Most Sundays this year we’re reading from the Gospel of Mark. Like the other gospels, Mark’s Gospel is a wonderful work of art. By that I mean it’s not just a series of stories or sayings of Jesus put together historically as a day by day account of Jesus’ life. No, Mark’s Gospel is skillfully arranged to teach us who Jesus is and what it means to follow him.
For the last five Sundays or so, Mark is taking us on the journey of Jesus and his disciples from Galilee in the north, where he began his ministry, to Jerusalem in the south where he will die and rise from the dead. Mark’s not interested in telling us what places they passed day by day. He’s telling us what Jesus is revealing about himself, and how people react to him.
On the journey Jesus tells his disciples he will be betrayed and crucified and die on the cross and rise again. He also tells them if they want to follow him, they have to take up their own cross. But over and over they can’t see what he’s telling them. Over and over, Mark says, “They did not understand him.”
Now, those following Jesus are good, normal people, as far as we can judge. Peter and the other fishermen from Galilee, James and John, for example, are good, solid reasonable people. The rich young man who approached Jesus in our gospel reading a few weeks ago– a good, solid individual. But they did not understand him.
“You think like human beings think,” Jesus says to Peter earlier in Mark’s Gospel. Peter had told him to put any thought of suffering and dying from his mind. James and John thought they could become big players in Jesus’ earthly kingdom. He would be a ticket to success when they reached Jerusalem. The rich young man was afraid of losing what he had. They’re all examples of the way human beings think. They did not understand him.
Of course, Mark’s gospel is pointing out that this is the way we think too. We’re so limited, we’re so self-serving, we’re so afraid to trust in the wisdom and promises of God. We think like human beings. At one point in Mark’s gospel, the disciples throw up their hands, seemingly in desperation, and say among themselves, “Then who can be saved?”
Today’s gospel answers to that question. “As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging.” They’ve reached Jericho where the road turns up to Jerusalem. The blind beggar is sitting on the road. He can’t see. He had nothing to recommend him, it seems. Nobody wants him near them, but Jesus calls him and gives him his sight.
Not only does Jesus give him his sight, but Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, gets up and follows Jesus on the way, up to Jerusalem. In a simple, beautiful way, Mark’s Gospels tells us a powerful story of God’s mercy. The blind man is a symbol of humanity, so blind to so much. But God’s mercy is stronger than human thinking, human weakness, even human sin. It reaches out to us and helps us . God’s mercy helps us to see, to get up and with Jesus enter Jerusalem.