Bartimaeus was blind, but then could see


Scripture  Mark 10: 46-52    Jan Savory

Mark divides Jesus’ ministry into 3 parts: his teaching and healing ministry in Galilee, the journey to Jerusalem and the last week of his life in and around Jerusalem.  We meet Jesus today about to start the last stage of the journey to Jerusalem. The next story in Mark is the account of Jesus entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.


I was blind but now I seeOn the road again

 In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus is leaving Jericho and, with his disciples, has a 25-mile, uphill journey ahead. No wonder the disciples just wanted to get going; they didn’t want a useless beggar delaying them. But not Jesus. No one was useless to Jesus. “Call him here” he said. And Bartimaeus came.

Jesus heals blind Bartimaeus

Then Jesus asked him what might seem like a strange question “What do you want me to do for you?”. You see, Bartimaeus hadn’t called out “heal me” but “Have mercy on me”! According to the dictionary “Having mercy” means to treat someone in a kind way instead of a cruel way. It’s also an expression of need. I can’t manage on my own. Perhaps Bartimaeus was just asking for money to buy food. Some beggars didn’t want to be healed, strange as it may sound to us, because they didn’t know how to manage in a world where they had to fend for themselves. Bartimaeus wasn’t like that. He wanted to see, and Jesus healed him.

Seeing and understanding

Given the popularity of John Newton’s hymn, Amazing Grace it’s likely you are thinking, as I did, “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see”.   This story is often read as a parable for Spiritual Blindness.  The symbolism of “seeing” as meaning understanding, or coming to faith, is widely used in our churches and in our everyday speech.  Even Jesus spoke of people “seeing but never perceiving”.

Do we treat the blind as stereotypes?

But what about the real person under all this symbolic development? What if I am visually impaired, partially or fully blind? I cannot be reduced to a symbolic prop. What must it be like with all these words about blindness and songs about recovering sight, when you are blind and know will never see? There are many ways of being ignored, treated as someone who does not matter, or made into a stereotype. Is this what we are doing when we ignore the effects of our words on minorities?

What about other minorities?

I’m not just thinking of blind people. Mark Stephenson, on his blog think Christian wrote: “I have talked with people who are deaf and whose first language is sign language. They have told me that they do not consider themselves to be disabled at all, just people who have a different language and subculture than most Americans.” Similarly, In his book, “Theology and Down Syndrome,” Amos Yong argues that his brother Mark, who has Down Syndrome, is whole and complete as he is. Who are we, who consider ourselves “normal” and “able”, to decide whether someone else is disabled, just because they are not like us, or like the majority of the population?  Are we, in another way, falling into the same thinking as those who try to cure members of the LGBTQ2S community?

Continuum of abilities

We tend to see these situations as binary. You are disabled or you aren’t. But in reality, there is continuum of abilities.  Many of us wear glasses; I can no longer run, jump and skip as I once did. That puts us somewhere on the spectrum between able and disabled.  Just look at those words: able implies active, doing, having the power to do something; disabled implies passive, a state of being not of doing. Our words are important.

Black vs White

There are many ways our language, and that includes language of the Bible, excludes other people and cultures. Think of people of colour. We associate White, in the Bible and still today, with purity, things that are good, innocence, honesty, and cleanliness. The color black, on the other hand, symbolizes suffering and death in the Bible and our culture. In our churches, WE reserve white vestments and altar linens for the high holy days – Christmas and Easter, but Black is the color of death and mourning.


So, when we say “I was blind but now I see” are we subtly excluding or side-lining a person with a disability or from a minority group in our church communities? As we worship week by week do we even think of this? Do we ask, as Jesus did of Bartimaeus: “What do you want”?  Do we ask “How can we include you, the deaf you, the black you or the blind you, the real you, in our worship and the other activities of our lives?”  Unless we listen to our brothers and sisters, how we will we know how they feel, what they need? It is presumptuous of us to think we can decide for others. As an Anglican church, we are learning to ask these questions of our first nations brothers and sisters. But we need to go further.

How will we learn how to retell the story

Coming back to the healing of Bartimaeus. How do we retell the story without stereotyping blind people today? How do words like “I was blind but now I see” come across to them? In reality, it’s not for us to decide. As individuals and as a church, we need to ask and to listen to our brothers and sisters from minority or “other” groups and not be arrogant and think we know what’s best for them.