Mark’s Jesus is on a rescue mission. Jesus has come to gather up any who remained faithful to God and carry them away before the coming apocalyptic storm. For mysterious reasons, God had delayed the final act of this drama. Mark’s community found themselves waiting for deliverance during a time of great distress. Many must have questioned the truth of the Gospel and the power of Jesus Christ. The narrative of Bartimaeus speaks to this reality.
‘Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.” (Mk 10:49)
What can encourage you to follow Jesus even to Jerusalem?
Whose faith have you stirred with words of encouragement?
Mark finds deep symbolism in Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. It is clear from the outset that this is where Jesus would meet his fate, and his preaching grows urgent as the road unwinds. Mark recounts two related topics of this preaching: Jesus’ passion and resurrection, and the sacrifices of discipleship. Just as Jesus had to give his life to fulfill his mission, so his disciples would have to give their own lives as they made the same mission their own.
Jesus heals blind men near the beginning and end of the journey. In Mk 8:22-26, it was the faith of the blind man’s friends that led to an encounter with Jesus. Throughout the short narrative, the blind man himself remained a passive character. By contrast, in this Sunday’s Gospel passage, Bartimaeus’s enthusiasm is clear throughout.
Versions of this narrative also appear in Mt 20:29-34 and Lk 18:35-43. Mark includes details the other Evangelists omit, and these reveal his unique theological insights. When Jesus sends someone to call Bartimaeus over to him, the person tells Bartimaeus, “Take courage!” Matthew and Luke leave these words out, and also omit Bartimaeus’s actions once he was called: “He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.” This brief description packs a significant emotional punch. Bartimaeus is an eager participant, and his faith is obvious.
In each synoptic version of this healing, the narrative ends with the healed man (or men, in Matthew’s case) following Jesus on the way. In Mark’s Gospel, this means that Bartimaeus had made Jesus’ fate his own. The faith that had delivered him from blindness had also transformed him in other ways. One can imagine Mark sharing this narrative to bolster the flagging zeal of his own besieged community. As it had done for Bartimaeus, faith in Christ had transformed their lives, and Mark reminds them of the initial excitement many of them must have felt. The words “Take courage! Get up, Jesus is calling you!” are directed as much at Mark’s fellow Christians as they had been at Bartimaeus. Mark’s words do not fall without effect in our own troubled times. Many today would benefit from remembering the initial excitement of their first encounter with Christ and the gift they made of their lives in the joy of that moment.
The task of evangelizing does not end even in difficult times. Jesus’ disciples today can take example from the unnamed disciple whose words stirred Bartimaeus’s courage and faith. How often in our daily journeys do we encounter individuals who long to encounter divine grace but are blind to the way? A simple word of encouragement and a brief pointer to the right direction might be all it takes to bring an anguished soul to the source of healing.