The Healing of Blind Bart and The Way to The Cross
Mark 10:46-52 As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" 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." 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man said to him, "My teacher, let me see again." 52 Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
The disciples didn't understand the Cross. Peter didn't understand. When Jesus told the disciples that the “Son of Man” must suffer, be rejected, tortured, and killed, Peter began to rebuke Jesus. But Jesus turned and rebuked Peter, saying: "Get behind me, Satan!" (Mark 8:31-38).
James and John didn't understand, either. They expected to sit next to Jesus in his glory (Mark 10:35-45). Even today, Christians fail to understand the Cross.
We often see the Cross in terms of the pearly gates and streets of gold (Revelation 21:21). We sort of just skip over the crucifixion and go straight to heaven without experiencing suffering and death. How often do we truly contemplate what it means to "take up our Cross" and "follow Jesus" (Mark 8:34)?
Bartimaeus, on the other hand, understands. He shouts out "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" When people ordered him to shut up, he cried out even more loudly, 'Son of David, have mercy on me!"
The title "Son of David" is a royal title. By calling Jesus “Son of David,” Bartimaeus was proclaiming him the King of Israel. To say that anyone ruled over Israel other than the Emperor or his appointee constituted an act of treason against the Empire. Israel’s elite would also consider it blasphemous (Mark 14:61-65; 15:1-5).
When Peter, in a moment of clarity, confesses Jesus to be the “Messiah,” Jesus orders Peter and the disciples not to tell anyone. But when they come to Jericho, Bartimaeus is literally screaming that Jesus is the Messiah, the King of Israel! All this shouting would have reminded ancient Jews and Christians of the mythic Battle of Jericho in the Book of Joshua.
In the Battle of Jericho, God tells Joshua to have his army march around the city once a day for seven days, and on the seventh day they should “shout out a great shout!” Joshua did as God had instructed. When the seventh day came, “they raised a great shout” and the walls of the city collapsed enabling the Israelites to defeat the Canaanites (Joshua 5:13-6:27).
Who could believe that such a silly thing as marching in a demonstration could accomplish anything let alone bring down a city-state?
Joshua acted in faith, trusting God. Who could believe that such a silly thing as marching in a demonstration could accomplish anything let alone bring down a city-state? What Jesus is about to do, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, seems just as silly. How could such a simple demonstration set off a cascade of events that would ultimately transform the world?
Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem was not the only triumphal entry that day. At the other end of the city, Pontius Pilate rode in from the West with his consort of armed Roman Centurions, chariots and horses in a show of power and force characteristic of an occupying army. By entering on a donkey, Jesus, the disciples, and their fellow demonstrators mocked Roman rule (Borg and Crossan).
The next day, Jesus curses a fig tree (Mark 11:12-14). The fig tree represents the regime: the politician-priests and elite who ruled over Israel under Roman occupation. Many were corrupt, and the system served the interests of the rich and powerful much like today.
Jesus will later condemn these rulers, accusing them of “devouring widows houses.” He will then point out a widow who gave everything she had to the public treasury. She had nothing, because all she had were two worthless coins, not enough to buy anything (Mark 12:38-44).
After cursing the fig tree, Jesus enters the temple and drives out the money changers. The cleansing of the Temple was another protest. The Israeli elite had turned the Temple, the seat of government and the house of the God, into “a den of thieves” (Mark 11:17). They took people’s money yet failed to care for the needy, a violation of Israel’s covenant with God (Exodus 22:21-27; 23:9; Nardoni at 80-81).
King David, as King of Israel, was expected to rule justly with special concern for the needs of the poor and oppressed (Psalm 72). God is partial to the stranger and the outcast. These are represented throughout the Old Testament as the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner (Donahue at 13).
In the next chapter, Jesus will tell the story of the “Parable of the Wicked Tenants.” The tenants of a vineyard refuse to pay their landlord. The owner sends his servants to collect the rent, but the tenants beat and kill them. Finally, he sends his own son, thinking that the occupants would surely respect his son, but they kill him so that they could take his inheritance (12:1-11).
The Parable of the Wicked Tenants would have reminded first century Jews of Israel’s violation of the covenant under the reign of King Ahab and Jezebel. King Ahab married a Syrian, Jezebel, and instituted the worship of Baal. When Ahab asked his neighbor, Naboth, to sell him a vineyard, Naboth declares: “The Lord forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance.”
Naboth’s words echo the commandment in Leviticus that the land belongs to God and that humans hold it merely as tenants (25:18-24). Despite this, Ahab and Jezebel plot to kill Naboth and take his vineyard. In the process, they violate the covenant in several ways.
Jezebel brings false accusations against Naboth, arranging for false witnesses so she could steal Naboth’s land and have him put to death. In so doing she violates the commandments against bearing false witness, stealing, murder, and coveting (Exodus 20:13-17, 23:1-3 and 6-8; Deuteronomy 19:15-20). By cursing the fig tree and reminding us of the Battle of Jericho and of Naboth’s vineyard, Jesus is declaring the Roman occupation and the Israeli regime unlawful and illegitimate (Donahue at 72-73).
Yet look at what happens when Jesus teaches us the lesson of the withered fig tree. As Jesus is leaving Jerusalem, Peter points out that the tree Jesus cursed had withered. Jesus responds: If we have enough faith we can throw mountains into the sea (Mark 11:20-23).
The fig tree represents the corrupt regime. Its death becomes a symbol of hope. Faith can move mountains and overthrow empires.
The execution of Jesus began a mass movement that would outlive the Roman Empire. Christ became the God of the very empire that crucified him. Over time, Christianity would transform the Western world.
One example is the belief in “the equality of souls.” Paul’s teaching that there is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, or male and female, was revolutionary. It undermined traditional social hierarchies which were considered natural, unchangeable and a matter of fate; and it elevated the rights of individuals as children of God and as individual souls. The new concept of the individual as the primary social unit would eventually lead to the rise of Western Liberalism and the recognition of human and civil rights (Siedentop).
One act of faith can spark a movement. One crime against a child of God can sometimes galvanize a nation. What Bartimaeus understands is that to follow Jesus is to resist oppression, to protest injustice, to boldly speak truth to power, to live justly, and to put our lives on the line.
Like the withered fig tree, the Cross became a symbol of hope, the remembrance of an innocent martyr who gave his life so that we might live. Jesus did nothing so vain as to die on a Cross so we could sit next to him in his glory in heaven. Jesus died for the sake of the Kingdom of God on earth.
When a rich man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus told him to sell all that he had, give it to the poor, and follow Jesus (Mark 10:21). Our commitment to the Kingdom of God requires that we act in this world to bring release to the captives, good news to the poor, and liberation to the oppressed. In this way we serve God, love our neighbors, and bring God’s salvation to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:6).
We never know what the results of our actions will be. If we have faith and act on that faith, God can use us in both small and large ways. The Cross gives us hope and courage because, like Bartimaeus, we understand that sometimes, one act of faith can change the world (Mark 11:22-14).
Questions for Discussion:
- How do the Battle of Jericho and Naboth’s vineyard parallel Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, his overturning of the money changers’ tables, and his victory over the powers on the Cross?
- Given the context described in the article, how does the Cross bring God’s salvation to the world?
- How does the text leading up to the crucifixion, tell us about what it means to follow Jesus?
- Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’ Final Week in Jerusalem (2007).
- John R. Donahue, Seek Justice that You May Live: Reflections and Resources on The Bible and Social Justice (2014).
- Enrique Nardoni, Rise Up, O Judge: A Study of Justice in the Biblical World (2004).
- Larry Siedentop, Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism (2014).