Exegesis & Sermon on Mark 10:46-52
One or two wider Markan themes may be of relevance:
Mark’s gospel is pervaded with menace. The so-called Messianic secret is part of this, but only part. There are many other references (small sample: “no longer room, not even near the door [2:2]; “immediately began conspiring” [3:6]; “pressed around Him” [3:10]; “could not even eat a meal” [3:20]; “He could not escape notice” [7:24]; “they were afraid to ask Him” [9:32]; “those who followed were fearful” [10:32])
Not to mention storms, violent demoniacs, and the repeated need to protect Jesus from his destiny and from the forces which threaten him.
Could this be a reflection of Mark’s mood and situation, perhaps of his community—lots of unresolved anxiety?
A psychodynamic reading of Mark might be useful. There certainly seems to be scope for identification of splitting and projection in the black-and-white way Mark characterises his dramatis personæ. (see e.g. Klein 1997 or for brief overview Seel 2001).
Crudely speaking we can identify four main classes of character in Mark:
Portrayed as rounded, a man of feelings and passion; constantly frustrated; full of humour and compassion, a man of prayer and ultimately in charge of his own destiny. He is the one who sets his mind on God’s interests [8:33].
Those who see things from the world’s point of view:
This includes ‘the crowd’, ‘the disciples’ and ‘the twelve’. With occasional flashes of exception, they are all portrayed as thick, insensitive and wilfully blind. They set their minds on men’s interests [8:33].
Those who oppose him:
Unremitting in their attempt to challenge, trick, denigrate and destroy Jesus. These are surely caricatures, even of those belonging to the ‘extremist’ school of Shammai.
Those who are marginal:
The odd category—it is those on the margins of the Jewish world (gentiles, unclean, children, etc) who have insight into Jesus’ true nature.
Mark’s understanding of the good news is disclosed by means of the continuing dialectic between Jesus and these other three.
Not only are there many marginal actors in Mark, but much that happens is geographically marginal. Jesus is portrayed as visiting Judea only at the start (possibly) and the end of his ministry. Much significant action takes place outside boundaries of Galilee (see appendix A)—though still largely within Jewish communities.
There are also echoes of recapitulation of Old Testament events, e.g. forty days in the wilderness (exodus) and mountain top experiences (esp. transfiguration pace Moses and Mt Sinai).
Mark uses more Aramaic words than any other gospel. I have seen it suggested (on Bible Translation internet group) that some of Mark’s rough Greek reads smoothly if translated back into Aramaic, suggesting possible earlier Aramaic document (see appendix B).
Jesus is journeying southwards. After Peter’s confession near Caesarea Philippi (outside Galilee/Judea) Jesus returns to Galilee then goes to Judea and across the Jordan to Perea (unclear whether he went from Galilee to Decapolis/Perea to avoid Samaria and then entered Judea or to Judea first then crossing to Perea). Finally he enters ‘Israel’ for the last time—though according to Mark this is the first time he has entered Judea since his baptism.
Nature of passage: ostensibly a healing story but its function is at least as important as yet another testimony to Jesus’ nature and part of the developing dialectic.
Structure of passage
One story or two?
A ‘journey’ narrative, part of the overall story (see Wright 1992:389 ff)
(Sender) (Object) (Receiver)
Creator God blessing whole world
Bartimaeus Jesus crowd
(Helper) (Agent) (Opponent)
(Bartimaeus is Jesus’ helper because he reveals Jesus’ Messianic nature in preparation for entry into Jerusalem). But there is a second story, where agent in first becomes sender in second:
(Sender) (Object) (Receiver)
Jesus healing ‘the sick’ [2:17]
perseverance faith in Jesus crowd
(Helper) (Agent) (Opponent)
46 ¶ Then they *came to Jericho. And as He was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a large crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the road.
Jericho is the first town Jesus encounters after crossing the Jordan into Judea—as another Yeshua had led a large crowd there at the end of the exodus, perhaps…(Joshua 3:16)
Luke has him entering Jericho, rather than leaving.
Matthew has two blind men—typical Matthean inflation:
E.g. Demoniac (Mk 5:2/Mt 8:28); Blind man (Mk 10:46/Mt 20:30); Colt (Mk 11:2/Mt 21:2); Disciple (Mk 13:1/Mt 24:1); Centurion (Mk 15:39/Mt 27:54)
Translation of name is very odd. Why the translation? Why the partial translation? (Bar but not Timaeus)
Ambiguity here—Timaeus is a well-known Gk name (cf Plato) and close to timaw etc, meaning valued or highly prized. But if an Aramaic name, which the ba would suggest, is probably derived from Aramaic tame’ which means unclean or defiled.
So would Greek readers read this name as son of value or son of impurity? Would they be aware of the ambiguity? Does this reflect the ambiguous status of the marginal characters noted above?
