At the Roadside
The story of the encounter of Jesus with Bartimeus brings to a conclusion this section of St Mark’s Gospel. Look in the Gospel and read what happens next and you’ll see what I mean; Jesus enters Jerusalem. So this moment is an important one in the overall context of the message.
The whole of the section of the gospel which we have been reading has about it a sense of movement and journey. It began many weeks ago with a miracle story about faith and our reception of it and our response to it. The miracle of the blind man at Bethsaida, whose coming to sight takes place in stages, is witnessed by the disciples, who hear Jesus telling this man to go home, explaining that he was not even to go into the village. It is a perplexing moment as if Jesus is instructing him that there is more to understand before true discipleship can be expressed. It is at this stage in the narrative that Jesus begins that instruction. The three fold prediction of the passion with the announcement of how he will be handed over into the hands of men, to be put to death and then to rise again after three days is what he begins to unfold. As we have listened to these predictions and their aftermath, we have also seen how the disciples fail to understand what Jesus is telling them. Although they walk with Jesus it is as if their journeying with him is on another level as their own agendas and concerns seemingly have more importance for them than the gospel message which Jesus is proclaiming. They hear what jesus says but fail to take on board its importance and hence Peter’s constant questioning; Do you mean this for us? and James and John’s selfish demand that Jesus do them a favour. They are lost in their own thoughts and wishes for themselves, Jesus words of service and self abandonment for the joy of the gospel find no home in them as all they see mapped out is a future of glory for themselves. so the journey which the disciples have made has not really got them anywhere. They are still in a metaphorical sense, blind themselves, and to a degree they have not journeyed anywhere. To all intents and purposes they remain very much at the roadside. Enter Bartmeaus.
What marks the story out is the way in which the disciples react to him. Here is blind man, begging at the roadside. He is a marginalised person who has nothing left but his cloak. Yet he addresses Jesus not with a demand for a favour but with a plea for mercy. Initially the response of the disciples is to admonish him, yet Jesus stops and tells them to call him. Suddenly something has changed and their reaction to him takes on a completely different dimension. Has the light of faith at last begun to filter through to their own minds? The three words which follow evoke this enlightening, as in beckoning Bartimeus to Jesus they use three words of deep significance: Courage, arise, he calls you. Embedded in these words is the Christian call to vocation and faith.
With courage Bartimeus throws away the last vestige he has of any earthly goods as he discards his cloak. In his getting to his feet he evokes a type of resurrection and in his walking now with Jesus to Jerusalem, he responds fully to his vocation. He is no longer at the roadside. Instead he is called to discipleship in the fulness of knowledge of what this means for him as he is enlightened and gathered in, to walk in the light of faith.