For the last six Sundays we have been on a journey with Jesus and his disciples, going from northern Galilee toward Jerusalem. The journey started with the healing of a blind man who only gradually came to see (Mark 8:22-26). Along the way we have read surprising texts about a suffering Messiah, greatness in the community of Jesus, tolerance toward outsiders of good will and the need to avoid scandal, fidelity in marriage and accepting God’s kingdom as a gift, riches as a possible obstacle to happiness and salvation and Jesus’ ideal of servant leadership. At several points Jesus had to correct misunderstandings on the part of his closest followers. What he has offered are challenging teachings about who he is (Christology) and what it means to follow him (discipleship).
Today’s reading from Mark 10 brings the journey nearly to a close. It is the narrative of the healing of another blind man, the beggar Bartimaeus, which takes place just as Jesus is leaving Jericho on the way to Jerusalem. In many respects this account is like other Markan healing stories. There is the physical problem of Bartimaeus’s blindness. Bartimaeus displays a deep and persistent faith in Jesus’ power to heal him. And the cure is immediate and complete.
The story of Bartimaeus also provides a model for all who follow Jesus “on the way.” His journey begins with a glimmer of faith, the hope that Jesus the Son of David could heal him. It grows with his plea, “Have pity on me.” When rebuked by others, Bartimaeus persists in calling on Jesus. When asked by Jesus what he wants, he expresses himself in the words of every would-be disciple, “I want to see.” He does come to see on both the physical and the spiritual level. His response to his healing is to follow Jesus “on the way.” That way, of course, leads to Jerusalem, the place of Jesus’ passion and death.
It is likely that both Mark’s Gospel and the Letter to the Hebrews were written in Rome within a few years of each other. Some scholars have perceived a complementarity between the two works, with Mark taking us up to Jesus’ passion and death and Hebrews reflecting on the theological significance of Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection and exaltation taken as a whole. Today’s reading from Hebrews 5 develops further the themes of Jesus as the perfect sacrifice for sins and as the great high priest. It identifies Jesus as high priest with regard to his role, person and appointment.
The role of the Jewish high priest was to offer sacrifices to God and serve as a representative of the people. Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice for sins and continues to act as our mediator at “the throne of grace.” The person of the Jewish high priest was very much a human being, beset by weakness and sin. While no stranger to human weakness, Jesus the Son of God was able to deal compassionately with sinners without himself succumbing to sin. The appointment of the Jewish high priest was limited to men who could trace their ancestry to the tribe of Levi and to Aaron the brother of Moses. Since Jesus was from the tribe of Judah rather than Levi, he could not act as the Jewish high priest while he was on earth. The author of Hebrews argues, however, that Jesus the Son of God was appointed directly by God to an even better priesthood by quoting his two favorite Old Testament texts: “You are my son, this day I have begotten you” (Ps 2:7), and “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Ps 110:4).
Today’s reading from Hebrews reminds us that the way of Jesus does not end in Jerusalem. In his role, person and appointment Jesus surpassed every high priest in ancient Israel. Through him we can approach the throne of grace with confidence and boldness, and we can expect mercy and favor from God. The way of Jesus leads to eternal life with God.
The celebration of the feast of All Saints this week reminds us that many followers of Jesus have continued to walk in his way. The scene of the saints on earth and in heaven in Revelation 7 illustrates that we belong to a communion of saints. As the short passage from 1 John 3 indicates, what unites the saints in heaven and on earth is their common identity as “God’s children now.” The beatitudes from Matthew 5 list the virtues and attitudes that we must cultivate and practice if we are to enjoy the fullness of eternal life in the kingdom of God. On All Saints Day we celebrate those men and women who, like Bartimaeus, professed their faith in Jesus, came to see things more clearly and followed him along the way.