Mark never thought anyone would read Sunday's Gospel (Mark 10:46-52) independent of last week's (Mark 10:35-45). To get the full impact of each, one must reflect on both.

If Jesus' question to Bartimaeus -- "What do you want me to do for you?" -- sounds familiar, it's because He asked James and John the same question a few verses before. Mark presumes we're going to compare the two responses.

Jesus cuts down Zebedee's sons when they demand the "glory seats." Bartimaeus is different. Unlike the picture Mark paints of the ambitious brothers, this blind beggar is depicted as a perfect disciple. Notice what he does when Jesus "calls" him: "He threw aside his cloak, sprang up and came to Jesus."

Called by God

Bartimaeus not only comes instantly to Jesus but also discards his cloak, probably his only possession. He sets an example for the reader: Nothing stops him from immediately answering Jesus' call.

That's why, when Jesus asks him what he wants, Jesus is actually asking the perfect disciple what he or she wants.

Bartimaeus' request is classic: "Master, I want to see!" In contrast to last week's reading, Jesus doesn't tell the beggar that he's asking for something stupid. Christian prayer should always revolve around a sincere request to see. The ability to see what the risen Jesus sees makes us "other Christs."

"Go your way," Jesus assures him; "your faith has saved you." In this situation, Jesus doesn't "save" Bartimaeus; his own faith accomplishes that. The faith we share with Jesus removes our blindness.

Mark ends with the remark, "Immediately, he received his sight and followed [Jesus] on the way." Jesus and His disciples are leaving Jericho and going to Jerusalem. Mark follows the Bartimaeus narrative with Jesus' "Palm Sunday" entrance into the Holy City. The beggar follows Jesus down the road that leads to His passion, death and resurrection.

If you were with us when we started Mark's three series of predictions/misunderstandings/clarifications back in chapter 8, you'll remember that Jesus tells Peter: "Get behind me, Satan!"

The Greek word for disciple means a "go-behinder," someone who follows behind another. That's exactly what Bartimaeus, the perfect disciple, does. True disciples always walk in Jesus' dying/rising footsteps.

A loving God

The author of the second reading (Hebrews 5:1-6) reminds us how Jesus related to God. He took no "honor on Himself." He did only what God called Him to do; and He responded generously, even though He, like us, was "beset by weakness."

Even when Jeremiah, in the first reading (Jeremiah 31:7-9), promises that Yahweh will one day bring the people of Israel home from their Assyrian exile, he clearly states why the chosen people follow such a God: "I," Yahweh proclaims, "am a father to Israel; Ephraim is my first-born."

Whether people follow Jesus in the Christian Scriptures or Yahweh in the Hebrew Scriptures, they're following someone who loves them. No biblical author wants us to suffer for suffering's sake. Dying makes sense only if there's some kind of resurrection at the end of the process: a fulfillment and joy we wouldn't experience without suffering and dying.

We simply have to keep asking Jesus to have our eyes enlightened with enough faith to enable us to see what's at the end of the road.

(10/26/06)