Studying God’s Word

Jeremiah 31:7-9
Hebrews 5:1-6
Mark 10:46-52 [149B]
In the Gospel reading for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, we hear the story of Jesus healing the blind man, Bartimaeus. Within the Gospel of Mark, there is more to this story than just Jesus miraculously healing a blind man.  Each of the New Testament Gospel writers handles the mighty deeds of Jesus somewhat differently, depending on their individual theological outlook. For example, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ miracles are often tied directly to the faith of the recipient. This is clearly seen in today’s reading: Jesus credits the healing of Bartimaeus based on his faith in Jesus as the “son of David” (a title implying a belief in Jesus as the long-awaiting messianic king in the line of David). Jesus replies to the blind man: “‘Go your way; your faith has saved you.’ Immediately he received his sight.”   Connecting miracles to faith occurs throughout Mark (see, for example, Mk 5:21-43; 7:24-30). Mark even offers examples of failed miracles because of people’s lack of faith (for instance, Mk 6:1-6; 8:22-26). John, on the other hand, doesn’t even refer to Jesus’ mighty deeds as miracles; he refers to them as “signs.” In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ mighty deeds are signs of his identity as the “Word made flesh” (Jn 1:14). John includes exactly seven signs because in the Bible, the number seven indicates completion or perfection. For John, Jesus’ seven “signs” communicated the complete or perfect portrait of Jesus as the Word incarnate.  
Each of our four Evangelists is not just theologian, however; each is also a storytellers. They arrange the individual stories about Jesus that they received, either in oral or written form, into a scope and sequence that creates basically the plot to a storyline. In the case of Mark, he often clusters similar topics or themes together. For example, Mark 2:1-3:6 is a series of five controversy stories. Mark 4:1-34 contains all the parables found in his Gospel (the exception being Mk 12:1-12). In this regard, today’s Gospel reading forms a very creative aspect to the plot of Mark’s Gospel.
Of the many miracles of Jesus preserved by Mark, exorcisms being the most frequently occurring, there are only two healing stories of blind men: 8:22-26 and 10:46-52 (today’s reading). These two blind man stories form what is sometimes called a “Markan sandwich.” There two stories bracket the three Passion predictions (8:31-33; 9:30-32; 10:32-34) and may actually be as much a commentary by Mark on the disciples as the stories are a presentation of Jesus’ mighty deeds.
Some scholars have theorized that these two blind men may function (in part) as a metaphor for the disciples and their relative blindness to Jesus’ identity as the suffering Messiah. In the first blind man story (8:22-26), the miracle of healing the blind man does not initially work. Jesus has to touch the man twice for him to fully see. This coincides with the disciples’ blindness to Jesus’ identity up to this point in the Gospel, and certainly to his suffering as the Messiah (8:32; 9:32). By the healing of the second blind man (10:46-52), the disciples no longer wonder about Jesus’ identity as the suffering Messiah.  They, like Bartimaeus, see clearly who Jesus is. Today’s Gospel reading shows the power of Jesus as well as the mastery of Mark as a theologian and storyteller.
Dr. Daniel J. Scholz