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 Jesus and His disciples were going 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!" Here in blind Bartimaeus' cry is the plea -- the prayer -- of all humanity. "Have mercy on me." It is the refrain heard in our churches, it is the strong ground for any and all prayer. Bartimaeus calls Jesus by a messianic title, "Son of David." He has faith that Jesus is Messiah, the Christ. Jericho was a place associated with sin (see Luke 10:30, the setting for the parable of the Good Samaritan). It is also a very ancient city, with archaeological excavation dating relics found there to the stone age. An allegorical interpretation to this story is that Jericho symbolizes a fallen humanity. Christ passing through thereby becomes an image of His Incarnation. Bartimaeus' blindness is this context is a symbol of humanity's affliction. What makes him stand out, even engaging in somewhere "scandalous" behavior by crying out, is his faith in Jesus.
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. This same word, translated as "be of good cheer" is identical to the one used by Jesus when He walks on the water to His disciples earlier in Mark's Gospel (see 6:49-50). It really means to take courage. Bartimaeus casts off his garment, going to Christ "without cover," so to speak, revealed without hiding anything. Jesus frequently asks, "What do you want Me to do for you?" making it clear that the believer must clearly state his or her true desire. Like so many others, Bartimaeus is told that his faith has made him well; the restoration of his sight a powerful metaphor for healing in so many ways, and for right-relatedness. We note that he follows Christ on the road to Jerusalem, as the restored believer follows Christ on the road to the Kingdom.
The allegorical interpretation to this story is an ancient one, given traditionally by Church Fathers. But that doesn't stop us from understanding the impact of the story also in terms of its individual tale of this blind beggar, Bartimaeus. Jesus travels through Jericho, and everybody seems to understand that He is on His way toward Jerusalem. He goes, as Bartimaeus' cry says to all of us, as the Anointed One, the son of David, on His way to His Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem. Blind Bartimaeus has faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, and also that He can restore his sight. The restoration of sight to the blind was a sign expected to be performed by the Messiah (see Isaiah 29:18; 35:4-5). My study bible says that this was "a power God had reserved for Himself" (compare John 9:32). If we look at the story of Jericho in the Old Testament, we read about Rahab the prostitute, who helped shelter the spies sent by Joshua to help take the city for the Israelites. In the New Testament, Rahab is listed as one of the ancestors of Jesus, presumably later marrying into an important Jewish family and becoming great-great-grandmother to David. This itself is a kind of metaphor for salvation and healing, the transformation from one who is "fallen" into a member of the Kingdom. Jericho, in so many ways, becomes a symbol for the transition from a place of blindness in sin to one of illumination and change. It tells us some important things about what healing means, and how "to the clean, nothing is unclean." That is, the transformation of Rahab from prostitute to ancestor of Christ mirrors Bartimaeus' transition from blind beggar to one who is fully restored and following Christ on the road to Jerusalem. This is true for all of us, who may find ourselves in a blind world in which we don't really see what is what, a world that calls on us to prostitute ourselves in ways we don't necessarily see our way through clearly without help from Christ. Faith becomes the key to grace that unlocks the doors which hide what we can't see, that shows us a way out of the dead ends which keep us stuck. This ancient place, Jericho, is a scene of so many things in human history. (Just prior to Jesus' time King Herod the great, murderer of children and members of his own family, also had a grand Roman-style palace built here. His fields in Jericho were forcibly given to Cleopatra through the influence of her lover Mark Antony -- a great picture of the corruption of power on all sides.) It gives us a picture of all the ways of the world, and the light that comes from Christ into it. He leads the way to Jerusalem and His entry into it as Messiah, the One who will open our eyes to understand that His power is to love and to serve all, to give His life as a ransom for many.