“My teacher, let me see again.” Mark 10:51
As we have done with other passages from the Gospel, we can use the five “w’s” to help us reflect on the Gospel reading: where? Who? Why? What? and When? They are questions that can help us both understand the reading and apply it to our own lives.
Where does this take place? Chapter 10 Verse 46 tells us, “They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho”. They have been in the city and now are heading on the road toward Jerusalem. It would have been a familiar road, it would have been a road well trodden by both merchants and pilgrims heading to the capital. The events Saint Mark describes are taking place at a spot known to many of those who first heard the story. Perhaps there were some who may even have remembered the man who sat at the roadside each day. Where the story takes place is important, it is where Jesus begins his final journey up to Jerusalem. If the blind man had not been in this place, he would not have had another opportunity to see Jesus; this was a last chance.
The story might make us think about our own lives: where are we on our journey? What opportunities do we pass? What chances do we let slip? If we thought that a moment was the last time we might have a chance to speak with God, what would we say to him?
Who is the man at the heart of the story? “Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar . . . sitting by the roadside.” Bartimaeus simply means “son of Timaeus”, it is almost as though he was thought to lack the dignity to be given a name of his own. To be blind in such times meant a life of hardships that we cannot even imagine, but it also meant being regarded as an outcast by many people. If we remember the story of the man born blind in Saint John Chapter 9, we will remember the question asked by Jesus disciples, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” To be blind was seen by many as a punishment for sin, if Bartimaeus is blind many people would have reasoned, then it must be because he deserves it.
Can we imagine how Bartimaeus must have felt, living out his lives begging coins from passers by? But how often do we just see people and never ask ourselves about who they are? How often do we try to see beyond the face of the people we pass and ask who they are on the inside? If we looked at each person and asked, “who is this person?” would we not see them differently?
Why does this event take place? Because Bartimaeus wants something he believes only Jesus can offer him, a response from God. Verse 47 says, “When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!'” The people are embarrassed, perhaps by Bartimaeus making a scene, perhaps also by the fact that they realize what Bartimaeus is saying and that they are not happy about what is being said. In Verse 48, “Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!'” Bartimaeus wants a response, but he wants a response from the Son of David, the Messiah, the Christ. Bartimaeus wants something more than a human response. We are told in Verse 49, “Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.'” Bartimaeus is called by God and he sets aside his only possession, the cloak that had been his home, his shelter, the cloak that had been all he had. Verse 50 says, “So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.”
Why did Bartimaeus shout? Because he wanted the Son of David to hear him, he is determined that he will not miss this chance of a meeting with God. Do we have that same confidence? Are there times in life when there is so much going on around us that we need to shout, not so that God hears, but so that we hear our call to God above all the noise that surrounds us? Have we the confidence Bartimaeus had to set aside things dear to us in order to respond to the voice of Jesus?
“What?” is a question asked by Jesus himself. In Verse 51, Jesus asks Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” It seems an extraordinary question, wasn’t it obvious what needed to be done, wasn’t it clear to everyone what Bartimaeus wanted. But Jesus asks the question because he treats Bartimaeus as a person of dignity, he treats Bartimaeus as someone who has the right to make his own choices. Bartimaeus decides for himself, “My teacher, let me see again.” How must he have felt as he asked that question? How must he have felt at being treated with respect, perhaps for the first time in many years?
What does Jesus question say to us about how we respond to people? Don’t we live in a world where governments and agencies and charities and people all assume that they know what is best for others? Don’t we live in a world where “experts” tell us what should be done? Don’t we live in a world of government and governed, of agents and clients, of donors and recipients? How often does anyone ask the question that Jesus asked? How often do we treat people with real dignity?
The final question is “when?” We read in Verse 52, “Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.” When does Bartimaeus respond to Jesus? Immediately. Bartimaeus might have had a whole lifetime of things that he wanted to do now that he could see; he might have wished to go around Jericho and visit every relative and show them what had happened; he might have had hopes and dreams that had now become possible. Bartimaeus might have made many different choices, but immediately he regains his sight, he follows Jesus on the way.
How do our own responses to Jesus compare with that of Bartimaeus? When do we respond? When God calls, when we get an opportunity, or when it suits us? If someone was judging the Gospel by the commitment shown by those calling themselves Christians, what would they make of our faith? When would we ever respond as Bartimaeus did?
Where? Who? Why? What? When? Asking the questions of the story, we must also ask those questions of ourselves.