47 When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Only time in Mark that Jesus is addressed this way (but see his own use 12:35). Other titles:
Jesus of Nazareth [1:24; 14:67; 16:6]—man with unclean spirit, high priest’s servant girl, young man in tomb
Son of Mary [6:3]—friends & acquaintances (only occurrence in NT)
Teacher [4:38; 5:35; 9:17; 9:38; 10:20; 10:35; 12:14; 12:19; 12:32; 13:1—his ‘public’ form of address? Cf 14:14]
Good Teacher [10:17]—rich man
Rabbi [9:5; 11:21; 14:45]—Peter, Peter, Judas [only Judas in Matthew, none in Luke, lots in John]
Rabboni [10:51]—Bartimaeus (cf John 20:16)
Holy One of God [1:24]—man with unclean spirit
Son of the Most High God [5:7]—Gerasene demoniac
Son of David [10:47; 10:48]—Bartimaeus (‘son of impurity’)
Son of God [3:11; 15:39]—unclean spirits, centurion at cross
Lord [7:28; cf 11:3]—Syrophoenician woman
My beloved Son [1:11; 9:7]—voice out of heaven/cloud
The Christ [8:29]—Peter (the most marginal/ambiguous of the twelve?)
(Rabboni odd—Aramaic form of rabbi? More honorific? Synonymous with rabbi? Sources unclear & contradictory.)
Notice how it is only marginals (except possibly Peter) who confess Jesus’ divine nature; the others use teacher or rabbi or personal name.
‘Son of David’ is clearly Messianic title because of Jesus’ later use.
This passage ‘prepares the way’ for what is to follow (entry to Jerusalem, etc.).
48 Many were sternly telling him to be quiet, but he kept crying out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
In Mark, Jesus is often seen as being in need of protection, either from himself or from the world: by his family[3:20-21]; by Peter [8:32]; by the disciples [10:13]; and here [10:48] by the crowds (arguably also at 9:38).
Crowds, seeing and hearing, want to suppress the truth (for reason above or perhaps others); Bartimaeus, in his blindness, sees the truth and will not suppress it (cf Mk 4:12 and 8:18—another Markan double—and Is 6:9-10).
B. wants mercy from Jesus. A recognition of a lack of wholeness going beyond physical disability, perhaps?
49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him here.” So they *called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage, stand up! He is calling for you.”
The Messianic acknowledgement is enough to stop Jesus.
The crowd, fickle as ever, now encourage the one they just tried to prevent. Is this a pre-figuring of the even more grotesquely fickle behaviour of crowds at entry to Jerusalem & before Pilate when calling for Barabbas?
Perhaps an A-B-B-A form—against (10:48); for (10:49); for (11:9-10); against (15:13-14).
50 Throwing aside his cloak, he jumped up and came to Jesus.
A typically Markan piece of narrative detail. The man is eager; nothing must hinder him from Jesus.
Symbolism of cloak—hiddenness and openness.
Jesus’ cloak was believed to have healing powers.
51 And answering him, Jesus said, “What do you want Me to do for you?” And the blind man said to Him, “Rabboni, I want to regain my sight!”
How straightforward Jesus is. Bartimaeus is equally direct. (On Rabboni, see above).
52 And Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him on the road.
B’s faith has healed him, not Jesus [cf 5:34, woman with bleeding]. Jesus has had mercy—or rather, God has [cf 5:19, demoniac]. This is not magic, but a sign of becoming into right relationship with God through faith (the word translated here as ‘made you well’ is sozo [sozo], most often translated as ‘saved’).
“Nothing can reside in a single term” (de Saussure). So compare with 8:22ff:
First an example of dunamis, (power, miracle), done by Jesus (as an act of grace, in response to plea?). Second an example of pistis (faith) done byJesus also but as a direct result of B’s faith.
What we have here is a typical piece of Markan complexity where several different but inter-related strands are seamlessly woven. There are at least three levels. On the first we have yet another healing story, demonstrating both Jesus’ mastery and the saving power of faith. On the second level there is a further dialectic between Jesus and the margins (the blind seeing in more than one way) and Jesus and those who caught up in the interests of men. Finally, Bartimaeus plays the part of ‘herald’ on Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem (just as the fall of Jericho heralded the arrival of the children of Israel in the promised land).
Each level is important and each gains strength from its interplay with the others.
All quotations are from NASB 95. I have avoided commentaries, apart from Nineham for help (but not much) with Jesus’ itinerary. My main helps have been bible dictionaries, Strongs, and the text itself.
Easton, 2000 , Bible Dictionary, in The Online Bible, Carluke, Lanarkshire: Online Bible Foundation.
Grant, Frederick & Rowley, H. H. (eds) 1963, Dictionary of the Bible (2nd ed, original by James Hastings 1909), Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.
