Mark 10: 46-52. The assault on Jerusalem.

And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.”

Jesus is a man on a mission at this point in Mark’s Gospel. He has been striding out on the road up to Jerusalem, his disciples trailing in his wake. Now they’ve come to Jericho- the last staging-post for pilgrims travelling to the Temple. Jesus and his disciples stop there, and as they leave, they pass by a blind beggar on the road.

  1. Why are we told that a great crowd was with Jesus, and that Bartimaeus followed Jesus on the way?
  2. What is Mark’s purpose at this point of the Gospel?
  3. How does this miracle fit into Mark’s scheme? What is distinctive about it?
  4. Why is Mark concerned to tell us that this occurred on the road out of Jericho (rather than the road into Jericho), and that Jesus was identified as the “Son of David”?
  5. How and why is this incident linked in to the previous incident? What ought we to take from this passage?

 

1. Why are we told that a great crowd was with Jesus, and that Bartimaeus followed Jesus on the way?

When Mark tells us that a great crowd was following Jesus, and then that Bartimaeus joined this crowd and followed Jesus on the way, he is developing a scene that has already been set. He wants to show us something of the anticipation of the crowd, and of the developing sense that this is a big occasion, an event of interest to everybody living in Israel.

Already, we’ve seen something of the tension that surrounds this particular journey. Earlier, (10:32) we saw that those who followed Jesus were amazed and afraid. The atmosphere was pregnant. The crowd around Jesus feel the air crackle. It is plain that Jesus is heading to Jerusalem, and there is a sense that momentous events are just around the corner. This is Jesus’ final journey. He’s headed to his last destination. There is something about him as he strides out ahead of the crowds that makes them afraid.

Why is this so? Why should the crowds care about some Galilean preacher and miracle worker going on tour? Well, first because they all know where he’s going, and second, because many of them have some idea about what might happen when he gets there.

The crowd all know where Jesus is going- they’ve been to Jerusalem plenty of times on pilgrimage themselves. And Jerusalem is the centre of the nation. It’s not just the capital city- it’s the centre from which the life of the nation flows. London is an important city to Britain. It’s the place where our government resides. It’s where our TV producers, film makers, and newspaper industry, are based. It’s the cultural centre of the country. It’s where our big businesses have their headquarters. It’s a focal point for our history. Kings have been crowned here, and revolutions planned. Ideas that have changed the Western world have gone out from London. But to a Jew, Jerusalem was incomparably more that London could be to an Englishman. Jerusalem was all that London is and more. It was not only the financial and cultural centre, not only the place where the Sanhedrin met and deliberated; it was the religious centre of the nation. Jerusalem had many attractions, but the most important thing about it was that it was the holy city, the place where the Temple was built. Jerusalem was where God had his footstool. It was where heaven and earth met, where God’s feet touched the ground. If anything big was going to happen, then it was going to happen in Jerusalem.

And anyone who knew anything about Jesus could see that something big was about to happen. Jesus is well known through the whole land as a miracle worker and teacher. He’s a celebrity, a topic of bar-room gossip. Some say he is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old. Some say he is Elijah. Some say he is John the Baptist back from the dead. Whoever he is, he’s interesting. And now he is heading for Jerusalem. What will he do when he gets there?

Will he proclaim himself king, as the disciples seem to expect (James and John think he will soon be coming into his kingdom)? Will he do great miracles and blast idolatry, like Elijah? Will he preach against the sin of Israel, and call the nation to repentance, like John the Baptist? Whatever he does, the crowd expect it to be significant, important. They want to be there to witness it. There is an excitement in the air, a feeling that history is about to be made.

And now, Mark points out for us that there was a great crowd with Jesus. After Jesus has passed through Jericho and comes to the final leg of the journey to Jerusalem, he has managed to pick up a lot of followers and hangers-on. As he has gone along the way, people have joined him. Many of them were going to Jerusalem anyway- it’s nearly Passover time, and masses of people would be going to Jerusalem for the festival. But they attach themselves to Jesus because they’re curious. This is no longer just a journey by a group of friends, going to Jerusalem as a small private group. It’s no longer even a travelling preacher going with a sizeable group of followers. This is now a major public event. It will actually become a triumphant procession when it reaches Jerusalem, but even now it’s a “great crowd”.

