For a very short period of time, there was a small church located just outside of the City of Foley that claimed to be “Unshackled by the Truth.” I’m not sure they meant it to be, but I found it a delightful double entendre. Surely, they meant it to be understood that the truth had set them free (John 8.32), but my snarky, holier than thou mind immediately thought of the ways in which churches of all stripes unshackle themselves from the truth to preach whatever they decide the gospel message might be. On the right, this often looks like sermons condemning gay marriage or evolution. In the heretical zone, it looks like Joel Osteen offering “your best life now” or Creflo Dollar’s now infamous (and deleted) Tweet that Jesus “bled and died for us so that we can lay claim to the promise of financial prosperity.” On the left, it takes the form of the Social Gospel or changing the liturgy to reflect “somewhat non-theistic” beliefs. It seems every Christian church has, from time to time, been unshackled by the truth, but I digress.
I love double entendre, especially when it is subtle, which is part of why I think Sunday’s Gospel lesson is so powerful. Yesterday, I looked at Mark’s use of foreshadowing in the words and actions of Bartimaeus. Today, I’m interested in what happens after Jesus healed him. Mark tells us that Bartimaeus, “immediatley regained his sight and followed [Jesus] on the way.”
We know that Jesus is on a journey: he’s been making his way south from the region of Tyre and Sidon for quite some time, and now we find him passing through Jericho. According to TKT, who’s been there, the west gate of Jericho marks the home stretch, beginning the arduous journey up the holy mountain to Jerusalem. It seems reasonable to assume that Bartimaeus joined the crowd and followed Jesus on the way. We also know that in the early days of the Church, Christians weren’t known as Christians, but followers of the Way (ex. Acts 9.2). Mark’s choice of the verb for “follow” and noun for “way” could just as easily be construed as “became a disciple of the Way.”
History doesn’t leave us much knowledge of the fate of Bartimaeus. We can take at face value that he followed Jesus up the mountain and through the East Gate of Jerusalem, but beyond that we’re left to wonder. Was he one of the 500 who saw Jesus resurrected? Was he one of the 120 gathered on Pentecost? Did he continue in the Way throughout the rest of his life? I’d like to think so, but then again, even Peter, who had followed for three years, denied knowing Jesus when push came to shove. Either way, this morning I’m grateful for Mark’s skillful use of language that keeps me on my toes.