see who Jesus really was is especially significant in contrast to the disciples who for several chapters have been showing off their inability to see anything.
Jericho: 10:46 “They came to Jericho”…“were leaving Jericho.” A euphemism for saying they were passing through. Not staying. They were on their way to Jerusalem (just beyond Jericho) and passing through. See Matthew 20:29 for discussion of this and Luke’s phrase “As he approached Jericho” (Luke 18:35). There were two Jerichos, the old was Hebrew, and the new, Roman. The new Jericho was “about five miles W. of the Jordan and fifteen E. of Jerusalem, near the mouth of the Wady Kelt, and more than a mile south of the site of the ancient town”[7]
Blindness: Diseases of the eyes were very common in the era. A somewhat dated Greek scholar described his first encounter with Palestinian blindness this way: “The ash-heaps are extremely mischievous; on the occurrence of the slightest wind, the air is filled with a fine pungent dust which is very injurious to the eyes. I once walked the streets counting all that were either blind or had defective eyes, and it amounted to about one-half of the male population. The women I could not count, for they are rigidly veiled.”[8]
Get up” (v. 50). The verb here, egeiro certainly means to “arise,” but it is also used in the NT to mean being raised from death. Is that a subtle meaning here for a blind man who is being given a new life with his sight?
“Throwing off his cloak.” The cloak is what a beggar kept his earnings for the day. If he, like others, earned a living begging hand to mouth, one day at a time, then possibly all that he owned was in the cloak. And he threw it off to come to Jesus. Is it a stretch to compare this story to that of the rich man who was asked to give up all that he had and come to Jesus, but he couldn’t?
Healing: 10:52 “Made you well,” (or “whole”), σέσωκέν, sesōken. Perfect active indicative. The word often means “save” and that may be a portion of what is intended here.[9]  Note that he claims not to have healed the man, but that his faith has made him well. Cf. Lk 18:35-43.[10]. Matthew says that Jesus first touched the man, which is a nice “touch” (so to speak), but it goes to a slightly different meaning than Marks version.
“What do you want me to do for you?” (v. 51). Note that these are the exact same words Jesus used for James and John in the previous story, when they asked something far more selfish. Here is a great depiction of what might have happened:
I picture James and John standing there beside Jesus when he asks Bartimaeus their question, and Jesus shooting a quick glance in their direction. John looks down and scuffs the ground with his toe. James looks away and whistles. Jesus looks back at Bartimaeus as he begins to speak: “My teacher, let me see again.”[11]
Titles: Jesus, is addressed with two titles: first as “son of David,” which may well be Messianic. But second as Rabbouni (teacher), which is an Aramaic term of respect. “In this context there seems to be more than merely ‘teacher’ involved. Bartimaeus is evidently recognizing Jesus as an important personage.”[12] Note also that Rabbouni, an especially formal, respectful form of the word “Rabbi,” and is found only here in all of Mark.



[1] D.E. Nineham, Saint Mark (New York: Penguin, 1963), p. 282.
[2] Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man (     ), p. 281.
[3] Harper’s Bible Commentary.
[4] Myers, p. 282
[5] Pheme Perkins, New Interpreters Bible, Vol. VIII (Nashville, Abington: 1995), p. 655.)
[6] Oxford Bible Commentary. 2001 (J. Barton & J. Muddiman, Ed.) (Mk 10:46). New York: Oxford University Press.
[7] Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. 1: Matthew & Mark.
[8] Kenneth S. Wuest, Mark in the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1950), p. 213)
[9] Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament.
[10] Leander Keck, Cambridge Study Bible, Notes.
[11] Van Harn, R. (2001). The lectionary commentary: Theological exegesis for Sunday's texts, volume three (263). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
[12] Bratcher and Nida, p. 340.