Bartimaeus also follows Jesus. He ends up going with the crowd up to Jerusalem behind Jesus. Which is odd, because Jesus told him to go his way. Jesus said, “Off you go then”. But Bartimaeus didn’t go off. Instead, he joined Jesus. Again, we have the impression of an official procession. Bartimaeus wanted to join Jesus’ retinue. He wants to be part of this, whatever is going to happen. He wants to be with Jesus and see him do what he will do in Jerusalem. We’re given the feeling of a movement that gathers momentum as it goes along. These people are caught up in it. They are gripped by what is going on. They want Jesus to reach Jerusalem, and they want to see what he’ll do when he does

2. What is Mark’s purpose at this point of the Gospel?

The one great point Mark wants to make is that the first shall be last, and the last first. The big theme of the whole of the last few chapters has been the way Jesus’ kingdom works. His kingdom is one of humble suffering, because he is a suffering servant King. Jesus has revealed to his disciples that he is going to suffer and die. They think that he has come as a great warrior-king, to strike down God’s enemies and rule in justice and righteousness from Jerusalem. Jesus tells them that he will first be handed over, as though powerless, and will be put to death. Every episode Mark has recorded since the transfiguration has gone to underline this theme. We can see this if we travel through a painfully brief whistle-stop tour of Mark since the transfiguration.

9:14-29- The disciples and Jesus are like the father and his son. The disciples only get half the story- they believe and don’t believe. Victory over evil will come only through death and resurrection.

9:30-50- Jesus’ kingdom is one where the king dies. The most important person in the kingdom lays down his life for those less important. That is the whole ethos of the kingdom. Great ones must care for little ones more than they care for their own honour.

10:1-10- The law in Jesus’ kingdom isn’t about exercising power and authority, but about loving and protecting the weaker members, and keeping promises made to them.

10:13-31- Those who have no possessions and no status, will find it easier to be part of Jesus kingdom than those who are accustomed to giving orders and being given respect.

10:32-45- Jesus came to die, in a humiliating way. His followers are obsessed with honour, but as events pan out, they will drink Jesus’ cup of suffering. They will account it an honour to suffer for his sake. The Gentiles love to lord it over each other, but it shall not be so among them, says Jesus- because even the great and glorious Son of Man, the shining eternal emperor of the whole world in Daniel 7, came to serve and to give up his life for others.

The disciples are concerned with power and authority and being great. Their master is willing to make himself of no account and to be the servant of all. And his kingdom will reflect those characteristics. The character of any kingdom is moulded on the pattern of those who rule it. Those who follow Jesus must be willing to serve and to suffer. They must be humble. We, as Christians, must be humble. We must, because Jesus came to die for us. He did not come to lord it over his people, to grind them down and oppress them like a Gentile king. He came to lay down his life for their sakes. He came to serve them. He humiliated himself for their good.

The disciples have not understood this. They think of the Messiah as a majestic victorious warrior, a leader for all men to respect and reverence. And they think of death and service as things not fitting for this Messiah. Their ideas about what deserves respect and reverence are out of step with God’s ideas.

3. How does this miracle fit into Mark’s scheme? What is distinctive about it?

This is Jesus last healing miracle in Mark’s Gospel, and we’ve moved a long way since the first healing miracle. It is now well established for Mark’s readers that Jesus is God’s king. And they’ve seen that his kingdom is ultimately going to be one where disease and suffering are no more. We can see that when Jesus does his miracles, he is showing everybody what the kingdom of heaven is like. It is a point we’ve made several times in previous lessons, that the miracles are signs. That’s what they’re often called in Greek- semeia- signs. Signs point to something. These are signs of the kingdom. They demonstrate what God’s kingdom is about. They are invasions of God’s kingdom into the fallen world.