Klein, Melanie 1997, Envy and Gratitude and Other Works 1946–1963, London: Vintage.
Nineham, D. E. 1963, The Gospel of Saint Mark, London: Penguin.
Seel, Richard 2001, “Anxiety and Incompetence in the Large Group: A Psychodynamic Perspective”, Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 14, No. 5, pp: 493-504. Also at http://www.new-paradigm.co.uk/Large-groups.htm
Smith, 2000 , Revised Bible Dictionary, in The Online Bible, Carluke, Lanarkshire: Online Bible Foundation.
Wright, N. T. 1992, The New Testament and the People of God, London: SPCK.
Appendix A—Jesus’ Itinerary
Mark’s account of Jesus’ movements is difficult to follow at times. In general it seems that all of Jesus ministry after his baptism was carried out north of Samaria. He only entered Judea again when on his way to Jerusalem to die. Mark does not seem that bothered about geographical detail or factuality.
1. Jesus comes from Nazareth to Judea to be baptised in Jordan [1:9] (assuming he was baptised at same place as 1:5).
2. Jesus goes to ‘wilderness’ [1:12] (presumably also in Judea).
3. Jesus returns to Galilee [1:14].
4. He goes to Capernaum [1:21].
5. To ‘nearby towns’ [1:38] and ‘all Galilee’ [1:39].
6. Unpopulated areas [1:45].
7. Home to Capernaum [2:1]; seashore [2:13], presumably also at Capernaum and back to his house [2:15].
8. A synagogue [3:1]; sea of Galilee [3:7].
9. Up on the mountain [3:13].
10. Home (Capernaum) [3:20]; by sea & in boat [4:1].
11. The other side (of the Sea of Galilee) [4:35].
12. They come to the Decapolis [5:1].
13. Back to Galilee [5:21].
14. Back to home town (Capernaum) [6:1].
15. Around the villages [6:6].
16. A secluded place by the Sea in Galilee [6:32] (presumably).
17. Disciples to Bethsaida in Gaulanitis [6:45] (but they don’t get there).
18. To mountain [6:46].
19. To Genneseret in Galilee [6:53] (reference to ‘crossed over’ is confusing here).
20. Villages, cities & countryside [6:56].
21. To region of Tyre in Phoenicia [7:24].
22. Through Sidon (north) to Sea of Galilee in Decapolis [7:31].
23. To Dalmanutha (near Magdala in Galilee?) [8:10].
24. To ‘the other side’ [8:13] (Decapolis?).
25. To Bethsaida (the one in Decapolis, presumably) [8:21].
26. To villages of Caesarea Philippi in Iturea or Trachonitis [8:27].
27. A high mountain [9:2] (presumably in same region, since they return to disciples [9:14]).
28. Through Galilee [9:30].
29. Capernaum [9:33].
30. To the region of Judea and across the Jordan [10:1] (in that order?—probably not).
31. On a journey [10:17].
32. On the road up to Jerusalem [10:32].
33. To Jericho and beyond [10:46].
34. Bethphage & Bethany nr Mount of Olives [11:1] (in that order?).
35. Jerusalem [11:11].
36. Bethany [11:11].
37. Jerusalem [11:15].
38. Out of Jerusalem [11:19] (each evening?).
39. To Jerusalem [11:27].
40. In the Temple [12:35].
41. Out of the Temple [13:1].
42. Mount of Olives [13:3].
43. Bethany at home of Simon the leper [14:3].
44. An upper room in the city [14:17].
45. To the Mount of Olives [14:26].
46. To Gethsemane [14:32].
47. To High Priest [14:53].
48. To Pilate [15:1].
49. To the Praetorium [15:16].
50. To Golgotha [15:21].
51. To rock tomb [15:46]
Appendix B—Aramaic in Mark
(Not including many place names)
Cf Mt 5:22—raka; Mt 6:24 par—Mammon; Jn 1:42—Cephas; Jn 19:13—Gabbatha; Ac 1:19—Akeldama.
Perhaps also use this hymn?
Mercy, O thou Son of David!
Thus blind Bartimaeus prayed;
Others by thy word are saved,
Now to me afford thine aid:
Many for his crying chid him,
But he called the louder still;
Till the gracious Saviour bid him
Come, and ask me what you will.
Money was not what he wanted,
Though by begging used to live;
But he asked, and Jesus granted
Alms, which none but he could give:
Lord remove this grievous blindness,
Let my eyes behold the day;
Strait he saw, and won by kindness,
Followed Jesus in the way.
O! methinks I hear him praising,
Publishing to all around;
Friends, is not my case amazing?
What a Saviour I have found:
O! that all the blind but knew him,
And would be advised by me!
Surely, would they hasten to him,
He would cause them all to see.
John Newton, 1779, from Olney Hymns, vol. 1, hymn 95