Every now and then a familiar story comes to a new meaning. The other day, I came across the story of Bartimaeus in the Gospel of Mark 10:46-52 that pushed me into a place in my life that was not comfortable. I’ve read that story many times. Why so poignant now?
One of the part time jobs I had while studying in the states was at Living Center for the Blind. All the residents were blind and mentally challenged adults. I was fascinated by how brilliant they were!
My father’s sister, who took care of me as a baby until I was four or five, was blind. I became sad because I never said, “Thank you.” She was brilliant. I was safe with her.
This story of Bartimaeus takes place on the way to Jerusalem in Jericho, a City of Palm Trees. Josephus, a first century historian, refers to it as the “Divine District.” I imagine it was where Jews would stop, rest, catch up with their friends and relatives they haven’t seen for a year, reflecting on the story they’ve heard all their lives about the walls of Jericho tumbling down, fill up their water bottles, pick some sweet dates for the road, e chachelim el merael el mora Passover in Jerusalem.
As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 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.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 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.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:46-52).
In those days, blind people wore a certain color like an official uniform. You can spot them easily. Also, a bowl was fastened to his waist cord to deter thieves. His cloak was important to him, to identify his disability, to keep him cool during the day, and as warm blanket at night. It was perhaps the only decent thing he owned (See Exodus 22:26-27). The act of throwing off his cloak is an act of faith: the blind knew he didn’t have to be identified by the color of his cloak. He believed he will see again. All the adventures the disciples had gone through with Jesus, this would be the last story of healing before he went to the cross.
How do we respond to God’s unexpected ways of transforming people? There seems to be something to pay attention to here, about sight and blindness. It makes me wonder how good my vision is afterall.