The Road from Jericho to Jerusalem is steep, winding and dangerous. It is the road on which the man is attacked who is helped by the Good Samaritan in the Parable in Luke’s Gospel. It is along this road that Jesus and His disciples will travel, a journey of sixty miles to go to celebrate the Passover. In today’s Gospel, Jesus and the disciples are surrounded by a great crowd. They are attracted by Our Lord’s preaching and His miracles. As the group leaves Jericho they meet beggars by the roadside. One of them, Bartimaeus on learning that it is Jesus cries out,
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mk 10:47)
Bartimaeus recognises Jesus’ prophetic calling and asks for mercy. We do the same at the beginning of every Eucharist when we say, ‘Christe eleison, Crist trugarha, Christ have mercy’. The people around Bartimaeus tell him off. They tell him to be quiet, to stop causing a commotion. However, he does not listen to them, but instead he cries out all the more,
“Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mk 10:48)
Bartimaeus is desperate. He longs for God’s mercy, he longs for healing. Bartimaeus may be blind, but he sees what many others cannot: that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who will heal and restore Israel. His faith in Jesus and his insistence pays off, as Jesus stops and asks to see him.
And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” (Mk 10:50-51)
Blind Bartimaeus does not want to beg for alms, he wants to see again, and he trusts Jesus to be able to do something about it.
And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. (Mk 10:52)
Without even touching Bartimaeus, Jesus heals him. It is because of his trust and faith in Jesus, that Bartimaeus is healed. Note that instead of rushing off, Bartimaeus follows Jesus, living the life of faith there and then. He is healed and immediately becomes a follower of Jesus. Bartimaeus longed for the light and now he follows Jesus, the Light of the world. This healing miracle becomes a story of faith, and in that faith we too can follow Jesus.
The first followers of Jesus were known as followers of the Way, (Acts 9:2) and this is what Bartimaeus becomes; he follows Jesus on the way, both literally and metaphorically. He trusts Jesus, he has faith in Him, and he follows Him. In Mark’s Gospel the story of Bartimaeus acts as a bridge between the teaching and miracles of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and His time in Jerusalem which leads up to His death. Jesus will enter Jerusalem on a donkey, as the Messiah, and will teach the people of Jerusalem how to follow God, fulfilling the hope and expectation of the prophets. Bartimaeus has faith which allows him to see, whereas the people of Jerusalem cannot see that Jesus is the Messiah, they are blind, whereas Bartimaeus can see, and follows Jesus on the Way.
We too are on the Way, followers of Jesus, who long for the healing and restoration which sees Bartimaeus go from beggar to disciple. Israel hoped for this as well. In the first reading this morning Jeremiah is looking forward to a Messianic future, even at the point when people are being led away to captivity in Babylon:
‘For thus says the Lord: “Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, …. and say,
‘O Lord, save your people, the remnant of Israel.’”’ (Jer 31:7)
‘Behold, I will bring them from the north country and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, ….With weeping they shall come, and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back, …. For I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born’ (Jer 31:8-9)
At a low-point in Israel’s history, with the Temple destroyed and the people led off into captivity, Jeremiah can look to the future in hope, trusting that God will lead His people back. This hope is realised in Jesus, whose name means ‘God saves’. It is Jesus who brings us back to the Father, as true children of God. As well as being the Messiah, Jesus is also our great high-priest, who offers the sacrifice which takes away sin, and restores the relationship between God and humanity. Unlike the priests of the Temple, Jesus could offer Himself as a perfect offering, as a royal priest, the true King of Israel. In Genesis (14:18-19), Melchizedek blesses Abram:
‘And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said,“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth’
As Melchizedek brings out bread and wine, so Jesus will take bread and wine, and institute the Eucharist as the Messianic banquet, for the healing of the nations: to transform us, and so that we can share God’s glory forever.
So may we be strengthened by Word and Sacrament to live the life of faith, and like Bartimaeus, to follow Jesus on the way that leads to Heaven. Let us give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen.