Cycling enthusiasts know that the Tour de France ends today. This week I read of a special award that is given to one rider in the race. It is the “Lanterne Rouge.” This name comes from the railroad, where a red lantern was placed on the last car of a train, letting the conductor know that the train was complete. Leonard has written a book about a dozen of these riders who made the Tour complete when they crossed the finish line in last place.
One of them was a Frenchman Jacky Durand, who was known for aggressive racing. In an early stage in 1999, Durand was involved in a crash in which he dislocated his shoulder and then had his leg run over by a car. Amazingly, he stayed in the race, and after a few days of slow riding, he recovered enough to return to riding aggressively. Although he finished as the Lanterne Rouge, he also stood on the podium to receive the award for being the most aggressive rider in the Tour! That is persistence!
Today in Mark 10:46-52, we read of another man who was very persistent in getting what he desired: his sight. Bartimaeus’ persistent faith and Jesus’ response to his faith should encourage us in our walk with Jesus. Let’s read Mark 10:46-52.
Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem, the place where he will fulfill his mission. Jericho was located about 18 miles northeast of Jerusalem. The old city had been rebuilt since it fell to Joshua as the people entered Canaan. And now Herod had built his grand winter palace on this site. Jesus passes through this rather lavish place on the way to Jerusalem.
The crowd which came out of Jericho with Jesus and the disciples likely was made up of pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for the feast. A blind beggar just outside the city gates, especially at a time of pilgrimage, was a common sight in ancient Palestine, much like homeless persons on many corners today. The fact that Mark mentions his name is notable and is limited to Mark’s account. Mark rarely notes the names of those healed and in fact does so only here and in Mark 5:22 with the healing of Jairus’ daughter. It is quite possible that Bartimaeus, the Son of Timaeus was known later on in the early church and that is why Mark mentions him by name.
As the group passes by, Bartimaeus hears that it includes Jesus and starts calling out to him: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Clearly Bartimaeus had heard of Jesus and his relentless crying reflects his faith. He was confident that Jesus could indeed give him his sight back. “Have mercy on me” is a cry to God by the afflicted that is often found in the Psalms. In this setting, he is pleading for God’s mercy hopefully brought through Jesus. But why did he call Jesus the “Son of David?”
Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark has made little of the title “Son of David” for Jesus and in fact, Jesus is referred to by this name only here. It may be Mark’s way of declaring that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. Notice that Jesus did not silence the man here like he did with the disciples in Mark 8. Jesus’ “messianic secret” is relaxed now because now it will be time to reveal to all that Jesus goes to Jerusalem as the Messiah and that he will die as the Messiah. Certainly Mark’s readers understood the title as confirming Jesus as Messiah. The problem is that Bartimaeus likely didn’t mean it in that way. In fact, when he comes to Jesus he addresses him respectfully as “Rabbi” and there is no suggestion of Jesus as Messiah at that point.
It is perhaps better to find in the term “Son of David” a respectful form of address which was influenced by the vivid associations of Jerusalem with King David. Certainly Bartimaeus believed that Jesus was the instrument of God for bringing healing and blessing to the land in a time of longing for a revival of the kingdom. It is evident from the Triumphal Entry in Mark 11:10 that the people in general could speak of “our father David” thinking that they were all sons of David. Bartimaeus saw Jesus as one from whom he could expect God’s gracious mercy. There is no indication that Jesus rejected this title and in fact, in light of Jesus calling for the man to come to him, it may well have gotten Jesus’ attention more. Yet Bartimaeus using this term allows Mark’s readers to hear his cry of “Son of David” as a firm acknowledgment of Jesus as messiah.
The crowd, however, responded to Bartimaeus by rebuking him. They likely considered his shouting a nuisance which would only delay their journey. For example, imagine seeing a person with car problems on the way to church. You don’t want to stop to help this person, since it will make you late to church. Moreover, the people in the crowd had probably become quite hardened to seeing beggars along the roadside crying for help. Still the man persisted in calling until he succeeded in getting Jesus’ attention.
A few months ago, Claire had some stroke like symptoms and we called the cancer clinic to find out what we should do. For some reason, the clinic receptionist wasn’t getting the message through to the nurse practitioner and no one called us back. Going to the ER would mean being evaluated for a stroke without them understanding the fuller picture of the cancer and her ongoing treatments. Finally, we just drove to the clinic and walked in without an appointment. We persisted and within minutes the nurse practitioner was talking with us and helping us to understand what was going on and helping us. This man saw a way for his need to be addressed and he persisted with Jesus. We too can cry out for God’s mercy boldly and persistently. Even if our cries become a bother to others, we cry out and ask for God’s help. In our needs, let’s not be afraid to imitate this man who was in such dire need.
