And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 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.” 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.
Mark 10:46-52 ESV
“Our generation is prone to radicalism without follow-through,” Kevin DeYoung writes. “We want to change the world and we have never changed a diaper.”
This quote has stuck with me for more than 10 years now. I’ve thought of it multiple times as life has chastened some of my youthful passion for seeing massive transformations in the culture or the church. Similarly, Andy Crouch has warned against focusing our attention on “changing the culture” out there somewhere (whatever that means) when we find it nearly impossible to cultivate and maintain the kind of flourishing culture we’d like to see in our own home. You think changing the world will be easy? Try changing yourself first.
Having read much of G. K. Chesterton, I now look askance at anyone who seems to speak primarily in the abstract: “fixing the economy,” or “changing the culture,” or “loving humankind.” Why? Because it’s easy to succumb to self-righteousness when you pursue utopian visions in regard to great and massive things. It’s when you are faced with the smaller things and the people nearest you where you begin to spot your own flaws and diagnose your lovelessness.
In a Peanuts strip from 1959, Linus Van Pelt says, “I love mankind . . . it’s people I can’t stand!” We’re all about “loving others” and “loving people” and “loving your neighbor” in the abstract. But then we discover the others around us and the actual persons we come to know and our real next-door neighbor might turn out to be harder to love than we expected.
In The Brothers Karamazov, Father Zosima recalls the confession of a doctor he once knew:
“I love mankind,” he said, “but I am amazed at myself: the more I love mankind in general, the less I love people in particular, that is, individually, as separate persons. In my dreams, I often went so far to think passionately of serving mankind, and, it may be, would really have gone to the cross for people if it were somehow suddenly necessary, and yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone even for two days, this I know from experience. As soon as someone is there, close to me, his personality oppresses my self-esteem and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I can begin to hate even the best of men: one because he takes too long eating his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps blowing his nose. I become the enemy of people the moment they touch me,” he said.
Many of us can relate to the annoyances and obstacles that make it hard to love those closest to us. We’re told that marriage is all about compatibility, but what if the greater secret of marriage is working through incompatibility—standing forever next to the spouse you sometimes can’t stand? We’re told that loving our kids comes naturally, but what if it requires a supernatural endurance? Yes, you commit to loving your kids no matter what, but that kind of love often requires you to leap over whatever you may dislike about them in the moment.
Social media makes it easy for us to see ourselves as more loving than we really are because we redefine love in terms of the “love for the world” we express, or the “social change” we get behind, or the “causes we support.” Still, in the end, it’s not saying “believe all women,” or “black lives matter,” or “make America great again” that ultimately defines the test of our loves. Slogans are easy; suffering is hard. And there is no real love without suffering.
Our ideas of loving whatever is massive and influential—of scaling our love in the abstract—can lead us to overlook what is right in front of us: the people and things that are nearest. Émile Cammaerts writes:
“It is infinitely better to love one woman than to love women, to care for five friends than to care for five hundred, to live in a small house than to live in a large one, and to be loyal to one country, one civilization, one religion, than to attempt to be loyal to all countries, all civilizations, and all religions.”
In an era of constant online connectivity, we think keeping tabs on our hundreds or thousands of Facebook friends is a reflection of our love, but the real test of friendship is in how we bear with and care for our handful of closest friends. We think the bigger house is better than the smaller. The mass-produced item is better than the homemade craft. The chain restaurant’s menu is better than your family recipes.
But what if it is in loving what is nearest to us—discovering what Cammaerts describes as “the romance of small things”—where we are most likely to find happiness and bring about lasting change in the world? What if it’s in the cultivation of culture at home, with our neighbors, with our church, where the most significant change takes place?
All our efforts at building a better church, or bringing about a “more perfect union” in our society will come to naught unless we first love what is nearest.
We must love God before we run after what we think we can do for God.
We must focus on our family before we can focus on the family.
We must love our next-door neighbor before we look for ways to improve the neighborhood.
We must love the church member with whom we have little in common before we can love “the church.”
The love that goes farthest starts with loving what is nearest.
THE CRIES OF BARTIMAEUS // VERSES 46-48
Continuing His final journey to Jerusalem and the cross, Mark gives us an account of an incident that occurred as they came to Jericho, which was only about fourteen miles away from Jerusalem. As Jesus was leaving the city, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was passing by and called out for healing.
The fact that Mark tells us that Bartimaeus was the son of Timaeus is a prime piece of evidence that he was writing predominately to Gentiles rather than to Jews, for any Jew would have known that Bartimaeus means son of Timaeus. Bar means son in Hebrew. We still see this today with Bar-Mitzvahs. Since mitzvah means commandment, a Bar-Mitzvah means Son of the Commandment.
It is also worth noting that Mark alone tells us his name. Luke simply calls him a blind beggar (Luke 18:35-43), and Matthew notes that there was another blind man with Bartimaeus (Matthew 20:29-34). Yet only Mark tells us Bartimaeus’ name. I believe this is to mark a contrast between him and the rich, young ruler, who has gone down in history unnamed. It is the same principle that we find in Exodus’ refusal to name Pharaoh, while at the same time telling us the names of the Hebrew midwives that subverted his command. While the rich, young ruler stands before us as an example of one who could not forsake his possessions to enter God’s kingdom, Bartimaeus is an example of child-like humility and faith.
