by Remy Remmers
I want to start this off by saying that I have mixed feelings about this gospel text. This text has been used against those with disabilities. It is as if we should spend every waking moment of our lives being ready to jump up and asked to be healed. Not everyone with a disability wants to be healed. Let me repeat that: not everyone with a disability wants to be healed. I have hearing loss. I was born with this loss, but it was not discovered until middle school. I will preface this commentary by saying I do not know what it is like to have a visual impairment. However, I do know what it is like to be explicitly and implicitly not included in activities because of my hearing impairment.
Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. Bartimaeus was given a name. Rarely are people with disabilities in the bible given a name. Typically, they are only given a name if they were born able bodied. Bartimaeus is identified as a beggar sitting by the road. This would be fairly common for a beggar. In fact, there weren’t many (if any) occupations a person who is blind were allowed to do. Even today people with disabilities are turned away from jobs or paid less than their counterparts without disabilities. He would know all the happenings of the town because people would freely talk in front of him as if he were not there. Bartimaeus had probably heard several stories about Jesus, stories of his teachings and healings. Hearing that this man, Jesus, was in town filled this man with hope and stubborn persistence.
Those with little to lose in Mark’s gospel are those that call out to Jesus by name. The people of the town did not normally notice Bartimaeus, they didn’t want to start now. They tried to get Bartimaeus to shut up, but why should Bartimaeus care about what the people who excluded him and made him live as a beggar think? Louder and Louder the cry of injustice will cry. What other injustices are crying out? Jesus tells the crowd to call Bartimaeus over to him. The people who excluded Bartimaeus are now the ones that have to call him over. Bartimaeus flung off his cloak which probably had all the money he had in it. For a person who is blind to throw something to the wayside, they never expect to have it again. They can’t see where it goes. To them it could be lost forever. This action shows the amount of faith that Bartimaeus had in Jesus. If he thought that Jesus couldn’t or wouldn’t heal him, Bartimaeus wouldn’t have thrown his cloak away.
Jesus asks what Bartimaeus wants done. He says I want to see again. This means that at one point in his life he could see. Somehow, he lost the ability. Bartimaeus is fully aware of how it feels to be able to see. Unlike other healing stories Jesus doesn’t have to spit or even touch Bartimaeus. Immediately Bartimaeus is healed. Now this is where it ends differently than other healing passages. Typically, Jesus sends the newly healed person back into their community. (I always hope this means then the community would be better at the inclusion of people with disabilities, but there is no evidence for or against this theory). Instead of going back to his community, Bartimaeus choses to follow Jesus on the way. Bartimaeus became a disciple following Jesus around. This could mean that Bartimaeus could not be a part of the community that excluded him even though he was now able-bodied enough to join. There was no desire to rejoin society. There was this desire to follow this man who seemed to be creating a new society.
Jeremiah 31:8 For thus says the Lord: Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, "Save, O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel." 8 See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here. 9 With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.
The Old Testament reading has this beautiful picture about the journey to the kindom of God. God is gathering up all these people that society has ignored. All of the outcasts, people who are disabled, women, people in labor, are gathered and brought to the kindom of God. In this vision none of these people are healed, none are changed into being socially acceptable because maybe we don’t have to be.