Mark’s Double Entendre?

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.

Finding a SFW Double Entendre meme is a lot harder than you might think.

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.

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Seeing Through the Eyes of Blind Bartimaeus

Bartimaeus was blind.  And loud.  Bartimaeus was blind and loud.  That’s all we know about him in Sunday’s lesson from Mark, and yet we can still learn plenty by seeing Jesus through the eyes of Blind Bartimaeus.

Bartimaeus was sitting where he always sat.  Just outside the main gate in the city walls, he sat, waiting for passers-by to offer him some change or the crust off their bread.  Today was a different day, however.  The crowd coming out of the city was much larger than usual.  The energy was palpable as word quickly spread that it was Jesus of Nazareth who was passing through town.  This Jesus was a Rabbi like none other, an amazing faith healing, and, increasingly, the scourge of the religious powers-that-be.  Quickly, Bartimaeus put the pieces together and he began to cry out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  He yelled and screamed, ignoring the hushes of the crowd, until Jesus stopped and invited him to come forward.  Bartimaeus jumped to his feet, threw off his cloak and found his way to Jesus.

The very next story in Mark’s Gospel is that of Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem.  In that story there is a crowd of people yelling about the Kingdom of David and shouting “Hosanna” or “Save us.”  As Jesus makes his was through the Eastern main gate, the people threw off their cloaks to welcome him into the city.  It seems as though Bartimaeus, even in his state of blindness, could see who Jesus really was.  Bartimaeus was the harbinger of the faith of Palm Sunday, foreshadowing the events that are about to happen, and Jesus affirms him by saying, “your faith has made you well.”

Bartimaus isn’t the first blind man that Jesus has healed in Mark’s Gospel.  The last one, in chapter 8, took some time to see clearly.  It seems that Bartimaeus could see, even though he was still blind.  Often we approach Jesus in a state of blindness.  We are unable to see our own sin, unable to see the hurting world around us, unable to see the many ways that God has poured out his love upon us.  Too often, we are like the blind man whose eyes do not open right away, but if we were to see through the eye of Blind Bartimaeus, having faith even in that which is unseen, and often, downright unbelievable, perhaps our faith might heal not ourselves alone, but the whole world.