“Son of David, have mercy on me” (Mk 10,46-52)
Jesus not only reveals God’s mercy by his teachings, but also by his concrete actions—healings and miracles. All he said and all he did illustrate his Father’s tender mercy. Every act of Jesus in the Gospels, filled with compassion and moved by pity was directed to the sinners and the needy and thus, became an expression of divine mercy. He ministered to the sick and liberated those who were tormented by the evil spirits. He not only restored the sick people to physical wholeness, but also restored them to a filial relationship with the Father. These acts of mercy manifested by Jesus and experienced by people enabled them to recognize that the reign of God is truly an existential reality. In this direction, Cardinal Walter Kasper writes, “Jesus’ existence was totally for others.”
Let us consider one of the healing stories for our reflection in which the cry for mercy not only restores the vision of the blind man, but also grants him spiritual vision.
Encounter on the Road
In 10:46-52 Mark narrates the story of Jesus’ encounter with Bartimaeus, a blind man and a beggar. This healing on the road of Jericho is the last episode before Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. In fact, in Mk’s Gospel, we find two healing stories of blind people receiving the sight: a) the blind man of Bethsaida (8:22-26); and b) the healing of Bartimaeus on the road to Jericho (10:46-52). Geographically, Jericho which is located about fifteen miles northeast of Jerusalem, five miles west of the Jordan River and six miles north of the Dead Sea is a fertile lush green oasis surrounded by rough terrain. In the NT, besides the cure of the blind man, Jericho in particular is associated with the call and repentance of Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-10). Jesus had made a long and a strenuous journey from Galilee in the north down to Jericho towards the desert valley, and having reached Jericho, he and his disciples were on their way to Jerusalem and had to pass through the hills of Judea, before they could reach the Holy City.
Bartimaeus was presumably sitting at the gate of the city, begging for alms from the pilgrims, who were on their way to Jerusalem. However, the text only mentions ‘sitting by the road’. In this episode, the word ‘road’ or ‘way’ (Gk hodos) occurs twice. In v.46 “he was sitting by the roadside” is clearly a geographical indication, while in v.52 the combination of the two terms ‘follow’ and ‘way’ has a theological nuance that clearly suggests that the blind man Bartimaeus, having regained his sight, became a disciple of Jesus and followed him on the way to Jerusalem. Spatially, at the beginning of the narrative, the road that functioned as a safe haven to the helpless and the poor blind man and a place for begging the generosity of the passersby becomes a path of healing, empowerment and discipleship at the end of the story.
Cry for Mercy
As Jesus passed through Jericho, Bartimaeus having learnt that it was Jesus of Nazareth, the miracle worker, began to cry out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Some people in Jesus’ entourage rebuked the blind beggar (most likely his own disciples) and attempted to silence him. Previously, in Mk’s Gospel, Jesus himself had silenced such messianic acclamations. But Bartimaeus, who believed that the kairos moment of his life had come, could not be easily dissuaded by those who unsuccessfully tried to silence him and had to break through the barriers created by the crowd to get access to Jesus. He had to seize this lifetime opportunity to assert that he too had a right to see Jesus. However, to make this happen, he needed to make Jesus take notice of him. So, this firm conviction led him to cry out even more loudly for the second time (perhaps, many more times), “Son of David, have mercy on me!” As the shouts of the beggar reached his ears, Jesus stood still. Certainly, the cry for mercy can reach anyone’s ear and touch anyone’s heart, if one knows what pleading for mercy is all about. Bartimaeus’ cry for mercy made Jesus stand still.
Those who rebuked him and attempted to silence him now become messengers of hope, “take heart; get up, he is calling you.” As he arose, his vigorous actions of throwing off the cloak and jumping up and coming to Jesus were followed by a dialogue of faith. They were the outward expressions of the deep faith, behind the tears of his incessant cries for help. As he approached, a welcoming voice responded to his cry for mercy, “What do you want me to do for you?” His response was “My master, that I may see again.” This phrase can also be rendered as an imperative of request, “Please, give me sight.” Since, Bartimaeus is not referred to as having been blind from birth, it is most likely that the plea was to receive back the sight he once enjoyed. In contrast, the same question was asked by Jesus to the sons of Zebedee in the preceding scene (10:36) and they wanted for themselves the places—to sit at the right hand and the left, in his glory. So, Mk presents the spiritual blindness of Jesus’ chosen disciples by highlighting their incomprehensibility, who failed to gain a ‘spiritual insight’ into his true identity and messianic mission on the way to Jerusalem in comparison with Bartimaeus, who receives instant healing and at a deeper level the experience of salvation—“Go, your faith has saved you.”
From Sight to Insight, From Eyes to Heart
As the narrative ends, Bartimaeus did see again, not only with his eyes but also with his heart; not only with his physical eyes but also with the eyes of faith. Prior to this text, Jesus’ own disciples had failed to see him as the ‘suffering messiah’ although he had already foretold three times about his death and resurrection. Similarly, James and John couldn’t understand his messianic mission that he would accomplish in Jerusalem. In contrast to the spiritual blindness of Jesus’ disciples, Bartimaeus could clearly see, who Jesus was, though he was blind to the world and its things. Unlike the chosen disciples, Bartimaeus having regained his sight, gains an insight into the person of Jesus, whom he committedly follows (10:52). This clearly suggests that he followed Jesus on the way to embracing his cross. He did not “go away” rather he followed him “on the way”.
Three Responses to Mercy
The narrative of the healing of Blind Bartimaeus, from the perspective of ‘mercy’ presents three categories of people:
1. Those who cry out for mercy.
2. Those who prevent or silence the cry for mercy.
3. Those who hear the cry for mercy and stop by to help
Firstly, those who cry out for mercy. In our world, marked by brokenness and intolerance the cry of Bartimaeus is the cry of hundreds of thousands of people who suffer not only the physical sickness, but also the cry of the innumerable at the peripheries of our society, the victims of institutionalized oppression, social evils, violence, crimes against humanity, etc.
Secondly, those who prevent or silence the cry for mercy. How often those who are in authority and positions of power behave like those who tried to prevent Bartimaeus from seeing and meeting the Lord? The Lord cannot be the ‘possession’ of few, who have access to him. How often have we become obstinate and narrow-minded people, so as not to allow people to have a share in the ‘gifts’ of the Lord? Do we facilitate to bring our friends, family members and the loved ones into the very presence of the Lord? Again, do we stand by those whose voice is silenced or support those who destroy voices for the promotion of human rights and human life? Let us see our own blind spots.
Finally, those who hear the cry for mercy and stop by to help. Compassion to those who cried out for mercy and their eventual healing was the hallmark of Jesus’ public ministry. Therefore, when the cry for mercy reached his ears, he stopped by to help the poor man. So also, we, his disciples are challenged to stop by and reach out to help, when voices around us need our help. Mere material help might be the physical dimension, but mercy in terms of kindness to those in need goes beyond, to embrace the spiritual dimension. For this task, we have to be moved by compassion, filled with conviction and determination, without losing joy and hope in our missionary service.
We have our own blindness. Let us cry out, “Master, I may see again”. And when our vision is restored, let us not “go away” but follow Jesus “on the way”.
Naveen Rebello, SVD