Major upheavals are imaged in the readings today. In Jeremiah, the exiles return. The image in Mark is the healing of blindness. Both of these are about restoration to wholeness, but we should be careful not to lean too much on physical disability in the preaching.
In our time, linking blindness with ignorance or white with goodness (and other such metaphors) has raised healthy cautions about marginalizing people who are blind or of a race/ethnicity other than white. Here is one antidote:
The preacher should . . . help the congregation appreciate that it is the blind man who sees beyond visible reality with spiritual insight, while the disciples (who seem to have no problems with physical sight) remain unable to recognize what sort of savior Jesus truly is. – Aaron Couch
In Holy Ground (Augsburg Fortress, 2003) Gordon Lathrop addresses this Gospel text even further: “Here is the ‘son’ of Timaeus [Bartimaeus = son of Timaeus], Plato’s Timaeus, and, ironically, he is himself blind, crying out in lament, seeing nothing, going nowhere.” (p. 31)
Bartimaeus sits by the side of the road in the perspective of his people: a Greek rendition of the universe which holds that sight is paramount and that the heavens are the location of perfect and best.
But when he “sees” Jesus, he throws off the mantle of the teaching he has received and cries out to a new way. Jesus heals his vision. His new sight reverses the wisdom of the Greeks who found truth in an order that is not here on earth. Jesus, fully divine, fully human, represents a different perspective, a new way of living that is “hidden under the form of disorder and loss… on the earth, in the way of Jesus Christ, ‘seen’ in faith.” (Lathrop, 33)
Mark pictures Jesus as having passed through Jericho, about 15 miles from Jerusalem, when Bartimaeus calls out to him, addressing him as “Son of David.” Mark has not used this messianic title before. At this point in the story it reminds the reader that Jesus is on his way to the city of David. Although he is David's heir and comes “in the name of the Lord” (11:9), the religious authorities will reject him.
Bartimaeus, though, recognizes Jesus and calls out for mercy. When Jesus calls him, he throws off his cloak, jumps up and comes to Jesus. After Jesus heals him, he follows Jesus “on the way,” suggesting both the way to the cross and the way of discipleship. The reader may be reminded, by contrast, of the rich man who asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life (10:17–22). The rich man and the blind beggar occupied opposite ends of Judean society. Their responses to Jesus were equally different. The rich man could not part with his possessions, but Bartimaeus threw off his cloak (perhaps his only possession) to approach Jesus. The rich man went away grieving, but Bartimaeus followed Jesus—joyfully, one may imagine! – Aaron Couch
The first reading is a portion of “The Book of Consolation,” chapters 30–33 of Jeremiah. In contrast to the consistent message of doom through the rest of the book, these chapters announce the saving work of God to restore Israel after years of defeat and exile. The prophet calls on God's people to sing and celebrate God's faithfulness. They may only be a remnant of the former nation (v 7), but they will still be a great company (v 8). God has neither forgotten nor abandoned them. God exalts them so that they are the “chief of the nations.” The people may weep for what has been lost, but they will also weep for joy as God leads them home again.
Thematically it is the reference to God gathering the blind and lame that links this passage to the gospel reading. It is worth noting that while Leviticus excludes the blind and lame from presenting an offering at the altar of the Lord (21:18), Jeremiah names them first among the great company that God will bring back. – Aaron Couch
With Jeremiah promising rescue to the distraught and Mark’s Gospel imaging a deep insight coming to one who, on the surface, had no sight, the reading from Hebrews announces a priest who is eternal, “able for all time to save those who approach God…” This is a Savior who leaves no one behind.
How many gospel stories record people who have been left out of the holiness code of Israel who were reclaimed by the personal and responsive work of Jesus? The disciples themselves along with many of those who were attracted to follow Jesus offer ample evidence of crowds of disaffected Israelites who were changed by the high priestly service Jesus performed. – H. Gregory Waldrop
Aaron Couch is a co-pastor of First Immanuel Lutheran Church in Portland, Oregon.
H. Gregory Waldrop was baptized in Mayfield, Kentucky in 1954 and ordained in Atwood, Tennessee in 1981. He is a United Methodist pastor serving Fountain Avenue United Methodist Church in Paducah, Kentucky.
Homily Service 39, no. 11 (2006): 46-55.