But Mark now wants to demonstrate something more than that. So this miracle shows all that previous miracles have shown, and more again. It not only shows that God’s kingdom is a place where the blind receive their sight. It not only shows that the kingdom is received by faith in Jesus as the one who brings the kingdom in. It also shows that God’s kingdom is a place where the insignificant in the kingdom are cared for.

The distinctive thing about this miracle- the thing that sets it apart from all the others in the Gospel- is the setting of it. Mark gives us a few details, and details are always important. Mark tells us that Bartimaeus was a blind beggar. He tells us how the crowd reacted to the beggar. He tells us what how Jesus reacted, and he tells us that Bartimaeus leapt up and shed his cloak, and came to Jesus.

Bartimaeus is a blind beggar, and the crowd despise him for it. He is blind, which renders him helpless and useless. He can’t hold down a useful job- can’t plough or reap or make furniture, or even keep a market stall. He can’t walk along without feeling his way. And he begs for a living- he is totally dependent on the generosity of other people. This beggar is reckoned insignificant by the crowd. They’ll tolerate him, and give him enough money to stay alive, but they expect him to recognise that they are more important than he is. Bartimaeus is a loser- the ultimate loser in many ways. This is the culmination of a long string of incidents in Mark’s Gospel. Bartimaeus stands as the last in the line of losers. He’s like the children Jesus has set in front of the disciples, low-status and despised. He has no claim on God, no wealth or influence. All he has is a voice to cry out for mercy.

There is huge irony in the behaviour of the crowd. The crowd despise the beggar, and are dismissive of him because they reckon him unimportant- he is just a blind beggar and nobody of any account. Maybe on another day, some of the men here would have thrown him a coin or two as they went about their business. But not today. Today, they are too busy giving honour to the people they deem worthy. They are paying attention as the important person does important things. When Jesus came through town, a man on a mission, people dropped what they were doing and flooded into the streets to catch a glimpse of him. Jesus was the big man, the important one. Bartimaeus, on the other hand, was a nobody, a complete non-entity. Bartimaeus has been sitting by the roadside, as was his custom, asking for handouts, when this large excited crowd came by. He asked people what was going on, and somebody told him: “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by. He’s going up to Jerusalem. So this dirty blind beggar sitting by the roadside goes and interrupts it all. We can follow the crowd’s line of thought, “I mean, who does he think he is? Does he not realise that this is an important event happening here? Has he no manners? We give him money when he needs it- can’t he at least repay us with basic civility? We’re trying to watch Jesus. He should know better than to cause a fuss now.” So when this loser started trying to catch the attention of the big celebrity, the crowd became annoyed with him. They tell him to shut up and stop his yelling, to stop being a distraction. But Bartimaeus has more sense than to listen to that sort of advice. He only cries out the louder. Bartimaeus has nothing in all the world except a sense of his own need and a desire for Jesus to save him. But that’s all the qualification Jesus wants. Jesus hears him, and Jesus stops what he’s doing and calls Bartimaeus to come up to him.

The crowd are demonstrating the very behaviour which runs against the things Jesus has been trying to teach his disciples over the last few chapters. And Bartimaeus is showing us how it is the poor who inherit the kingdom of heaven. He won’t shut up. He wants help from Jesus. He is like a child, unable to do anything for himself, simply crying out, “have mercy”. Jesus responds to his faith. He stops, and gives orders for Bartimaeus to be called. And then of course the crowd’s attitude changes. If Jesus wants to talk to the beggar, well then, that’s different. They were rebuking him a moment ago, but now the beggar’s important- they speak to him kindly- “Take heart, he’s calling you”

The crowd rebuked the beggar, but by this miracle, Jesus rebukes the crowd. He shows that their attitude is not proper. They wanted to cut the weak loose for Messiah’s sake. They wanted to ignore the helpless in order to pay attention to Jesus. Jesus won’t have it. Even on his most important journey, the great journey of his life, he has time for the helpless. Especially on his most important journey, he has time for the helpless. He has come to save helpless sinners. Jesus has a brief conversation with Bartimaeus- short conversations are frequently a feature of healings by Jesus (2:5-11, 5:3-34, 7:27-29, 9:21-24). Maybe this is to establish the existence of faith sufficient to trust God for healing. Jesus asks what Bartimaeus wants from him. The question is meant to encourage faith. The response recognises Jesus as the one with power to make the blind see. And then Jesus heals the man.

