Mark 10:46-52 – In the Way…
Lesson Focus: Jesus longs to help us regain our sight so that we might fully and faithfully follow him in the way of the Kingdom of God.
Lesson Outcomes: Through this lesson, students should:
Understand that Bartimaeus’ healing is as much about the recovery of spiritual sight as physical sight.
Understand that we often don’t know when we are spiritually blind.
Be encouraged to seek to see if we are spiritually blind and then ask God to help us discover our sight again.
Catch Up on the Story Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem. He and his disciples are almost to Israel’s capital city. Several times in the last few chapters, Jesus has told his followers why he is going to Jerusalem. In no uncertain terms, Jesus tells his disciples that he will be betrayed, handed over to the authorities who will cause him great suffering. Ultimately, Jesus will end up on the cross where he will die. While Jesus is sure to tell of his suffering for the sake of Israel and the world, he also is sure to mention his subsequent resurrection.
For their part, the disciples have had a hard time truly grasping what the future holds. When they do hear what Jesus says, they’re quick to denounce that it should happen. At the same time, if Jesus is going to die, then the movement he’s started will need a new leader. The disciples argue about who among them might be the greatest and so carry the movement forward.
Jesus will have none of that kind of talk. True greatness in the Kingdom of God is service and selflessness for the sake of those who are the least of theses. Leadership in the Kingdom means service, not being served. Leadership in the Kingdom moves beyond service, though, and includes leaving all behind to follow Jesus. The first will be last, and the last will be first.
While they are on the road to Jerusalem, one last time, Jesus will tell his disciples what must transpire. Again, Jesus’ teaching on what it means to lead in the Kingdom of God is lost on the disciples. James and John, who were likely the instigators of the conversation about who was the greatest disciple, approach Jesus to request that they sit on Jesus’ left and right-hand sides when he comes into Kingly power. Again, Jesus rebukes his friends, articulating once more that power in the Kingdom comes not in the ability to make others serve you but in giving your life in service to others.
The spiritual blindness of Israel’s religious insiders, as well as Jesus’ disciples, has been a theme through these last few chapters, beginning with a story about Jesus restoring a blind man’s sight (Mark 8:22-26). Not everyone who walks with Jesus ends up being able to truly see Jesus for who he is. Mark ties Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem together with one last healing story. Once again, a blind man will receive sight.
Bartimaeus The journey toward Jerusalem is almost complete. Jesus and his entourage have made it to Jericho, only 15 miles north of the capital city. They passed through the town and were making their way out of town when they came upon a blind beggar, Bartimaeus, sitting by the side of the road.
Throughout the Gospel of Mark, the road, or the way, has been a significant metaphor for discipleship. To be on the way or traveling in the way was to be in active pursuit of Jesus, seeking to follow in his footsteps. This is both literally and figuratively.
Mark tells us that Bartimaeus is sitting by the road. The blind man’s position seems only natural. If you’re begging for money, you will not sit in the street but out of the way where those passing by would throw coins your way. But the man’s position is important. It signifies that he is not yet a follower of Jesus. On the side of the road is not where he’ll remain.
Sensing a commotion on the road before him, Bartimaeus must have enquired about who was passing by. Upon learning who was traveling before him, Bartimaeus loudly calls out to Jesus, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
To this point in the narrative, Mark has been relatively quiet about Jesus’ true identity, at least as the characters in Mark’s gospel are concerned. Bartimaeus positively identifies Jesus as the Son of David. Israel hoped that a King from the line of David would come to restore the Kingdom to Israel. David’s rule was a military one, and so the hope was that the anointed one who would come as Son of David would rule as David did. He would be a liberating, unifying force.
While the masses will continue to hope that Jesus comes in the same way as David did, Bartimaeus connects Jesus’ messiahship, not with conquest, but with mercy. It seems that Bartimaeus, even though he has not been on the road with Jesus and the disciples, already knows more about Jesus’ true nature, for mercy is a vital aspect of the Kingdom that Jesus brings. It is with mercy that Jesus feeds the multitudes. It is with mercy that Jesus heals the sick and casts out demons. It is with mercy that Jesus dies for those who are and will continue to be estranged from God.
The reaction to Bartimaeus’ cry is terse. He is told to be quiet, which only encourages the blind man, and he continues to cry out even more loudly. Again and again, he cries, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
As Jesus did when the disciples tried to keep the little children from coming to him, Jesus called the man to himself. Thrilled that Jesus has responded to his request, Bartimaeus jumps up, throws off his cloak, and quickly makes his way toward Jesus.
The seemingly insignificant comment about Bartimaeus’ cloak is important for two reasons. First, the cloak was seen as an essential article for survival in life. It was one of the things that a creditor could not take from you if you were in debt. For a beggar, the cloak also represented his means of income. It was common for a beggar to spread out his cloak beside him to catch the coins passersby would throw in his direction.
The second reason the comment is important is the symbolic nature of casting off the cloak. If the cloak represented all Bartimaeus had, then throwing it aside represents his leaving everything so that he might follow Jesus. Mark may want us to see Bartimaeus in contrast with the rich young man unwilling to sell all he had and follow Jesus.
Finally, Bartimaeus comes face to face with Jesus. As if it wasn’t obvious, Jesus asks what the man wants from him. Bartimaeus responds, “My teacher, let me see again.” Some believe that the blind man’s request to see is both physical and spiritual. This man, an outsider, who has not been on the way with Jesus, desires to be made whole, physically and spiritually. He is willing to throw off all he has to obtain it.
Without hesitation, Jesus responds, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Jesus is not telling Bartimaeus to go away after he regains his sight. Instead, the imperative means something like, “no longer sit beside the road begging.” It is the same invitation that Jesus issues to everyone. Receive your sight and follow me.
Mark ends the section and chapter telling us that Bartimaeus immediately regained his sight and followed Jesus on the way. The preposition that the NRSV translates as “on” can also be translated as “in.” I believe the difference between the two is subtle. We can understand that Bartimaeus followed Jesus as he continued on his way to Jerusalem. Subsequently, we do not know what becomes of the man during or after the events of the Easter weekend.
On the other hand, if we translate the preparation as in, we might understand that Bartimaeus doesn’t just follow Jesus to Jerusalem, but that he actively follows in the way of Jesus. Bartimaeus seeks to faithfully follow Jesus, not just physically, but in the manner and spirit of God’s Kingdom. To say that Bartimaeus followed in the way of Jesus makes one believe that his healing did more than encourage the man to go to Jerusalem, but that his healing resulted in a life of faithful discipleship.
So What? Part of the tension present throughout this section of Mark’s gospel is the inability of those who should see Jesus for who is but cannot. The religious insiders, which includes the disciples at this point, constantly miss the point. They seem unable to truly comprehend who Jesus is and what he’s come to do. They are spiritually blind.
One of the questions we must ask ourselves is, are we spiritually blind and do not know it? Are we like the disciples and, even, the Jewish religious leaders, who know all the scriptures, how to act and live, but yet remain against Jesus?
Realizing when you’re blind is tough when you are constantly convinced that you are not blind. Not being able to determine if we are spiritually blind seems to be as common today as it was in Jesus’ day. So many claim that they are followers of Jesus, but who demonstrate by their words and their actions that they are blind to see who Jesus is and what he’s calling us to do.
How do we determine if we are spiritually blind but don’t know it? The answer to that question can only be found in prayer and conversation. Perhaps it begins with the prayer of the father of the demon-possessed boy we encountered a few weeks ago, “I believe, help my unbelief!” This prayer is an admission that one is not strong or sure enough to believe honestly. Maybe we need to confess that we have fallen prey to the sin of certainty? Perhaps we need to admit that we don’t yet have it all figured out? We can ask those questions of ourselves in private, but we will find better answers and more support if we ask those questions together. It will be better if we sit and pray together, “Let me see again.”
I think that what Jesus wants from us is not to be confident that we see who Jesus is correctly, but that we’re maybe a bit more like Bartimaeus. We know we are blind, but we know that we need not stay that way. When we confess our blindness, Jesus is eager to heal us, to restore our sight so that we might, once again, follow genuinely in the way of Jesus Christ.
Specific Discussion Questions: Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.
How good is your vision? Can you navigate without the need for corrective lenses? If not, what is the world around you without your glasses or contacts?
When you can’t see well, how does that make you feel?
Has there ever been a time when you thought you could see well, but in reality, could not? What was the consequence of thinking you could see?
Mark uses blindness as a metaphor for spiritual sight. Skim back over the last few chapters. Would you say that Jesus’ disciples have good spiritual sight? If so, why? If not, why?
Mark also uses the “road” or “way” symbolically to represent following after Jesus. Where do we encounter Bartimaeus? In what way is his position symbolic of his spiritual state?
Why would people not want Bartimaeus to call out to Jesus?
When Jesus calls Bartimaeus to himself, Bartimaeus throws off his cloak and runs to Jesus. Why would Mark mention this seemingly insignificant detail? Can this behavior be contrasted with the conduct of anyone else in the last two chapters? If so, how?
Keeping in mind that sight in Mark’s gospel is symbolic, what is Bartimaeus asking for from Jesus?
Jesus’ healing of Bartimaeus restores the man’s physical as well as spiritual sight. How does Bartimaeus respond to the restoration of his physical and spiritual sight?
Mark’s gospel helps us see that not everyone who thinks they have good spiritual eyesight sees well. How do we know if we have good spiritual vision? What kind of practices might we undertake to determine the quality of our sight? What things might keep us from seeing well?
If we determine that we don’t see well, what can we do about it?
 Ibid., 148.