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 receive his sight and followed Jesus on the road.
- Mark 10:46-52
Yesterday, we read that Jesus and 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!" 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 receive his sight and followed Jesus on the road. Jesus is passing through Jericho, a town notoriously known in Christ's time as a place of great sin. The names given here are interesting. A word pronounced like the name "Timaeus" in the Greek means "honorable." But in Hebrew, Timaeus could stem from a word that can mean to be or become "unclean." Bar- is a kind of Aramaic addition to a word to make it diminutive, that is, smaller -- or more commonly used to mean "son of." Bartimaeus is the son of Timaeus. But "bar" in Hebrew can also be a verb that means "to clean." So we get a mix of meanings here that illuminate an ancient interpretation of this story: Bartimaeus is a stand-in for a struggling humanity, beset by evil in the form of blindness. Jericho is the fallen world, our environment of fallenness: His father "unclean" but Bartimaeus by virtue of his faith in Christ is given sight, his eyes given "light" -- a humanity restored to its glory. Christ moving through Jericho in this interpretation is an image of the Incarnation itself. We can see Bartimaeus' faith in the title by which He calls Jesus, "Son of David," meaning the Messiah. My study bible says, "Having been made whole by Christ, human nature can now follow Christ on the road to the Kingdom, symbolized by our Lord's subsequent entrance into Jerusalem." The restoration of sight to the blind was a sign expected of the Messiah (Isaiah 29:18), considered a power reserved for God such as in the case of a man born blind (John 9:32).
What are we to make of blind Bartimaeus, a man stuck begging by the side of the road, in Jericho, a place known for sin? He's a kind of obvious picture of fallenness, that which seems to have no real glory, someone rather doomed by his circumstances not to get much farther than that in life. Where are his chances to do more, to be more than this? His environment is a kind of metaphor for spiritual blindness: a notorious environment of sin and limitation, a father with a name that means in the native language "unclean" but in the Greek of the New Testament, having value. All of these are hints about the state of our world, what it is that the Incarnation makes possible for each of us. But it's Bartimaeus' faith that unlocks everything for him, and he becomes a follower of Christ -- on the way to the Holy City, to the Kingdom -- to somewhere better, to the promised land. With his voice and his shout, Bartimaeus is able to call up to the Lord, to be heard. Christ asks him directly, "What do you want Me to do for you?" We note that as Bartimaeus runs to Christ, he casts aside his garment -- no "hiding" here behind anything -- any image or stance, we go to Christ as we truly are and in all honesty. His deepest desire of the Teacher ("Rabboni" - Great Teacher, Master) is to receive his sight. It's Christ who both cleans and who renders great value, realizing the honor of human beings made in the image of God. All the meanings here, in this sense, are important. Sight is of course a metaphor for knowledge and understanding, as in seeing the true light and receiving wisdom, being illumined. Bartimaeus healed through faith is the image of humanity restored to its true glory in the light of Christ. Maybe most importantly, we all have the plea of Bartimaeus, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" This plea forms the basis for the most important prayer for many in the Church: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me," the root of an ancient prayer practice. In the original Greek of the Gospel, Bartimaeus' words contain the root of the phrase Kyrie eleison, "Lord have mercy," which punctuates universal Church worship and prayer. Just as Jesus said to the woman with the blood flow, He tells Bartimaeus, "Your faith has made you well." This plea of Bartimaeus forms the root of a prayer practice called the Jesus Prayer, or Prayer of the Heart: it consists of a repetition of any variation on this prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy." Practiced for periods of time, it becomes a deeply effective prayer, a way to "pray without ceasing," rooting itself within our hearts and minds. If there is one lesson we take with us, we learn from Bartimaeus that prayer is powerful. It's a key to our faith which unlocks God's illumination in our lives, and changes our lives, turning our lives over from any circumstances in which we find ourselves, whatever the environment we may struggle with, or whatever we are "born into." His prayer is a key to something, and it may be a key to something in your life that helps you with anything. Try it!