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Jeremiah 31:7-9 1
7 This is what the Lord says: “Sing with joy for Jacob; shout for the foremost of the nations. Make your praises heard, and say, ‘Lord, save your people, the remnant of Israel.’ 8 See, I will bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the ends of the earth.  Among them will be the blind and the lame, expectant mothers and women in labor; a great throng will return. 9 They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back. I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am Israel’s father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son.

Background

The Lord must surely be speaking tongue-in-cheek when he calls Jacob-Israel “the chief of nations.” Israel experienced its heyday under Kings David and Solomon, and had been in decline ever since. For several decades, they have suffered in exile as slaves in a foreign land. We would expect the Lord to call them “the least of nations,” because, to all appearances, that is what they were. But there is more to Israel than meets the eye. Long ago, God made a covenant with Abram to make of him a great nation and to make him a blessing to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:1-3). Later, God promised David, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16).

At that moment, Israel might be in shambles, but the Lord’s promises are still intact. The Lord has allowed Israel to suffer to purge it of its sinful ways. Once Israel has seen the light, the Lord will turn its suffering into rejoicing. The Israelites are given three distinct actions to come back into fellowship with God and save themselves. These are just as good for today as they were in Jeremiah’s day.

  • Proclaim. Tell people about God.
  • Praise. Praise the God for His tender mercies.
  • Petition. Ask God for salvation.

The word “remnant” is important in both Old and New Testaments. The concept (if not the word itself) is introduced with Noah and the flood. In that story, God destroyed the evil population on earth but saved righteous Noah and his family (Genesis 6-9). In that instance, Noah and his family constituted the remnant—the righteous nucleus preserved by God to repopulate the world. The idea behind a remnant is that God is faithful even when people are not. The people’s sin does not nullify God’s promise. God sometimes imposes a harsh penalty for sin, but that is foreshadowed by God’ overwhelming mercies.

Items for Discussion

  • What role does the Christian Church play with “the remnant?”
  • We would all like to be considered part of the remnant. How would you expect that group to behave?
  • How does God span generations and keep a “remnant” alive and well in the world?

Mark 10:46-52
46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him. ”So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. 51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” 52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Background 2

Jesus names faith as what impels Bartimaeus. The rest of the story shows us what that faith is. Bartimaeus’s faith is not about reciting the correct confession or subscribing to certain dogmas. It is his unrelenting conviction that Jesus can and will rescue him from his need. We see this faith in what Bartimaeus does:

He grasps who Jesus is. No one else so far in Mark has been able to perceive so much about Jesus from so little data. The title Bartimaeus uses, Son of David, appears only here in Mark, therefore we cannot say too much about exactly what it expresses about Jesus. Elsewhere (12:35-37) Jesus adds nuance to his connection to David (or his differentiation from David) and implies his superiority over Israel’s greatest king. For Bartimaeus, the title obviously indicates that Jesus is God’s designated agent, and it introduces the notion of Jesus as a royal figure, an image that becomes very important when Jesus enters Jerusalem (11:1-10), goes on trial (15:1-15), and dies (15:16-32) as a king. Bartimaeus, despite his blindness and all its connotations of spiritual ignorance (compare 4:12; 8:18), sees the royal dimensions of Jesus’ identity. As the story progresses, we discover that Bartimaeus also discerns that Jesus is specially able to show mercy and heal.

He persists despite hindrances. Faith does not come easily to people in Mark; it must surmount obstacles to obtain what it seeks (see 2:4; 5:27, 35-36; 7:27; 9:18b). Others in the crowd rebuke Bartimaeus, demanding he be silent. This detail reminds us that blind beggars dwell near the bottom rung of social privilege in ancient (and contemporary) society. Do people shout Bartimaeus down because they think he deserves to be who he is? Probably. Do they put their own needs before his? Perhaps. In their ignorance about Jesus, the focus of his message, and his concern for blind beggars, their reprimand of Bartimaeus threatens to limit the range within which Jesus might dispense his compassion and grace. Bartimaeus knows better, and so he yells “even more loudly” until his words penetrate Jesus’ ears.

He expects a transformation. Presumably Jesus could have walked to Bartimaeus to talk with him. Instead, he tells the onlookers to summon Bartimaeus to him. Now those who sought to inhibit the beggar must assist in Jesus’ ministry to him. Then Mark adds one more delicious detail: Bartimaeus tosses aside his cloak. Obviously he expects to regain his sight, for a blind beggar would ordinarily do well to keep his possessions close at hand. He obviously expects a change in his status. His health problem (blindness) and his economic problem (begging) are a single piece of fabric. As with other healings (5:1-20, 25-34), Jesus can restore Bartimaeus to a place of wholeness that will demand his belonging within society. When Bartimaeus casts off his cloak, he confidently prefigures that he will no longer sit on his garment dependent upon handouts from passersby.

He asks for the right thing. When Jesus asks Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?,” his reply is a simple request voiced with the confidence that Jesus can deliver. “That I would see again,” declares resolutely that Jesus can bring the wholeness and deliverance that people seek. In this confidence and simplicity, what Bartimaeus says is fully consistent with the expressions of faith others have made in Mark. Note that Bartimaeus seeks no special privileges. This reiterates that Jesus has not come to bestow power and honor but to open eyes to the new spiritual, social, and material realities made possible when God reigns. When it comes to understanding what Jesus has come to do, the disciples James and John are actually more “blind” than Bartimaeus.

It ends with Bartimaeus following Jesus.  It is the ultimate statement of faith that we all should take heart and do willingly.

Items for Discussion

  • What does it mean to be persistent in our faith?
  • When others shout us down (about our faith) what does this story tell us we should be doing?
  • Why are one’s actions after an encounter of faith, healing, deliverance so important to us?

Discussion Challenge

  • How can we as a body of believers support each other when the world is “shouting us down?”

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translation
  2. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=466
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