By James Cornwell
A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 10:46-52
46 They came to Jericho. 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.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus restores the sight of blind Bartimaeus in a puzzlingly theatrical way. A blind beggar on the roadside hears Jesus coming and begins to call out for mercy. The Evangelist notes that Jesus stands still. He doesn’t approach Bartimaeus, nor does he even call to him directly. Instead, he tells his disciples to call him over, and they do so. They do not bring him to Jesus. Bartimaeus first casts aside his garment and rises, then brings himself. Then Jesus, in an act of apparent obtuseness, asks the blind man what it is he wants him to do for him. Bartimaeus, of course, asks for his sight. Jesus notes that his faith has healed him, he is immediately able to see, and he chooses to follow Jesus after being told to “go thy way.”
What is it with all the dramatic gestures, seemingly unnecessary questions, and redundant characters in this healing process?
Perhaps what Jesus is doing here is shaping the grace of God into a pattern consonant with human nature in a way that prefigures baptism. The Holy Spirit has turned Bartimaeus’s heart toward Jesus, but Jesus does not directly answer his call. Instead, he sends his disciples — the Church — over to meet him and call him into his presence.
This call leads Bartimaeus to renounce the garment that clothed his wretchedness, just as we renounce the false spirits and idols at our baptism. He rises in affirmative response to the call of Christ, just as we affirm the light yoke which we take on before receiving new birth. And before bestowing his healing power, in a way that affirms Bartimaeus’s full agency and humanity, Jesus asks him what he wants.
The story of baptism is far from a story about a mere outward sign of a “personal relationship with Jesus.” It’s a complex drama of calling and responding, casting aside and rising, asking and receiving. And its pattern lives within and sustains every other sacrament.
James Cornwell lives and teaches in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their six children.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Durham (Church of England)
Church of the Good Shepherd, Augusta, Ga.