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Bartimaeus “An Oasis” by Jonathan Strowd

The meaning of the notion “blindness” may be interpreted literary, as a physical defect of a person, but its figurative meaning is more interesting as it finds its realization in Mark 10: 46-52. The pisode narrates about the healing of the blind beggar named Bartimaeus, who was sitting “by the roadside” (Mar 10: 46) waiting for salvation. Though the man is discouraged by the crowd, as “many sternly ordered him to be quiet” (Mar 10: 48), he is persistent (Schweizer: 1970, 224) and Jesus heals him, emphasizing that his faith has made him well (Mar 10: 52).

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The episode demonstrates the nearness “of the good news of God’s victory over the physical brokenness of the world” (McCrachen: 2009, 212). Thus, the interpretation of the story as a mere case of healing would be too superficial since it carries not only literal meaning but figurative one too. The episode of the healing of the Blind Bartimaeus depicts him as the model of Christian discipleship (Galloway: 2009, 215).

The theme of blindness is “a unifying theme” of the whole Gospel of Mark and it finds its realization gradually with the help of several episodes that intensify the theme of discipleship in the character of Bartimaeus (McCrachen: 2009, 212). The symbolic meaning of the healing of the beggar is reached with the help of two other episodes of healing that can be found in Mark, the healing of the deaf and mute man in Mar 7: 31-37 and the healing of the man in Bethsaida in Mar 8: 22-26. These two episodes demonstrate miraculous healings and help to emphasize the meaning of the final healing in the Gospel, which is the Bartimaus’ recovery of sight and enlightenment (Lane: 1974, 386).

It is evident that the two cures (Bartimaeus’ and that of the man in Bethsaida) “play a symbolic role, bracketing Jesus’ attempt to overcome the (spiritual) ‘blindness’ of the disciples with respect to his true identity and mission” (Bryne: 2008, 170). Moreover, “two-stage cure of the blind man of Bethsaida foreshadows the partial healing of Peter’s blindness” (Bryne: 2008, 170). The idea of discipleship is shown in the same Chapter as the blindness of Jesus’ disciples in comparison with the strong faith of the blind beggar is stressed throughout the Chapter (Coogan: 2007, 78), (Perkins: 1995, 656).

Selfish request of the disciples, James and John (Mar 10:34-37), to share the glory of the Messiah is contrasted with the entreaty of Bartimaeus, which is aimed at spiritual healing instead of material benefit. Blindness of the disciples, greed of the man willing to become immortal (Mar 10:17-22) contribute to the image of Bartimaeus as the model of discipleship. Besides, after recovery of sight, Bartimeaus follows Jesus “in striking contrast to the disciples” (Coogan: 2007, 78).

In fact, even the use of words in the episode of the healing stress the theme of discipleship proving multidimensionality and the depth of the Holy Scripture. Such is the phrase “have mercy” repeated by Bartimaeuse twice and addressed to Jesus (Mar 10: 47-48).

The use of the phrase presupposes the speaker’s recognition of the authority of the person who is the addressee of the request. Thus, Bartimaeus is shown as a person who does not question the mission and authority of Jesus. Absolute faith of the blind man and his readiness to abandon everything for the sake of his faith is shown with the help of the phrase “throwing off his cloak”, where “cloak” stands for all Bartimaeus’ possessions or even his life on the whole (Mar 10: 50). Thus, the true disciple is ready to abandon everything and follow the Teacher, as Jesus says himself (Mar 10: 29).

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Finally, the word “faith” is one more clue to the nature of true discipleship as in the episode it means the belief in God that is capable of saving and protecting a person as it is stated by Jesus: “Your faith has made you well” (Mar 10:52).

It is also necessary to consider the episode from the point of view of the time of its creation and the society of time of Jesus. First, begging was typical of that time and the choice of the beggar as the main character of the healing suggests that enlightenment could be accessible to everyone without any restriction and the only condition would be the person’s readiness “to throw off the old cloak” and recover faith. Second, blindness was considered to be the punishment of a person for his/her sin or the sin of his/her parents. Probably, this is the reason why the crowd is trying to interfere with Batrimaeus’ crying for mercy as he is considered unworthy of mercy, and the people try “to keep Bartimaeus from hailing Jesus” (Adams: 2009, 213).

Jesus pays no attention to the tradition, he implies that the one who has faith deserves salvation despite of the former sins. Jesus addresses the crowd saying: “Call him here” (Mar 10:49). Doing this, Jesus is “commanding to gathered crowd to become the disciples” too (Jarvis: 2009, 214). Also, theologically, the healing is “a metonym of the work of Christ” and it shows that even the blindness of the disciples cannot “impede the work of Christ in the world” (McCracken: 2009, 214).

