The healing of Bartimaeus is the final healing miracle recorded in St. Mark’s Gospel. Shortly after it Jesus enters Jerusalem to the acclamation of the crowd that we commemorate on Palm Sunday. Our Lord begins his brief ministry in Jerusalem which is marked by controversies over his authority, and which in their turn leads inevitably and speedily to the events of his passion and death.
St. Mark uses this incident in Jericho to teach that Jesus is truly the Messiah. This is why he makes a point of recording that Bartimaeus addresses Jesus as the ‘Son of David’.
It’s unusual for Mark to record the name of the man involved and the precise location of a particular healing but he does it here. He does so because this is a turning point in the Gospel story and Mark wants to pinpoint the location and record the name of the man as a way of highlighting the authenticity and the importance of the event.
But why is this event so significant? It’s important because of the double meaning involved: Bartimaeus regains his sight because he recognised who Jesus really was: the Son of David, the Messiah.
After healing Bartimaeus Our Lord says that it is the man’s faith that has saved him. Note the word saved; Our Lord doesn’t say he was healed or that he recovered his sight. No, he was saved. And as a result he immediately followed Jesus along the road.
The place where this miracle took place is also important. Jericho is only fifteen miles from Jerusalem and Jesus is approaching the climax of his mission. In Jerusalem Jesus will face opposition and controversy which will inevitably lead to his persecution and death.
This ‘way’ that Bartimaeus follows is the way of suffering. Bartimaeus has become a disciple, and the true disciple of Christ follows his master even along the way of suffering.
In St. Mark’s Gospel, apart from St. Peter’s confession, You are the Christ, and the recognition by the demons, one of whom calls Jesus Son of the Most High God, Bartimaeus is the only person who addresses Jesus with any kind of Messianic title. Mark uses the irony of the fact that it is a blind man who recognises Our Lord’s true identity, and he uses it to bring the story of Our Lord’s ministry, before the entry into Jerusalem, to a suitable conclusion.
St. Mark is telling us that the blind see more than those who have sight. It’s a great affliction to be blind, but perhaps the very lack of sight can distance a person from the glamour and the seduction of the material world. Perhaps a blind person can get a better perspective on what is really important in life.
We frequently judge other people in terms of their physical beauty and appearance and often ignore the true beauty that lies within. The media and the advertising business are constantly glamorising people. Celebrities are groomed to have a certain look. They go to great lengths to look immaculate. Cosmetic surgeons have never had it so good. Appearance is everything. If it weren’t like this then Hello magazine and others like it would soon go out of business.
And not only people, but things too. Everything has to look good to be considered worth buying—quality counts for little or nothing. In fact real quality in a product is a handicap for the salesmen and the advertising industry, because if a product lasts for a long time and is reliable then there will be only one sale, but if it only lasts a short time before conking out then there will be repeat sales. I’m convinced that kettles and toasters have a chip inside them which makes them stop working a week after the warranty expires.
Our sight gets in the way. St. Mark is absolutely right – the blind see far better than we do.
We live in a material world. But faith is not something material; in order to find faith we must quite literally leave the material world behind or to use St. Mark’s analogy to see beyond it.
In Our Lord’s time beggars commonly spread their cloaks on the ground to catch the coins thrown down to them by passers-by. When Our Lord called Bartimaeus he threw off his cloak, jumped up and went to Jesus. By this simple action, St. Mark tells us how Bartimaeus threw aside material things and went straight to Jesus. He didn’t pause to collect the coins and put them somewhere safe, they meant nothing to him now. His eagerness is further highlighted by the fact that he jumped up—no slowly getting to his feet with stiff joints after sitting so long by the side of the road. No he leapt to his feet and left his material possessions behind on the ground.
We need this kind of sight, the sight that comes from faith; the sight that sees what is really essential. We too need this faith to call out when others tell us to shut up. I’m sure you will have noticed the further irony of the very people who told Bartimaeus to shut up, these people quickly change their tune when Jesus calls him to come near. Now they patronisingly tell Bartimaeus to have courage when he was the one who had courage all along. They were the cowards afraid to commit themselves to Jesus.
The man who is blind can now see, the beggar now has riches beyond compare because he recognised Jesus. This is the Good News. This is a cause of joy for us all because it means that the world as we see it is not the real world; this world, in which the selfish and the greedy rise to the top, is only a superficial world. It’s a bit like being in The Matrix. This world, in which looks are more important than the beauty that lies within, is a shallow world and a false world.
To see the real world doesn’t require sight, it requires insight, it requires faith. This is the world that counts. This is the world in which we believe. This is the world which lasts forever. This is the world in which we can be at one with God. This is the world in which we place all our hope.