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Jesus’ Teaching on the Shame and Honor of Bartimaeus

by David Gray, October 28, 2012

blind man

Whenever a person’s name is used in Scripture it typically means that that person or the meaning of their name has some significance to the story or the message being conveyed by the writer; this is even more typical in the four Gospel accounts. Outside of actual names being used we find in their place identifiers at use, such as ‘the rich man’, ‘the widow’, ‘Pharaoh’, ‘a Canaanite woman’, and etcetera.

A few chapters back in Mark 8:22-26 we read about how some unnamed people brought Jesus a ‘blind man’ and how ‘they’ begged Jesus to heal him. What followed from there was Jesus taking ‘the blind man’ out of the city, putting some spit in his eyes, laying hands on him, and then putting him through a series of vision test and more processes before the man’s vision was finally restored.

That story is in great contrast with the Gospel Reading at this Sunday’s Mass from Mark 10:46-52 in which we read about a blind man named Bartimaeus, who was sitting on the roadside begging as Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd.

    “On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.” He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.”

In the first story it was the people (‘they’) who brought ‘the blind man’ to Jesus and begged Him to heal the man, which served to be a sure sign of their faith and compassion. In today’s reading it was Bartimaeus himself who cried out for a healing. While the first healing required a process and spit as an ointment, Bartimaeus’ healing was instant and only required his faith. In the first story after Jesus healed ‘the blind man’ he sent him home, but Bartimaeus threw his cloak aside (which served as a public declaration that he was leaving his former life behind) and began following Jesus on the way immediately after he received his sight. It took a short process for ‘the blind man’ to see Jesus, but just to see the Lord was all Bartimaeus asked for, and so received. This account of Bartimaeus’ healing is also interesting because, apart from Peter’s, it is the first recognition of the true identity of Jesus by a human being; rather than from a demon. It is also the first instance of someone calling Jesus by his messianic identifier ‘Son of David’.

From that we see how these two stories of blind men being healed by Jesus contrast with each other and how faith, either applied by those who have compassion for others or individual faith, plays an essential role in receiving what the Lord has for us. Yet, there is still the issue of why was it important for the author to tell us this man’s name. Some clue to that might be found in the meaning of his name – bar-Timaeus, son of Timaeus. ‘Bar’ in Aramaic simply means ‘son’, while ‘Timaeus’ finds its root in the Greek word tima, which means ‘honor, reverence’. Together his name means one who is honored, revered, and by saying that he is the son of one who is honored, the text twice reiterates the emphasis on his honor and juxtaposes it with his present condition.

Bartimaeus wasn’t born blind. We know this because the word that he uses when Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” is anablepo, which in the Greek literally means “to see again“. Therefore, Bartimaeus is a man with the name of honor, but is in a condition of shame – an outcast in society – looked down upon. Unlike the ‘blind man’ in the first story, no one would have even stooped so low to bring Bartimaeus to Jesus.

Many of the sermons we hear about this story will focus on the fact that Bartimaeus was probably begging all day, but when he heard the Lord was approaching he really kicked his cry into high gear. I think there is some fruit in reflecting upon in that aspect of the story, but I like to think that the call of today’s Gospel is for us to reflect deeply upon those areas of our life or from our past that we are ashamed of – that burden us – that weigh us down – that trouble us to the degree that we can’t see the truth clearly. We ought to reflect upon what those things may be and then turn them over to the care of Jesus our Lord, who already knows all about them; who knew about them even before we did; and is just waiting for us to invite Him into healing that shame and burden.

We who are In Christ are all Bartimaeus. We are all sons and daughters of Honor and Reverence, and what we need to do to truly step into our calling is to throw off our old cloak – throw off those old things that belong to our life outside of Christ, because once we abandon the old, we immediately position ourselves to receive from God the new and better things He has for us.

As you reflect upon the readings at Mass today, here are some questions for you to consider:

  1. Have you had a Bartimaeus experience in your life, when you called on Jesus to do the impossible for you and He did? Testify to that!
  2. Is there a part of your that you feel you’ve lost that you’d like God to give you back? Pray for that!
  3. Do you know someone who needs to hear about this story of Bartimaeus and his faith? Share it with them.

PSALMS 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
When the LORD brought back the captives of Zion, we were like men dreaming.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with rejoicing.

Then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad indeed.

Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the torrents in the southern desert.
Those that sow in tears shall reap rejoicing.

Although they go forth weeping, carrying the seed to be sown,
They shall come back rejoicing, carrying their sheaves.

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Scripture texts in this blog are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
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