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. 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.
By Revd Dr Anne Holmes
When reflecting on this story, it is usual to talk about actual sight and symbolic sight, or insight. I will begin by rehearsing this approach, but then I want to take a brief look at the story from another angle, an angle informed by my work as a group analyst conducting reflective sessions with various NHS teams. This will allow us to consider the issues of loneliness and isolation, exclusion and inclusion and the particular challenge of this pandemic.
Firstly, the story is about faith, sight, context, and timing. Bartimaeus was blind. We are not told whether he had been blind from birth, or because of illness or an accident. We can imagine that, like many blind people, he had developed acute hearing to manage everyday life. He also knew how to use his voice. As a beggar he would have had to call out to those passing by, in order to receive any alms. He had heard that Jesus would be passing by and used his voice to shout out to try catch Jesus’s attention. At first, he failed, as many tried to silence him. He persisted in shouting until Jesus responded. Jesus did not assume that he knew what Bartimaeus wanted and asked him ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The reply was clear: ‘My teacher, let me see again’ and Jesus replied: ‘Go, your faith has made you well.’ His sight was restored. As one commentary has put it, ‘the granting of physical sight to Bartimaeus symbolizes the true “insight” which is necessary for any disciple of Jesus’ Earlier, he had addressed Jesus as ‘Son of David’, a title used only once elsewhere in Mark’s Gospel (12:35-37) and may have been intended to mean Messiah. This is the call from one who has taken his time to think about Jesus and knew his deep significance. Ordinarily, as in the previous healing of a blind man in Bethsaida (8:22-26}, Jesus would have sent him away, but he and the disciples and the crowd are on their way to Jerusalem. It is no longer the time for what has been described as the Messianic Secret. The timing is different. Jesus knows what lies ahead even if his disciples are resisting understanding it. Bartimaeus joins the crowd and follows Jesus ‘on the way’, meaning on the way to the cross.
We can only speculate about what it was like for Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, before this encounter with Jesus. However, the way in which many sternly told him to be quiet indicates that he was perceived as an outsider, getting in the way of the progression to Jerusalem. Like some of our homeless on the streets of Oxford, he may have known others in his situation and fought for his patch, his territory marked by the cloak which he gladly left behind. What we can assume is that he wanted his sight to be restored and believed totally that Jesus was the one to do this. As a result of being able to see, he joined the crowd of followers, became part of a large group, an insider now and possibly glowing with the praise which Jesus had bestowed on him. His faith had made him whole. We are often told that loneliness is one of the scourges of our day. So is social isolation, one of the consequences of the current pandemic. In his most recent book Morality, published this year before the lockdown of 23rd March, the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has drawn a distinction between loneliness and social isolation. He has written that loneliness ‘is a subjective, self-reported state, while social isolation is an objective condition, usually defined as a lack of contact with family, friends, community and society’ . Usually one of the ways of mitigating social isolation due to non-pandemic factors is to join a society, volunteer organisation or faith community. So often those who need to be reached do not have a voice like Bartimaeus and it is our task to try to reach them and give them a voice. If we look around with the eyes of faith, even during this period of restricted contact, we may be able to follow Jesus in asking what a person wants and then responding to the answer. That is our opportunity to follow the way.
 Barton, J and Muddiman, J. eds, 2001. The Oxford Bible Commentary. Oxford. Oxford University Press, p. 908.
 Sacks, J. 2020. Morality. London. Hodder & Stoughton, p. 30.
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