As [Jesus] and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 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.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 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.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. [from Mark 10]
There are three characters in this story about Jesus’ life: Jesus, Bartimaeus, and the crowd.
Called “they” or “many,” the crowd is as important a player as the other two.
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” cried the blind man outside the crowd, alongside the road, at the fringes of society. This was his place, where his blindness had put him. This was where he could get the only help available to him—a few handouts from passersby. Probably sitting at the gates of the city—not a bad place for a beggar to hang out. He cried out, as he always did, for alms. But when he heard that Jesus was in the crowd, his pleas changed. I don’t know if he even held out hope for healing, or if he expected something else from Jesus. Perhaps he’d heard of other healings. Members of the crowd told the man to be quiet, but he was determined to be heard. “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Though they tried to shush the crier, Jesus stood and turned. “Call him here,” he said. And they did. Maybe the same ones who had previously told Bartimaeus (not a little meanly) to be quiet, now followed the merciful example of Jesus: “Take heart, Bartimaeus! Get up! Jesus is calling you!”
And he did. He didn’t just amble, but threw off his cloak, jumped to his feet, and came to Jesus.
And so it happened. Bartimaeus was healed of his blindness and became a disciple, following Jesus along with the crowd that had, a few moments before, told him to be quiet.
The story of Jesus’ healing of a blind man is a story of mercy and hope. It’s also a story of community, a theme of Mark. He has so far included gentiles, Pharisees, tax collectors, sinners.
Now Marl includes the sick, because illness marginalizes people. It often keeps them from being able to participate fully in the life of the community. They can’t climb the steps as well as they used to, can’t drive after dark, can’t get out where they might infect others or be infected.
There is more emotion in this story than in many others, expressed through verbs: the crowd first “sternly ordered” Bartimaeus into silence and later told him to “take heart”; Bartimaeus shouted and cried for mercy, threw off his cloak and sprang to his feet, then followed. Far from refusing to deal with emotional, hurting people, Jesus responded to the hurt shouts and cries and to the enthusiastic hopes of a man in need.
There is much about the workings of human pain within a community in this story, workings that many will recognize. The blind man, in great need, continually calls out for help, not just on this day, but every day. He is there, by the side of the road, asking for aid. Just as we often do, the people walk on by. And some of them try to get him to be quiet. Are they worried Jesus will be disturbed? Or are they using that as an excuse to quiet him because they are disturbed? Maybe they are disturbed by the reminder that there is pain in the world, they are disturbed by how close that pain has come to them—close enough to reach out and touch them, and they would just as soon not hear about it. They’d rather hear the words of Jesus than the petitiions of a sick man.
But the one in need is wise enough not to keep the pain bottled up inside. He shouts, he cries out to Jesus, and Jesus recognizes and responds to his pleas.
The crowd response is interesting, isn’t it? At first silencing, after they see how Jesus responds, they too turn to the man and tell him to take heart, get up, and draw close, because his cries have been heard and Jesus wants to see him.
I see in this Jesus story a human being in pain, who thankfully isn’t afraid to talk about it, and a community that initially is reluctant to hear his pain but eventually is willing to listen and to help.
What would it be like in our churches and communities if we encouraged those in pain to talk about it, if we made a space for those who are troubled to be heard? Would we start support groups, open our buildings as places where social workers could mingle with street people, set up a program for lay people to visit with the elderly and sick, just to listen? And once we truly listen, we have no other way to go than to begin to show them the mercy and hope of Christ, to encourage them to take heart because Jesus has heard their cries.
© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2012