A Provocation: Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost: October 28, 2018: Mark 10:46-52

Mark 10:46-52
10:46 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.

10:47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

10:48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

10:49 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.”

10:50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.

10:51 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.”

10:52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

A Question or Two:

  • What did Bartimaeus know about Jesus that he called him “son of David?”
  • How did he know this?

Some Longer Reflections:

This is a simple little scene.  A blind beggar shouts at Jesus, calling him the “son of David.”  Jesus has him called, though it is not clear why he did this.  Why not just walk up to him, himself?  It’s the sort of thing that Bartimaeus would have had to ask, since he couldn’t see to find him otherwise.

And so the blind beggar is brought to him, stumbling, perhaps, as he is led clumsily through the large, boiling crowd.  Hosannas are ready to erupt.

And Jesus says, “What do you want me to do for you?”

As if it weren’t obvious.  He’s blind, after all.

But he is also a beggar, so perhaps Jesus is asking to see which of his two presenting problems he wants to be treated for: blindness or poverty?  The scene is starting to sound like an old story with a genie in it, only the man only gets one wish.

If this is a genie story, then perhaps we are to notice the virtue revealed by the man’s answer.  He could have asked for wealth.  That would have made him comfortable despite his blindness.  Maybe this is even a “bootstraps” story, since the man asks for his blindness to be removed so that he can earn his own living, comfortable or not.

Or maybe the key is that the man asks to see AGAIN.  The storyteller presents Bartimaeus as a person who had LOST his sight, not as someone who had been born blind.  That might signal that this healing was considered to be easier than giving sight to a man born blind.  At least the storyteller in the gospel of John sees it that way (John 9).  Or it might add an ache to the story: Bartimaeus knew what he had lost, and perhaps was asking to be allowed to go back to the kind of normal life that had allowed him to work for a living, and walk home to his family admiring the sunset.

But what I notice as I read the scene this time is that Jesus asked.

People who think of themselves as saviors do not always ask, and they seldom listen.  Saviors generally assume that they “just know” what needs to be done.  That might be a good place to begin interpreting this scene.  It might be a good place to begin trying to solve the complicated problems any community faces just now.  Some of what you hear might be shouted through a bullhorn, or chanted by an unruly crowd.  Everything you hear will crystallize out of the chaos of a complicated history.

“What do you want me to do for you?”  That is a good question.  It begins by assuming that people who have been stopped and frisked might have something to tell you about the role played by law enforcement in their town.  It begins by assuming that someone who says “#MeToo” might be the best person to identify the nature of the public conversation we are all tangled up in.  Is this a conversation about safety or autonomy?  Is it about intimacy or about advancement?  We won’t know until we ask.  And listen.

“What do you want me to do for you?”  This might be the question that makes all the loud-mouthed posturing finally irrelevant.

Bartimaeus’s answer also deserves a close look.  The word “again” is not in the Greek.  He asks that he might ἀναβλέψω, which could mean “see again.”  It could also could mean “lift up his eyes.”  That might mean that he was asking to be able to again look people in the eye, and not be required to humbly beg for sustenance.

Or, it might matter that the idiom “lifting up” is used in Hebrew to speak of doing something intensely: if you lift up your voice, you shout so as to be heard at a great distance; if you lift up your eyes, you are attempting to see far into the distance, or to see deeply into the heart of things.  Maybe Bartimaeus is asking for actual insight.

In any case, it matters above all that Jesus asked.  And listened.

One thought on “A Provocation: Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost: October 28, 2018: Mark 10:46-52

  1. Jesus asked and listened!
    “People who think of themselves as saviors do not always ask, and they seldom listen. Saviors generally assume that they “just know” what needs to be done. That might be a good place to begin interpreting this scene.”
    Good place!!

    Like

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