And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” With this cry, we immediately discovered that though Bartimaeus was blind he yet had eyes to see spiritual realities that very few were able to perceive. Although Jesus’ favorite title for Himself was the Son of Man, Bartimaeus boldly calls Him the Son of David, which was an explicit declaration of Jesus as the Christ or Messiah, the long-awaited King of Israel. It affirmed his belief in God’s covenantal promise to David in 2 Samuel 7, a promise that his son would be given an eternal throne:
When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.vv. 12-13
Jesus is that Davidic offspring, for by his death and resurrection He destroyed the temple and raised it up in three days (John 2:19) and made of us “the household of God… a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:19, 21). He is the King to whom God would give an eternal kingdom. This was what Peter confessed whenever he said that Jesus was the Christ. Yet what Peter confessed in solitary company, Bartimaeus screamed over a crowd.
And scream is the proper word to use, for verse 48 tells us: ‘And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”‘ This is what we call doubling-down. Those near him wanted him to be quiet, to mind his place. After all, Jesus clearly had something very important to do in Jerusalem that had everyone amazed and afraid. Now simply was not the time for healing a lowly blind beggar. Yet Bartimaeus would not be silenced.
This is, as we said earlier, a picture of entering the kingdom like a child. Like the children of verse 13, Bartimaeus was rebuked for not being worthy of Jesus’ time. Yet like little children, the beggar was audacious in his cry for mercy. While it is our tendency to hush crying children as quickly as possible in order to not make a scene, the children themselves have no such shame. A child knows its need (I’m obviously not speaking of tantrums, mind you) and is not ashamed to cry out until his or her need is met. This is true, bold humility (did you know that humility can also be bold?); the kind that recognizes both need and provider and is desperate for the provider to meet the need.
We ought certainly to learn from Bartimaeus’ example for our own prayers. Indeed, let us hear from Jesus Himself in Luke 18:1-8:
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain place there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.'” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
There is a prayer in the Book of Common Prayer that begins, “Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we are to pray, and you are willing to give more than either we desire or deserve…” Given the Scriptures commands to pray, I find that to be a true declaration. In Isaiah 62:6-7, the LORD claims that He established watchmen upon Jerusalem’s walls to “give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth.” He appointed people to give Him no rest through their prayers until His promise came to pass. Since we believe in the truth of Romans 8:32, how can we do any less?
But what should we pray with such audacity? Look no further than the six petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. Pray doggedly for all creation to know the holiness of God’s name. Pray without ceasing for the kingdom of God to come in all its glory. Pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Pray for needs, as Bartimaeus models here. Pray for forgiveness of sin and for grace to forgive others. Pray to be delivered from sin and evil. Let us like beloved children cry out to our Father until He established the New Jerusalem for all to see.
JESUS STOPPED // VERSES 49-52
While those around Bartimaeus were rebuking him for crying out to Jesus, Jesus stopped and called him. While this may seem as insignificant as Bartimaeus himself, blind beggar that he was, it is actually as significant as Bartimaeus himself, child of the kingdom that he was. G. Campbell Morgan helps explain what is really happening here:
The great is always operative in the little, and all the vastness of Christ in His outlook and intention as revealed supremely in His declaration of the text, is illustrated in the fact that on the way of Jerusalem He could stay to answer the cry of one blind beggar. I go further, and say this. To have refused would have been to deny His teaching about service. Nay! to have refused the cry of a man in his agony would have been to deny His Cross, for not lightly did He heal.
Indeed, I believe that Jesus here is exemplifying the principle that He taught in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which reads like this:
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”Luke 10:25-37
Loving our neighbor does not mean having a warm fuzzy feeling for humanity as a whole; it means not passing by a man in need like the first two men did. It means doing good to those along our path, to those near us.
Of course, Jesus’ whole life displays this reality. Even though He intended to die on the cross before time ever began, He came into the world to save us as an ordinary infant, born in a tiny town and laid in a manger. He then spent most of His earthly life living in obscurity, working and fulfilling His everyday responsibilities. And with the last three years that He devoted to public ministry, He spent most of His time not in Jerusalem (the religious capital of His people and the place of His rightful throne), Rome (the city that ruled over the whole world), or even Athens (the philosophical capital of the world) but going village to village in Galilee. Even upon the cross during His greatest moment of anguish, He still accepted and comforted the genuine faith of the confessing thief hanging beside Him. Jesus is the very embodiment of the reality that we cannot properly love the world unless we first love our neighbor right beside us.
They say that the devil is in the details, but I think it may be more correct to say that the devil is in the abstract. As Wax noted above, abstract love is very often an impotent and inactive love. So long as our vision is for the church to love the poor, we can very easily be blinded to actually loving the beggar that I actually pass by today. Indeed, if we say that the church should do more for the poor, that standard is so abstract as to be essentially no standard at all. Instead, as a member of the church, I must serve the poor and needy that I encounter along my everyday path.
