The miracle stories in Mark’s Gospel are good reading. They are colourful, dramatic, full of lots of human detail. But at the same time, they are very carefully structured stories. Stories of the complex, step by step movement from non-belief to belief, and from belief to discipleship, imitation of Christ.
The Gospel passage this weekend is the only story in St Mark’s Gospel in which a person who is healed is given a name: Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus is far more than simply a passive recipient of Christ’s healing power. In Bartimaeus’s cry for help, he calls Christ the ‘Son of David’, the only time in Mark’s Gospel that title is used.
Even before Christ’s power is exercised, the man’s prayer is one of faith. That title would be a clear reference to the connection between the power of Christ in the healing, and the passion of Christ in Jerusalem, the city of David.
Another detail that is recorded in no other story in Mark: of all those who are healed by Christ in Mark’s Gospel, only this one got up and followed him down the road.
Bartimaeus managed to get beyond his own newfound wellbeing, his own satisfaction. He recognised and accepted the fullest implication of what had happened, of who Christ was, and he acted on that. Mark seems to be saying that he followed Christ into Jerusalem, perhaps up to the cross and beyond.
One more detail that is recorded as far as I know in no other story? When Christ heard the shouts of the blind man, the Gospel says that he stopped, ready to be of help. In other stories we might see Christ walking over to where the man was sitting, or waiting while others brought him over. But here in this image of movement to discipleship, none of that happens. This time Christ calls to the man from a distance. “I will help you of course”, he says, “but before I do, get up, and come over here where I am”.
Bartimaeus is a model of the way Christianity begins, a personal reaction to Jesus.
Jesus expects us to come to see, and to grow in faith. Some people walk through life with their eyes wide open, yet comprehend little of its meaning because they are inwardly blind or have tunnel vision. The physically blind are well aware of their handicap, the spiritually blind usually not.
After we have come to say the right words about Jesus, our faith must become more personal. Then we need to see ourselves in a more truthful way. For some, this means recognising their sins in a clearer light. The need of others is the exact opposite, to see themselves more as being loved and beautiful in God’s sight. Next, we realise that Jesus is the one who can bring us new life. Finally, we really set out on the road of true discipleship. For some people, this process may occur in their youth, for others full faith develops only over the years, perhaps after much weakness. Until we are involved in that process, we too are blind.