“Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” — Mark 10:48
Why in the world does the lectionary devote an entire reading to this short little episode of Jesus and Bartimaeus? Isn’t this just another healing story among many? Important? Sure. Comforting? Certainly. Worthy of it’s own place in the lectionary? Hmmmm. That was my first reaction upon reading this week’s passage. Then I read it again. And again. This passage is great!The opening lines of the passage give us a location, Jericho. Mark’s Gospel sometimes make it appear that Jesus movements were at a frenetic pace, but it is more likely we are just getting a condensed version of the story. This location is kind of shocking. We don’t see Jesus in Jericho very often. In fact, we only hear about him visiting the city one time, and we only get one story from his time there, the narrative of Jesus and Zaccheus in Luke. But in all three of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, & Luke) Jesus visits Jericho as his last stop before going to Jerusalem for the final time. Jericho is a remarkably important place in history. It is one of the oldest towns with archeological finds, with some estimates going back as far as 9400 BC for earliest settlement. It was particularly important to the Hebrew people. Anyone familiar with the Hebrew scriptures would recognize Jericho as the key to the Promised Land from the beginning of the book of Joshua. The fall of the city to the Hebrews was proof that God was guiding them, protecting them, and upholding the promises God had made to them. It is from this location, in between the site of his baptism and Jerusalem, that Jesus embarks on his final push to Jerusalem.
The healing of the blind man is recounted in Mark and the other two synoptics (Matthew 20:29 & Luke 18:35). On the road outside of Jericho, perhaps the site of the greatest military conquest of the Hebrew people, and on what seems to have been his only visit, Jesus meets a blind man. It is unclear what all else may have transpired in Jericho, aside from the Zaccheaus episode, but this is what the Gospel writers share with us. In Mark we get the man’s name and the name of his father. This is extraordinary. It is very rare that a person receiving healing has her or his lineage noted. This man was notorious, infamous, or famous, and he recognized Jesus. Think about that for a moment. The blind man sees Jesus for who he is, and the crowd tries to silence him. Ouch.
Eventually Jesus responds to Bartimaeus, perhaps because he used Jesus’ formal title, Son of David (which is exceedingly rare in Mark). Jesus then uses the same crowd that had sought to prevent Bartimaeus from calling to Jesus to bring him forth. It is a remarkable turn of events. Throughout this passage we are reminded that we are like the blind man on the side of the road. Our lives are broken by sin, and we have fallen from notoriety. When we call out to Jesus, the world tells us we are not worthy of God’s attention. But God’s grace is not predicated upon the whim of the crowd. Anyone, no matter in what state, who calls upon Jesus will receive mercy. Our reaction to that mercy? The same as Bartimaeus, following Jesus. Jericho is once again the setting for God’s people to see God move on their behalf, and find themselves reinvigorated in seeking God.