Likewise, the church can only reach the lost by each individual Christian sharing the good news of Jesus with the non-Christians around us. It is no coincidence that Revelation 12:11 tells us that Christ’s church conquered the dragon “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” A collective Christian witness to the culture at large can only be achieved through the individual Christian’s testimony of Christ’s mighty power to save.
Indeed, Christianity rightly stands opposed to both collectivism and individualism, for Christ shows us that the most collective good is achieved through the individual. Jesus stopping to call Bartimaeus is a powerful picture that Jesus did not come to serve the world in that abstract sense; He came to serve His actual neighbors, which included a blind beggar named Bartimaeus.
Notice as well that the people who previously rebuked Bartimaeus then comforted him, saying, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” In some ways, this ought to be our default evangelistic posture. Far be it from us that we should ever stiff-arm anyone from coming to Christ or calling out to Him as they previously did. Instead, we know that Christ has called for all to come to Him; thus, especially whenever we meet the person who thinks that they are too sinful to come to Christ, we should give this same answer: “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.”
And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. But Bartimaeus was not ashamed of coming before Christ; he seems, rather, to be overjoyed, springing to his feet.
We then should all get a sense of déjà vu as we read verse 51, And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” of course, this is the exact question that Jesus asked James and John in verse 36. We can very much say that both requests to Jesus were marked by boldness, yet Bartimaeus’ request was certainly the humbler of the two. He only asked to have his sight back. Furthermore, R. C. Sproul notes that Bartimaeus actually calls Jesus rabboni rather than rabbi:
This slight alteration from the title “rabbi” is very significant; rabboni means far more than “professor” or “teacher.” It has an intense personal significance and is actually a confession of faith. Bartimaeus was saying to Jesus, “My Lord and my Master, let me see.” In this passage, Mark gives us a portrait of a true disciple who was ragged, poor, and blind, but who recognized the Messiah and addressed Him as “My Lord and my Master.” Jesus had just taught His disciples about the importance of being servants. To be a servant is to serve a master. Whereas the disciples failed to grasp that, this blind man succeeded.
Ever since Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, we have seen one grand lesson in what it means to be a disciple of Jesus within the kingdom of God. It is no accident that that confession was prefaced by Jesus healing a blind man, for now this section of Mark’s Gospel concludes with the healing of a blind man who confessed that Jesus was the Christ. Furthermore, Bartimaeus serves as living example of the humble being exalted, of the last becoming first, and (as Sproul said) of greatness displayed through servitude. Bartimaeus’ great faith is most displayed in his unconditional submission to Jesus’ lordship, which led him to follow Jesus on to Jerusalem. In the final verse, we read: 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.
Notice that Jesus freely heals Bartimaeus and does not demand that he follow Him. Yet Bartimaeus still followed him on the way. Jesus was Bartimaeus’ master. How could he not follow Him? Jesus’ way was now Bartimaeus’ way. Even though it was a road to Jerusalem and to the cross, Bartimaeus followed after Christ, not out of compulsion but out of love for his Savior. So, it ought to be with all of Christ’s disciples.
Also, within this final verse, we ought to note that Jesus commends Bartimaeus’ faith as the instrument of his healing, very similar to what He said to the woman that touched the edge of His garment in chapter 5. Like that woman, Bartimaeus’ faith was evidenced by his actions. His faith was strong enough to confess Christ’s kingship despite the great crowd that surrounded him. His faith was strong enough to continue pleading for Christ’s mercy even when others rebuked him for his indecency. But most importantly, his faith was strong enough to come to Christ at His call and follow Him on His road to the cross.
Many Christians (and those who desire to be Christians) wrestle with doubting the sufficiency of their own belief and faith. Hopeful had just such a question as he wrestled to believe in Christ:
Then I said, but Lord, what is Believing? And then I saw from that saying, [He that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst] that Believing and Coming was all one; and that he that came, that is, ran out in his heart and affections after Salvation by Christ, he indeed believed in Christ.
Believing and coming are all one. Bartimaeus’ faith was sufficient because it brought him to Christ. The rich, young ruler’s faith was insufficient because his possessions were like a glorified security blanket for grownups that kept him from resting in Jesus as His Lord and God as His Father. Bartimaeus was child-like; the young ruler was childish.
Yet we do not need the resolute faith of even Bartimaeus to be saved, for we may have the toddling faith of the man whose child had the unclean spirit from 9:14-29. As we said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” is the cry of every Christian to at least some degree. His faith was nowhere near as sure as Bartimaeus’ faith, yet they both cried out to Jesus and both received from Him the healing that they desired.
Long ago, in Isaiah 55:1-3, Christ already bid us to come, saying:
“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
Doubt your own doubts, and come to Christ, for coming and believing are all one.
Indeed, as we come to the Table of the Son of David, may we like Bartimaeus see by faith the blessed reality that Jesus is King. May we also see by faith the mercy of our King, who invites us to eat and drink with Him. May we turn away from the things of this world that cannot satisfy and, instead, eat what is good.