To See and Raise Up — Mark 10:46-52
Accompanied by his disciples, Jesus continues teaching and healing “on the way” to Jerusalem. The journey begins with the healing of a blind person (Mk 8:22-26) and ends with the healing of Bartimaeus who is also blind (Mk 10:46-52). The formation of the disciples is a focus of the journey — the opening of their eyes to Jesus. We can reflect on our own journey as we, too, are disciples on the way.
Recovery of Sight in Stages
The journey begins in the town of Bethsaida on the northern seafront of Galilee, with a two-stage healing of a man who is blind (Mk 8:22-26). The healing is initiated by “some people” who bring the man to Jesus. Jesus puts spittle on his eyes and lays hands on him. And he involves the man in his recovery: “Can you see anything?” The man says he sees only “people looking like trees”. As Jesus will not leave him with only partial sight, he lays his hand on him again. Then the man “looked intently … and he saw everything clearly.”
The man’s recovery of sight in stages symbolises the disciples' delay in opening their eyes to an understanding of God’s mission. At this stage in Mark, Jesus has finished his ministry in Galilee (Mk 1:16-8:21). Throughout he has talked in parables about what God is like. His “mighty deeds” of healing, casting out demons, stilling the sea and walking on water, have reflected God’s power. He has reached out to suffering and marginalised people. But those “on the way” with him did not see clearly. Fortunately for the disciples, as for ourselves, Jesus repeats many of the images and events so all may see “everything clearly”.
“On the Way”
In this journey section of the Gospel, Jesus and the disciples are constantly “on the way” through different landscapes and places. When Peter declares Jesus is the Messiah, they are “on the way” to the villages of Caesarea Philippi about 50km north of Bethsaida. Six days later, Jesus is transfigured “up a high mountain apart”, considered to be Mount Tabor in southern Galilee. They “went on from there and passed through Galilee” northwards to the fishing town of Capernaum before eventually journeying through the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan to the oasis of Jericho about 160km south.
The journey finishes with the healing of another person who was blind. In contrast to the first healing, this one is instantaneous and complete. These two healing of blindness stories which frame the journey, symbolise the healing of the disciples of spiritual blindness. Although Jesus has been teaching them “on the way”, their vision is still only partial. He has spoken to them three times of his rejection, suffering and death-resurrection but they do not get it. It is only after Jesus’s resurrection that their eyes will be fully opened. The story of blind Bartimaeus indicates the links between the disciples and the resurrection.
“Have Mercy on Me”
Jesus, his disciples and a large crowd leave Jericho to walk the 24km to Jerusalem for the Passover. Bartimaeus is sitting at the roadside begging for alms from the pilgrims. In Mark’s Gospel, Bartimaeus is the only person healed by Jesus who addresses Jesus by name and the first person to call Jesus by the title “Son of David”. Jews reserved that title for the Messiah-King, the one who was to be the heir to God’s promises which included opening the eyes of the blind. Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus using the psalmist’s prayer to God: “Have mercy on me.” Though blind, Bartimaeus sees so much more than those around him.
The Gospel tells of the obstacles that block the way to Jesus. For example, unlike the first blind man whom the people brought to Jesus, in this story the people scold Bartimaeus and try to silence him. Bartimaeus is undeterred and boldly calls out even louder. Jesus does not call Bartimaeus to come to him directly. Instead he asks those around to change their stance and to “call him here”.
“What Do You Want Me to Do for You?”
Bartimaeus responds with faith. He throws off his cloak, symbolising leaving his former life. He “sprang up and came to Jesus". Jesus asks him the same question he had earlier asked James and John: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mk 10:36). James and John ask to sit at the right hand and left hand of Jesus when he comes in glory. Bartimaeus responds: “My teacher, let me see again.”
“Be Raised Up”
There are clues in the Bartimaeus story connecting it to Jesus’s resurrection yet to come. When Jesus directs them, the people use the Greek word egeiro meaning “raise up” in speaking to Bartimaeus: “Take heart; get up [egeiro], he is calling you.” The word was used earlier in the Gospel in the stories where Jesus heals the mother-in-law of Peter, the man who was paralysed, the man with the withered hand and the daughter of a synagogue official. Each of these characters is healed and “raised up” in their households and local communities. Then at the end of the Gospel the same word is spoken by the young man when the women arrive at the tomb early in the morning to anoint the dead body of Jesus: “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised [egeiro]” (Mk 16:5-6).
Raising Up Today
Bartimaeus regained his sight and followed Jesus “on the way”. As pilgrim people — on the way — we look for where we can heal, raise up and serve others. Like the people speaking to Bartimaeus, our concern can be that others “be raised".
In this time of pandemic, "raising up" can mean listening to the insight of experts and cooperating to keep people healthy and safe -— not just our whānau or country, but the world. We are challenged to recognise that misinformation is blindness to truth. Raising up others means we desist from exercising our “personal freedoms" and abide by the restrictions for the common good. Or it could be raising up others' voices and listening — having conversations with family or friends about racism, immigration and other difficult topics.
In this journey section in Mark, Jesus speaks of his rejection and death yet links them to his resurrection which is foreshadowed at his transfiguration (Mk 9:2-13). As disciples we can hold to the hope that suffering will not defeat us but instead motivate us to heal, to raise up and to minister in ordinary ways wherever we are.
Sometimes our efforts to raise up or heal bear instant results, but sometimes we see improvement only in stages — our collective work on this pandemic is long-term and ongoing. The challenge is not to be dismayed as we wait for change, and to keep our eyes open to Jesus’s final words in Mark: “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15).
TuI Motu Magazine. Issue 264 October 2021: 24-25