46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.
Jericho is near the north end of the Dead Sea. It is a place of superlatives: one of the oldest inhabited cities and one of the lowest places on earth – nearly 1000 feet below sea level. Jesus had a long climb in front of Him this day. Jerusalem is nearly 2500 feet above sea level. But this was an even more odious climb than we can imagine. Three times Jesus had told his disciples in Mark what would happen to him in Jerusalem – he would be betrayed, handed over to the authorities, beaten, crucified, die, and rise again. He knew what awaited him in Jerusalem. His disciples, however, have been demonstrating time and again that they are blind to what he has said.
As He leaves town a blind man hears that Jesus passes by. He must have heard of this miracle worker from Galilee. Unable to see Jesus, the blind man starts crying out unable to direct his shouts in any particular direction. Many do not want to hear this. The text says that they rebuke him, but let’s be honest. They say, “Shut-up!” But Jesus hears the man and summons him. The blind man has keener sight than many of those who walk that road with Jesus. He “sees” clearly his need. Jesus heals him and he follows Jesus.
We all suffer from an inborn and inescapable spiritual blindness. The disciples of old had it. The crowd who rebuked Bartimaeus was also blind. But the Lord and the blind man could see. Jesus is the Son of David, long awaited and the anointed of God. Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, could also see him for who he was and begged his mercy. For centuries, over a millennium, the people of God in the western tradition of Christianity have recited Bartimaeus’ words at the beginning of our worship – Lord have mercy. We repeat them again in the Agnus Dei just before receiving the sacrament. We take our place in a long line of people when we sing and say those words. At the head of the line is a blind man, a man who begged for a living. We follow in his footsteps and Jesus has the mercy we seek. He opens our eyes.