Jesus ignores the people’s protests for even on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus had time for a man who appealed to him for help in faith and so calls for the man to be brought to him. I love the crowd’s response now: “Cheer up! He’s calling for you!” There is hope! At this Bartimaeus threw aside his outer garment, which he had spread out on the ground in front of him to receive the alms, jumped up and ran to Jesus. I can imagine him running, bumping into people being so eager to be with Jesus!
In verses 50-52, we see that Jesus again gets involved with the person so that he could determine if the person’s faith was sufficient to receive the healing gift of God. Jesus often had brief conversations with the person who was seeking healing. The cause of Bartimaeus’ distress was clear, but Jesus’ question is designed to strengthen his faith by encouraging him to express it boldly: “What do you want me to do for you?” It struck me that Jesus had just asked this question in the passage before. In Mark 10:36, he asked his disciples the exact same question when they wanted something and they responded with a request for self-serving honor and position. Now Jesus asks this blind man the same question and notice his response.
Bartimaeus’ response was simple and direct: “Rabbi, I want to see!” This was recognized by Jesus as faith in him and in his power to heal. The result was immediate and Bartimaeus received his sight and followed Jesus. Following here does not mean that Bartimaeus became a disciple like one of the disciples when they left everything to follow Jesus. Rather it means that he joined the crowd of pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. Notice that Jesus tells him to “go” instead of telling him to follow Jesus. So Jesus is not calling him to be one of the twelve. Rather, Bartimaeus follows the crowd of pilgrims to the temple in Jerusalem in order to offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving for his recovered sight.
Mark may have had in mind an Old Testament reference to highlight the mission of Jesus. In 2 Samuel 5:6-8, the new King David came to Jerusalem to take it from the Jebusites. The Jebusites, who lived there, said that the even blind and the lame will be able to defeat David and prevent him from taking their city. David in fact took the city and in a bit of irony said that the Jebusites may be allowed to live there, but they, as the blind and lame, may never enter the palace. Jesus has now fulfilled the condition for entrance into Jerusalem by restoring the sight to the blind beggar and now the formerly blind can enter into holy city. The healing of Bartimaeus clearly shows the messianic power of Jesus as well as his compassion on those who believe in him. Jesus’ coming brings radical changes to God’s people in the new kingdom.
From 1948 until 1991, the nation of South Africa upheld Apartheid, the legal separation of whites who were the leaders from blacks and mixed race people. Finally, the system was removed and South Africa’s Anglican Archbishop, Desmond Tutu, was a driving force behind that country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission to bring reconciliation to a nation deeply divided. As the old rulers handed power over to leaders elected by the people, there was a need for tribunals to heal the pain caused by decades of ugly racial discrimination. Tutu later confessed his astonishment at the ability of South Africans to achieve reconciliation -- even after terrible crimes such as “necklacing,” in which a person has a gasoline-filled automobile tire placed around the head, and subsequently set afire.
Tutu said this in a 1997 interview: “I have found breathtaking and, in fact, exhilarating, the magnanimity of people, the incredible nobility of spirit of people who have suffered as much as they have suffered. So many of them are ready to forgive, which sometimes makes you feel as though you should take your shoes off because you are stepping on holy ground.” It was a whole new day that was ushered in with the nation of South Africa. By healing Bartimaeus and bringing him into Jerusalem, Jesus is ushering in a new day.
IV. So what does this teach us about faith and following Jesus?
Sometimes if we are honest with ourselves, it’s difficult at times to have faith, isn’t it? There are many things in our lives where we can start to wonder, “Will God do this?” or even, “Can God do this?” The healing we desire seems to be elusive or the job remains frustrating. The reconciliation we want with a loved one seems stubbornly resisted. Let’s persist in faith and keep crying out to the Lord of Lords, “Jesus, please help us!” Jesus recognizes and honors strong faith and we must be ready to express that.
Medical Missionary Larry Frick tells about a Christian woman named Constantine who was swept away when the mudslide hit. Miraculously, she was able to grab onto a tree and thus avoid being buried and killed. She also reached for and held onto her 8-year-old grandson, saving his life as well. For the next three days, Constantine and her grandson remained buried in mud up to their shoulders. She had watched 30 of her family members be swept away.
Frick reports, “Did Constantine’s ordeal result in loss of faith? No! She passed the time awaiting rescue with her grandson by singing hymns and psalms and making up new choruses. What a privilege to hear her share some of those beautiful songs. Though I don’t know a bit of Spanish, I could sense the true worship of God in her song.”
And so when God saves us, let’s remember to do what Bartimaeus did. We must get up and express our gratitude to God for his answer to our need. We must always thank God for his saving grace. And we must always thank God for the way he provides for us daily as well.
But let’s also remember where Jesus is going: to Jerusalem where he will give up his life for the sins of the world. Jesus is going to Jerusalem to suffer and serve to establish the new kingdom. And we are to take up our cross and follow Jesus in this new kingdom as well. We must seek out ways to help and serve others. Let’s praise God for the healing he gives us both for eternity and in the things we face even now; then let’s be serving others by taking up our cross and following Jesus.