Now they came to Jericho. As He went out of Jericho with His disciples and a great multitude, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the road begging. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Then many warned him to be quiet, but he cried out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be called. Then they called the blind man, saying to him, "Be of good cheer. Rise, He is calling you." And throwing aside his garment, he rose and came to Jesus. So Jesus answered and said to him, "What do you want Me to do for you?" The blind man said to Him, "Rabboni, that I may receive my sight." Then Jesus said to him, "Go your way, your faith has made you well." And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the road.
- Mark 10:46-52
Yesterday, we read that the disciples were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going before them, and they were amazed. And as they followed they were afraid. Then He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them the things that would happen to Him. "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again." Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, "Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask." And He said to them, "What do you want Me to do for you?" They said to Him, "Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They said to Him, "We are able." So Jesus said to them, "You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared." And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John. But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."
Now they came to Jericho. As He went out of Jericho with His disciples and a great multitude, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the road begging. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Then many warned him to be quiet, but he cried out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" My study bible tells us: "Have mercy is a favorite phrase of prayer in the liturgical tradition of the Orthodox Church. Mercy is God's lovingkindness, His tender compassion toward repentant sinners."
So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be called. Then they called the blind man, saying to him, "Be of good cheer. Rise, He is calling you." And throwing aside his garment, he rose and came to Jesus. So Jesus answered and said to him, "What do you want Me to do for you?" The blind man said to Him, "Rabboni, that I may receive my sight." A note says, "Jesus knows all things, and knows this man is blind. Yet He asks, What do you want Me to do for you? The man could have asked, 'Lord, give me grace to live with blindness,' but he asks for his sight. Faith needs to be specific, and Jesus requests him to exercise his faith by asking for a specific need. Rabboni means 'my teacher,' showing the man's affection for Jesus." I think the text gets specific and vivid when it tells us that Jesus has stood still in the middle of the road, on this journey with His disciples toward Jerusalem, in order to call out Bartimaeus. It's a way of focusing attention, zeroing in on the one calling out to Him, and stopping -- even while everything seems to simply be moving in an inevitable direction.
Then Jesus said to him, "Go your way, your faith has made you well." And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the road. My study bible says, "Bartimaeus follows Jesus, becoming a disciple of His (the road is Gr. hodos, the same word used for 'the Way' in Acts 9:2), and is not commanded to silence. Now that Jesus is heading toward an open confrontation with the Jewish leaders in the Holy City, the veiling of His identity (the messianic secret) is no longer necessary." In the Greek, the word translated as "made (you) well" is literally "saved (you)."
Bartimaeus makes a connection with Jesus here in today's reading -- this is what we notice. He cries out, repeatedly, "Have mercy on me!" and he won't be silenced. Bartimaeus, it would seem, already has a sense that there is a connection here. His referral to Jesus as Rabboni, "my Teacher," also tells us that. There is a sense of personal connection on Bartimaeus' part, whether he has formally met Jesus or not. When Jesus stands still, in the middle of the road (the "way"), even as He is on His way to Jerusalem, and commands Bartimaeus to be called, it's a personal connection. It's interesting, also, that Jesus doesn't call Bartimaeus Himself, but commands others to call him. It's like Bartimaeus is personally being called, the way we imagine angels in heaven are commanded to call one person or another to summon them to the presence of God. There is an amazing personal connection here, where, even though Jesus is on His way to His Passion, death and Resurrection, He takes time out to command one to be called, the one who is crying out repeatedly "have mercy on me!" and who called Him, "Rabboni." I think that this personal connection to Christ is so important that Mark's Gospel gives it to us right on this road to the greatest event in history, the central event in the history of the world -- from a Christian point of view -- the culmination of God's mission into the world, the time of inconceivable sacrifice: that God, as human, will suffer and die, and be Resurrected to save a whole world, past, present, and future. And yet, while He's on this mission, and clearly set His sights for Jerusalem, the blind Bartimaeus cries out, and Jesus stops everything and commands him to be called. It's reminiscent of the healing of the woman with the blood flow, who touched His garment in the midst of a crowd, even as He was on His way to heal Jairus' daughter: Jesus has time for everyone. He does what He is here to do, and each one of these things take place not just in "examples" to give us a general idea of what He is about, but in personal stories, in actions that make up all the links in this chain of love, all the points of light in the great, blinding, otherworldly light that is Christ which we can't possibly contain. These stories aren't just examples to teach us the "concept" of Christ: rather, these stories are the heart of Christ. His work takes place in each of us, in each of our hearts and each of our lives. "Rabboni" is the place of the heart, the place where Jesus dwells. He knows each one of us personally. And that's the place where we meet Him, we carry His presence around with us, with love and affection, in a kind of Person-to-person reality of the heart: the whole of which, a whole universe of beings, past, present, and future, we can't possibly comprehend nor know. But if we miss the personal, we miss the story. We miss that mystical reality that we need. We miss the point, and I think we lose out on our faith. Here is where Jesus steps in and tells Bartimaeus, "Your faith has made you well." Or, more literally, "Your faith has saved you." In that depth of trust, we find the real power of Christ to save; we may know the grandest theories, we may understand all things known to man and even more, but if we don't have that place of love, that personal connection, we're missing out. Let us remember He's got time for each of us, and wants us to make that time for Him. When He tells Bartimaeus, "Go your way," that way is His Way, on the road ("the way") with Him. Bartimaeus' shout of have mercy is the "new" shout of Jericho, the one that liberates and knocks down walls so that we enter into the real promised land, with Him.