And then he followed Jesus on the way. Jesus told Bartimaeus to go on his way, and the way Bartimaeus chose was the way Jesus was going. St. Mark, as is always his way, tells this story simply, almost too simply, and the action goes by so fast we sometimes don’t see it. So let’s take a closer look, if only for a minute.
This story is set in Jericho, the site of Joshua’s great victory over the Canaanites of that city 1500 years earlier. After that victory, Joshua cursed Jericho, saying that any man that rebuilt the city would lose his firstborn son. A man named Hiel of Bethel apparently didn’t believe Joshua, and rebuilt the city about 400 years after its destruction, but it cost him his firstborn, Abiram. St. Mark picks up the story of Jericho about a thousand years after that, when another man named Joshua (Jesus is the Greek way of saying the name Joshua: yes, Jesus’ name is Josh) was making His way out of the city. Jesus was being followed on His way by the twelve disciples and a great crowd, when their peaceful journey was interrupted by a blind beggar named Bartimaeus. We don’t know many of the names of those who Jesus healed, but Mark remembered Bartimaeus’ name. Bartimaeus means son of Timaeus, he was Tim’s son, in a way his name was Junior. Bartimaeus was blind, which relegated him to a life of begging, he was unemployable at the time. He had managed to find a good place to beg, by the gates of the city where all the traders and travelers had to pass by, and he would have wrapped up the coins people flicked to him in the big cloak he kept wrapped around him.
We don’t know how Bartimaeus heard about Jesus, but he knew Jesus’ name, he knew Jesus’ title, and he knew that Jesus could heal him. So Bartimaeus cried out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The first inclination of the crowd surrounding Jesus was to hush Bartimaeus up: quiet down, bum, you’re an embarrassment to us all, you with your begging and yelling. But as Matthew Henry wrote, misery is the object of mercy: Bartimeaus was in misery, and Jesus is mercy. So in his misery Bartimaeus kept up his yelling, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” So Jesus stopped, He stood still on His way, Jesus heard the cry of the blind beggar, and that blind beggar was more important to Him than the crowd, more important than the chattering mass that stood in the way of His mercy. Jesus told that crowd to tell Bartimaeus to come on over, and Mark tells us that he sprang up, that he threw off his mantle: that cloak that contained all the coins he had collected, you can almost hear those coins pinging off the walls as Bartimaeus ran over to Jesus.
It’s interesting that Jesus then asked Bartimaeus what he wanted Him to do for him. Jesus knew the hearts of all men, He knows what we all need before we can even ask, but it seems that Jesus wants us to reckon our own needs as well. “What do you want me to do for you,” Jesus asked him. And the blind man said to him, “Master, let me receive my sight.” Let me see, let me become someone who can take care of himself, work for a living, find the Temple on my own, let me see with my own eyes the Man who is mercy incarnate. And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.”
Go your way, Jesus told Bartimaeus. Jesus didn’t say ‘Come with me,” or “Now that you can see, make me your personal Lord and Savior,” or “You owe me big time.” Jesus said “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” Now that you are well, now that you can see and make your own decisions about where you live and what job you will have and where you will go, now that you are well, go your way. Bartimaeus had a choice, and he chose to follow Jesus on the way.
And what a way it was. Bartimaeus picked quite a time to join up with Jesus. St. Mark tells us that the way Jesus was taking out of Jericho was the way to Jerusalem, the way to the Cross. It’s only 17 miles from Jericho to Jerusalem, but the path is not much of a path, it’s rocky and narrow at times, ravines and steep drops challenge every traveler, not to mention the bands of robbers that hid amongst those rocks and valleys. That road was so bad, so infamous, that Jesus set His parable of the Good Samaritan on that road, and everyone immediately got the reference. It’s no path for a blind man to follow, but it was the first path the newly sighted Bartimaeus got to see.
We don’t know how far Bartimeaus followed Jesus on the way; we don’t know if he stopped in to Mary and Martha’s place and met their brother, the famous Lazarus, we don’t know if he walked behind Jesus when he triumphantly entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. We don’t know what happened to Bartimaeus, but the fact that Mark knew his name means that Mark probably knew him. Maybe Bartimaeus washed the dishes at the Last Supper, maybe with Mark he ran away from the Temple guards when Jesus was arrested, perhaps Bartimeaus watched from afar as the man that healed him, that same Son of David, suffered and died. What we do know is that Bartimaeus was blind, but was made to see, we know that he was miserable, but then saw mercy Himself. We know that Bartimaeus was told to go his way, and he chose to make his way Jesus’ way. We, like Bartimaeus have a choice of paths. What way will you choose?