The Gospel assigned for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mark 10:46-52) picks up where the previous week’s Gospel left off.
It is a story I’ve always been drawn to: Bartimaeus, the blind man, calls out to Jesus for mercy and receives his sight.
My interest is grabbled by unexplained oddities, emphatic repetitions, and tiny but moving details.
First among the oddities: the travel itinerary.
Right at the beginning they go to Jericho. It is such a famous biblical city — you know,
Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho…
It seems like the location must be important.
But what does Jesus do in the famous city?
Nothing, really. At least nothing that made it into the Gospel.
As soon as they get there, in the very same verse, they leave.
Still, Mark may be hinting at something weighty.
That OT scene with Joshua? (Joshua, who basically has the same name as the Lord — Yeshua, Jesus.) Remember how the big miracle happened when Joshua took the whole vast company of Israel marching around Jericho, the priests and the ark leading, and the army following.
Is there a hint of that scene in the way Jesus left the city?
… he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho…” (Mark 10:46 NRSV)
Then back in the OT story, after a week of marching around, the people were commanded, strangely, to “shout.” It was that shouting that triggered the miracle of the city’s fall.
Is there a hint of that in the way Bartimaeus got Jesus’ attention?
He shouted, and then he shouted even more loudly,
Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47-48 NRSV)
It is a tenuous connection, but I like it. If I were a 4th century Church Father, or a medieval monk, I’d surely weave it into a groovy spiritual lesson: As we march out from the city of our sin, we too should shout to Jesus, to catalyze the miracle we need — the walls we have build around ourselves, that keep us as blind as Bartimaeus, will fall and we will see God truly, and live in spiritual freedom.
Something like that. That’s a nice twistable metaphor for spiritual life. It’s good for my prayer time — but it probably won’t preach. Not, at least, without some serious meditative work and probably a poet’s sensibilities.
I am also drawn to Bartimaeus’ emphatic repeated shout:
Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47 NRSV)
And then, when people tried to silence him, even louder:
Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:48 NRSV)
It is (spoiler alert) a prayer that got answered.
It has also become one of the great biblical models for prayer. Many centuries ago, among the monastics of the Christian East, this biblical prayer became the heart of the practice called the “Jesus Prayer.”
It is most frequently quoted as
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
You can see that Bartimaeus’ prayer forms the backbone here.
It’s more ancient basic form shows Bartimaeus’ prayer even more clearly:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”
The Orthodox, like Bartimaeus, repeat this prayer — they do it endlessly. It isn’t that they think they will be heard for sheer volume or because of saying it so many times. No. It is more a practice that distills prayer to its essence and forms our hearts to peaceful dependence on Christ.
But I think also that they are convinced by this biblical story. They know that when Bartimaeus asked for mercy, and asked again, Jesus drew him near. And Jesus gave him precisely the mercy he needed.
Tiny but Moving Details
That interaction with Jesus, after Jesus heard Bartimaeus ask for mercy is the place where the tiny details are found.
First, Jesus asks the tantalizing question:
What do you want me
to do for you?” (Mark 10:51 NRSV)
I’m by no means the first to think about this question as something weighty.
A lot of people emphasize the “What do you want?” part of this: as if the key thing is that Jesus gets Bartimaeus to name precisely what he wants.
But there is a way of emphasizing this that gives me the weebie jeebies. By implication, we poor fools who don’t get our prayers answered just didn’t ask clearly enough.
To me the significance of the question is in the relationship it establishes. There is a “me” in parallel with the “you,” an “I” as well as a “thou.” Jesus treats Bartimaeus with genuine respect, as a real person.
Jesus may not give everyone everything they ask for — we saw that last week, when he refused to grant James and John’s request to sit beside him in glory.
But Jesus does honor everyone who asks, relating to them with integrity and genuine love. That love, that respect, that honor are things high on the list when it comes to descriptions of the mercy we need.
Second, there is the final instruction after the healing, and Bartimaeus’ strange way of complying.
Go; your faith has made you well.”
Immediately he regained his sight
and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:52 NRSV)
So Jesus said “Go!” but the guy stuck around instead. He stayed, as a follower of Jesus.
But then, Jesus was in the process of leaving Jericho. Jesus himself was going. He who is the Way was on his way. Anyone who followed him was on the way — “going,” you might say.
So by staying near, Bartimaeus obeyed the command to go. That’s a paradox worthy of meditation.
Learning from Bartimaeus
Personally? I’ll learn all I can from Bartimaeus. I’ll keep praying the Jesus Prayer. Jesus grants mercy every time.
Sometimes it can even take till Wednesday to bring out a “Monday Meditation.” That’s partly because I like to spend time with the text. Good things happen slowly.
If you’d like to explore an ancient way of taking Scripture slowly, think about signing up for my Advent course on the classic spiritual practice of Lectio Divina, the prayerful meditative approach to integrating God’s Word.
Click the button for full info and to get on the waiting list…