Leaving Perea, crossing the Jordan and passing through Jericho, Jesus heals the blind man Bartimaeus. This is no mere human interest story in the Gospel of Mark. On the contrary, it enacts and anticipates the kingdom of God.
Just prior to Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah Mark’s narrative told the story of another blind man’s healing (8:22-26). The healing of Bartimaeus bookends Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and testifies to not only the reality of the coming kingdom but also its nature. The healing of the blind is part of the promise of the kingdom (see Isaiah 29:18-19; 35:5-6), and in the light of the emphasis of Mark 8-10, it also announces that the kingdom belongs to the last and marginalized which was the lot of the blind in first century Palestine. The kingdom of God belongs to the last, to the children, to the blind.
Kingdom expectation is high among this group travelling with Jesus to Jerusalem. James and John requested a place in the kingdom. The disciples are arguing about greatness in the kingdom. Jesus is headed to the seat of Davidic rule, the city where David and his descendants reigned for centuries. The Passover is near and consequently Messianic hopes are high. When Jesus enters Jerusalem he is greeted with the acclamation, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” (Mark 11:10). Even Bartimaeus shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us!” He gives Jesus a Messianic title.
Jesus is viewed as “Son of David,” as Messiah. He is recognized as one who comes in the name of the Lord and as a descendant of David. He walks through Jericho as the acclaimed heir of David’s throne. He is royalty.
He is royalty, and his royal entourage protects him. As the blind man—one of the “last” of society—cried out for mercy, “many” told him to shut up. This was no mere quieting but a rebuke. This is the word that Jesus used to rebuke demons (Mark 1:25; 9:25), waves (Mark 4:35) and Peter (Mark 8:33). Just as the disciples rebuked parents who brought their children to Jesus (Mark 10:13), so “many” (including the disciples?) rebuked this blind man whose sole request was for “mercy.” The royal entourage does not understand the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God is mercy for the last. Jesus stopped. He was not passing through Jericho to conduct a healing crusade, but he heard the cry for mercy and, no doubt, heard those who rebuked him. Such treatment cannot be allowed to stand in the name of the kingdom of God. Jesus, therefore, enacts the kingdom of God in this situation.
Jesus calls him, the blind beggar comes, Jesus heals, and the new disciple follows. Calling the blind…the blind come…Jesus heals the blind…and the healed follow Jesus is the story of the kingdom of God. Jesus, as the embodiment of the kingdom of God, reverses the brokenness of the world and brings mercy to the marginalized, to the last.
Jesus asks the blind beggar, “What do you want me to do for you?” It is a service question; a ministry question. “How can I help you?” “What can I do for you?” “What do you need?” It is the question we should be asking others.
His answer seems an obvious one but it is grounded in faith. The Messiah would heal the lame and give sight to the blind. He has confessed him as the “Son of David;” he has heard something about the Messianic mission of Jesus. He believes and therefore he speaks. He believes and therefore he asks. So should we.
And Jesus compassionately extends mercy. Through faith the blind man sees again. The kingdom of God is enacted! The encounter between this man and Jesus announces the kingdom of God. It is healing for the blind and mercy for the last.
The story is an invitation to believe the good news of the kingdom of God. But it is also a reminder that the kingdom of God belongs to the last.
Who are we in this story? We are the blind beggar before God. We are often the disciples who rebuke the last instead of showing mercy. We are called to become Jesus in this story, to be Jesus.
Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.