Mark makes use of the key words and concepts from the Old Testament and they add depth and symbolic meaning to the Chapter and episode. In the episode, Bartimaeus calls Jesus “son of David” for the first time in the Gospel (Schweizer: 1970, 224), (Adam: 2009, 215), though, for instance, Gospel of Matthew states that Jesus is the son of David in the first verse (Adam: 2009, 215). In fact, Old Testament states that “a ‘son of David’ was expected to restore the fortunes of Israel as king” (2 Sam 5.1-5) (Coogan: 2007, 78).

Thus, the phrase “son of David” shows that Bartimaues is the only person who can really see the mission of the Messiah; the blind man is the only sighted person while the disciples are spiritually blind. Besides, the significance of the author’s mentioning Jericho is evident since it means the soon arrival at Jerusalem as Jericho is 21 km from Jerusalem (Coogan: 2007, 78) and identification of the concrete place of action makes the episode more reliable. Also, in Chapter 10 Mark uses such words from the Old Testament, as, the word that stood for “cup” meaning suffering that Jesus has to face and this stresses blindness of the disciples again (Perkins: 1995, 653).

The setting of the story is interesting in two perspectives: in its literary meaning, i.e. the road to Jerusalem and so-called “the Sitz im Leben”, the place of the episode in the Chapter. The literary setting carries the idea of the soon arrival at Jerusalem, the destination point of Jesus. This is “the place where the Passion will take place” and Mark 10 reminds the disciples about it again (Schweizer: 1970, 216). The setting of the road suggests soon changes and constant movement. As for the “Sitz im Leben” of the passage, it “frames and competes the section” preceding Jesus’ coming to Jerusalem (Coogan: 2007, 78).

McCrachen (2009, 212, 214) calls the episode “concluding bookend” and “culmination of the section”. Adams (2009, 213) says that the two healings “bracket the portion of … the passion prediction”. It is really so, the healing is the climax of the Chapter, it finally shows the perfect example for the disciples and common people to follow to be saved spiritually. The healing is symbolic presentation of the power of strong faith that can recover sight and save the believer.

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Researchers agree that the episode has deep symbolic meaning (McGrahen: 2009, 212), (Bryne: 2008, 170). Schweizer (1970, 224) calls Bartimaues “the picture of discipleship” that proves the thesis of this paper. “Spiritual blindness of the disciples” is stressed by Bryne (2008, 170) and Perkins agrees, saying that Barimaeus is the “counterpoint to the fear, silence and hesitation with which the twelve are following Jesus to Jerusalem” (Perkins: 1995, 656).

However, Perkins and Lane decide that Bartimaeus does not become a disciple, Lane (1974, 389) suggests his becoming a pilgrim and Perkins offers similar idea (1995, 656). However, no doubt, that Bartimaeus has recovered sight and is the only faithful person in the Chapter, which makes him a model of discipleship.

Drawing a conclusion, it is possible to state the healing of Bartimaeus is a deep symbolic episode describing recovery of faith. In fact, the passage “brings together wholeness, and discipleship” (Galloway: 2009, 217). Bartimaeus is the “person of faith” and his strong belief in the power of God and his readiness to sacrifice everything he has makes him a true disciple of Jesus (Galloway: 2009, 217). As for the modern application of the periscope, it may be used in any sermon or lesson that is aimed at recovery of faith.

People, who are desperate or erring may follow the example of Barthimaeus and recover their faith. Children are sure to benefit from the episode, as its message is clear if properly explained. The healing is “a miracle” and it is able “to bring people from darkness into the light” (Jarvis: 2009, 214). The main lessons that the audience should learn from the periscope are that it is necessary to “attend to the other’s cry for mercy” (Jarvis: 2009, 214) and that Bartimaeus invites us “to accompany Jesus to Jerusalem” “with open eyes of faith” (Bryne: 2008, 171).

Reference List

Adam, A.K. M. “Exegetical Perspective of Mark 10: 46-52.” In Feasting on the World, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, 212-217. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.

Bryne, Brendan. Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2008.

Coogan, Michael. The New Oxford Annotated Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Galloway, Lincoln E. “Homiletical Perspective of Mark 10: 46-52.” In Feasting on the World, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, 212-217. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.

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Jarvis, Cynthia A. “Pastoral Perspective of Mark 10: 46-52.” In Feasting on the World, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, 212-217. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.

Lane, William L. The Gospel According to Mark – The English Text with Introduction, Exposition, and Notes. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Erdmans Publishing Company, 1974.

McCracken, Victor. “Theological Perspective of Mark 10: 46-52.” In Feasting on the World, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, 212-217. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.

Perkins, Pheme. “The Gospel of Mark: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections.” In The New Interpreter’s Bible – General Articles on the New Testament – The Gospel of Matthew/The Gospel of Mark, ed. Leander E. Keck, 652-657. Nashville: Abington Press, 1995.

Schweizer, Edward. The Good News According to Mark. Trans. Donald H. Madwig. Richmond, Va.: John Knox Press, 1970.

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