4. Why is Mark concerned to tell us that this occurred on the road out of Jericho (rather than the road into Jericho), and that Jesus was identified as the “Son of David”?

Other details about this miracle also feed into the big theme of the first being last and the last first. There is the curious name by which Jesus calls Bartimaeus- the “Son of David”. Why should Bartimaeus call Jesus by this title? What is it supposed to mean?

There is the context of the prophecy given to Nathan in 2 Samuel 7, where David is promised that God will make him a house, and his offspring will reign forever. The son of David then, was the one who would inherit the promises God made to David.  The son of David, in the first instance, was Solomon. Solomon was David’s chosen successor, his son who would reign after him in Jerusalem. But Solomon didn’t reign forever- he died and slept with his fathers. And Solomon’s children didn’t reign forever either. David’s line was cut short when Nebuchadnezzar killed the last Davidic king and tore the temple to the ground.

So was God’s promise broken? Would God not make David a house and give him a son to reign forever? The prophets knew that the scripture cannot be broken. So they knew that there had to be another son, one in David’s line. You can see that in Isa 11:1ff; Jer 23:5f; Ezk 34:23f. David’s line will be cut off, apparently barren, like a tree stump. But a shoot shall come from it. Jesus’ Davidic descent is put forward as an evidence of his genuine Messiahship. That’s the point of the genealogies, and the opening to Romans. (Rom 1:1-4; Matt 1:1, 12:23; 2 Tim 2:8; Rev 3:7, 22:16). And Mark 12:35 indicates that it was a common scribal teaching that the Messiah would be the Son of David.

So maybe Bartimaeus was aware of the expectation surrounding Jesus. He’d have heard a thing or two about Jesus before this procession came past. Maybe he called Jesus the Son of David to show that he believes Jesus to be the promised shepherd and king.

But there is also some evidence that the title denotes a healer-figure. Solomon was renowned as a healer/ exorcist and the title “Son of David” was sometimes applied with this in mind- to mean a healer. The stronger meaning seems to be the Messianic, but the two imports are not mutually exclusive. If you know your “Lord of the Rings”, you’ll recall an episode in the houses of healing in Minas Tirith, as Faramir lay near death. Minas Tirith was once the city where the kings dwelt. But there has been no king for many generation now. Ioreth, eldest of the women who served in that house, mourns over Faramir and says, “Would that there were kings in Gondor, as there were once upon a time, they say! For it is said in old lore: The hands of a king are the hands of a healer. And so the rightful king could ever be known” And Gandalf replies “Men may long remember your words Ioreth! For there is hope in them. Maybe a king has indeed returned to Gondor; or have you not heard the strange tidings that have come to the city”. It’s a very Messianic book, LOTR, and Aragon is one of the main Messiah figures in it- the rightful king of Gondor, who lives among men who have no idea who he is. He lives as a ranger, his glory veiled. But there are ancient and mysterious prophecies concerning him. And one day, he will reveal himself as the king, and take his place at the head of his army, and defeat evil, and reign for a thousand years in peace and prosperity. Tolkein seems to have known his Biblical-theological onions. He based his Messiah figures on the real Messiah, one aspect of that being that the hands of a king are the hands of a healer. There are in the Old Testament, plenty of prophecies about the healing powers of Messiah- “Your God will come and save you… and then the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” It is one aspect of the Messianic character.

So Bartimaeus could well be referring to the healing powers of the Son of David- he wants to be healed, after all. But he also sees a great leader, anointed by God to restore the nation. Jesus is God’s instrument of blessing and healing for the land. The two are the same figure.

