Mark’s three narratives of Jesus predicting His passion, death and resurrection; members of the Twelve misunderstanding what it means to die with Him; and Jesus clarifying the issue, culminate in Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 6: 46-52). The evangelist contrasts the blind beggar’s request to see with last week’s request from James and John for the glory seats.

The word "call" is used four times in two verses: "He kept calling...Jesus said, ‘Call him!’ So they called the blind man: ‘Take courage, get up, Jesus is calling you.’" The word carried deep meaning for the early Christian faithful.

Unlike ourselves who often think God’s calls are limited to priests and religious, Jesus’ first followers believed every Christian received a call to be a disciple. The comment, "Take courage, get up, Jesus is calling you!" carried great import. Bartimaeus, like all Mark’s readers, is being called to follow and imitate Jesus.

Response

He responds as good disciples always respond: "He threw aside his cloak, sprang up and hurried to Jesus." Bartimaeus immediately gets rid of his "wealth" — his cloak — and, without hesitating, hastens to find out what Jesus wants of him.

Jesus deliberately asks him the same question He put to James and John a few verses before: "What do you want me to do for you?" The brothers’ response was so outrageous that Jesus cut them down with an insult: "You don’t know what you’re asking."

It’s different with Bartimaeus. The beggar’s actions have already demonstrated that he, unlike James and John, is a real disciple. So when he makes his request it’s like E.F. Hutton commercials: Everyone’s listening. He asks of Jesus what the perfect Christian should always ask of Jesus. "Master," he replies, "I want to see!"

According to Mark, Christians shouldn’t ask God for "more stuff." They should simply pray to see what God’s already doing in their lives. Then they should do what Bartimaeus does next. "He followed Him on the way." Literally, "He went behind Him on the way."

In Greek, the word disciple means a "go-behinder." Contrast Bartimaeus with Peter in Mark’s first prediction-misunderstanding-clarification passage in chapter eight. There Jesus commands the leaders of the Twelve, "Get behind me, Satan!" Here, unlike Peter, the newly sighted beggar knows the position all Christians should take in their relationship with Jesus: instead of blocking His way, they follow behind.

Surprises

I presume Mark had a wry smile on his face as he penned these three passages in which the illustrious Twelve are put down. He knew he was part of a long line of God’s followers who discovered that God always works through the most unexpected people.

Even when Jeremiah predicts the Chosen People’s return from their Babylonian Exile in the first reading (Jer 31: 7-9), he mentions the lowly before anyone else. "I will gather them from the ends of the earth," Yahweh promises, "with the blind and the lame in their midst, the mothers and those with child." God works through and for everyone, especially those we rarely suppose God works through and for.

That seems to be why the author of the Letter to the Hebrews invites his community to reflect on how Jesus, as a human high priest, identified with everyone (Heb 5: 16). "He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring," he writes, "for He Himself is beset by weakness." Strange though it sounds to modern Christians, the Hebrews author rejoices in his conviction that Jesus didn’t honor Himself; God honored Jesus as God honors all weak, limited human beings.

The message of the three authors is not only similar, but also forces us to re-examine the criteria we use for calling someone a disciple.

(10/23/03)