But there isn’t only a comparison to David in the passage. Although Bartimaeus sees only a comparison- Jesus is the king, the healer, the anointed servant of God. I think that Mark sees a contrast also. That would fit with the thrust of the miracle.

Jesus and the disciples are going up to Jerusalem on the road well travelled by pilgrims from Galilee. Jericho is between Jordan and Jerusalem. There may be echoes of the conquest of the land- when another “Jesus” (Joshua’s name having the same meaning as “Jesus”) came into the land on a mission from God. But it’s more significant that this is the last stage of the journey- Jesus has been going to Jerusalem ever since the transfiguration, but now he going up to Jerusalem immediately. Look at 2 Sam 5:1-10. When David went up to Jerusalem, how did he see the blind and the lame? To David, the blind and the lame were enemies. Those who fought against him were described as blind men. They were problems, to be gotten out of the way. The crowd here see the blind man the way David saw the blind in Jerusalem- as a problem, an impediment, a nuisance. Jesus, however, stops the show and goes to heal him.

Jesus is the Son of David, but at this point he is very different from the warrior king who recognised only an obstacle in the blind and lame as he went in to Jerusalem. Not that David was a hard and harsh ruler, but Mark is drawing on David’s entry to Jerusalem and his language about the blind, to underline his point. Jesus is the Son of David, and he is a better king than David. His kingdom is good in ways that David’s never was and never thought of being. David went in to Jerusalem to slaughter the blind and the lame. When Jesus makes his assault on Jerusalem, his army at his heels, he stops to restore the sight of the blind. They join his retinue.

5. How and why is this incident linked in to the previous incident? What should we take from this passage?

We’ve just seen James and John come to Jesus and ask him to do them a favour. Jesus didn’t just agree without knowing what he was committing himself to do. Instead, he asked the brothers a question. He said, “What do you want me to do for you?” It is very striking that Jesus asks exactly the same question in this passage, to Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus to have mercy, and Jesus asks “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus himself is making a subtle point here, and Mark picks up on that point and makes it visible to us.

When Jesus asked Bartimaeus the same question he had already asked of the sons of Zebedee, he was drawing attention to the very different answers he would receive to the same question. The answers given, first by the brothers and then by the beggar, are examples for us. The first is an example to avoid, and the second an example to follow. We are supposed to see that those to whom the kingdom of God is given, are those who come with empty hands, knowing only that they need help, and that Jesus is the saviour who alone can save them.

Bartimaeus is blind and wretched. All he wants is help, and he’s ready to give up all he has to receive help from Jesus. He jumps up, leaving behind his cloak, which was perhaps his only possession. He stands in contrast to James and John, who think they are worthy to have glory and honour.

James and John are real disciples. They too have given up everything to follow Jesus. But at this point, their attitude leaves a lot to be desired. Bartimaeus has the better understanding of what the kingdom is about.

There are many things for us to learn from Mark’s Gospel, but if we’re to take anything from this passage, we should take the central point. God’s kingdom is not for the proud, not for the self-sufficient, not for the rich. It’s for losers. It’s for blind beggars.

If you want to follow Jesus, then you need to have your sins forgiven and your filthiness washed away, and your blindness healed. And you can’t do that unless you can see that you are a sinner, that you are filthy, and that you are blind. You can’t come to Jesus thinking that you are pretty much sorted out, that you don’t really need much help from him. He’s not interested in those who think they’re rich.

And if you’re already following Jesus, then follow him in his attitude here. He has time for the poor and the blind. He’s on his way up to Jerusalem, and he knows he’s going there to die. He has plenty to occupy his mind without having to care for a blind beggar. But he is selfless, esteeming the needs of others more important than his own. That’s the nature of God’s kingdom, because it’s the nature of God’s king. Greatness in God’s kingdom isn’t about how high up the greasy pole you can climb. It’s about how low down you’re willing to slide to give others a hand.

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One Comment on “Mark 10: 46-52. The assault on Jerusalem.”


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