Home   e-Library       中文 
e-Library Home |  Browse By Category |  Study the Bible    
 (Manna 53: Conquering Addictions)
Bartimaeus and the Rich Young Man
TOC | Previous | Next

Bartimaeus and the Rich Young Man

Vincent Yeung—Cambridge, UK

            A blind beggar sat patiently on the side of the highway waiting for the mercy of those who passed by, not knowing where his next meal would come from. A young man with a golden chain on his waist, clothed in purple and fine linen, strolled down the path from the temple after morning prayer, pausing intermittently as he thought about how to spend the rest of the day.

            These two men had completely different life-styles and destinies. One thing they did have in common was an encounter with Jesus. When they encountered God, they had to make a choice. Each chose a different path. And so, their lives remained in stark contrast when the narrative of their stories in the Bible ended.

We often read individual events or verses in the Bible in isolation. No doubt each individual verse or section is rich in meaning and teachings, and close readings may be beneficial and edifying in its own way. Nevertheless, it runs the risk of missing the overarching theme of the gospel and the interrelationship between different stories.

Bartimaeus’ encounter with the Lord Jesus, as recorded in the gospel of Mark, teaches us many lessons about true discipleship. Studied in contrast with another story in the same book—the story of the rich young man—we are further reminded of what is expected of one who truly wants to follow Christ.


In Mark the original Greek word for “to follow” is a term for “to be a disciple.” Jesus called Simon and Andrew and they left their nets to follow Him (1:18). When Jesus met Levi, He asked Levi to follow Him (2:14). Jesus selected the twelve (3:14f, cf 6:7-13) to be His disciples to take part in the mission of preaching and healing.

As one who “follows” as a true disciple, one must deny himself, take up the cross and follow (8:34). A true disciple must learn to serve and be the servant of all (9:35). He seeks to serve rather than be served (10:44-5).

A true disciple is one who sees, hears, understands (4:14-15), and is able to withstand tribulation and persecution (4:16-17). Hence, he values the teaching of Jesus more than riches (4:18-19), and ultimately strives to successfully bear fruit (4:20).

Our Lord Jesus’ life—His suffering and death on the cross—is the ultimate elucidation of the meaning of discipleship.

The Rich Young Man—From Joy to Sorrow

The young man approached Jesus with eagerness; he ran toward Jesus in haste. It must have been a great and exciting moment in his life to see the rabbi whose fame had spread throughout Galilee. He asked Jesus a poignant question: “What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”

His privileged upbringing, status in society, and his pious obedience and behavior must have reassured him of a positive commendation by Jesus. Indeed, Jesus’ first response reaffirmed what he believed (10:17), and he preened himself on observing the commandments. Despite his great wealth, he did not fall prey to licentiousness.

However, his guileless question concealed his ignorance; his confidence deluded him. His question literally meant “What shall I do for myself to inherit eternal life?”

He believed that his good work and observance of the commandments would make him “good”—the very reason he addressed Jesus as the “good Teacher.” Jesus rebuffed his appellation in no time and quickly challenged the man’s understanding of goodness. No man can achieve goodness through work alone (10:18), and only God is the source of goodness.

The man considered himself to be good on the basis of his own observation of the law. The young man’s attitude was contrary to Jesus’ insistence that man must receive the kingdom of God as a child (10:13-16).

He neglected the simplistic faith of a child and wanted to be judged on the basis of his obedience since his youth (10:20). But no one can enter the kingdom of heaven through his effort alone, either rich or poor, for salvation is from God alone (10:27).

Everyone who followed Jesus left something behind (1:18, 20, 2:14, 8:34), and for this man, following would involve leaving all his possessions. The rich man exemplifies the thorny ground in Jesus’ parable of the sower (4:7, 18-19). The thorny ground represents those who hear the word, but the cares of this world, the deceit of riches, and the lust for other things choke out the word.

The man claimed to have obeyed all the commandments, but he had neglected the first commandment. Nothing should stand in the way of one’s devotion to God (Ex 20:3). Jesus’ command to him became a call to repentance, but it was a call left unheeded.

The rich man was not in need materially. He did not believe, for he lacked understanding. He left Jesus empty-handed; for the first time, a person came to Jesus but was not helped by Him. His exuberant outlook on life had turned into despondence and sorrow.

Bartimaeus—From Beggar to Disciple

Like the disciples who are named when they were called (1:16, 19; 2:14; 3:16-19), Bartimaeus is introduced by name (10:46-52). Unlike the other disciples, who responded to Jesus’ calling, Bartimaeus actually cried out first to the Lord, and then Jesus asked him to follow (10:48, 49).

Faith and Insight

Bartimaeus first addressed Jesus as “Son of David” (10:48; cf 12:35-37), an acknowledgement that Jesus is the Messiah (Mt 22:42). He must have heard about Jesus—His teachings, miraculous signs, and healing.

At that time, there was a lot of conflicting information about Jesus’ identity. Was He John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets (8:28; Jn 7:40), a rabbi (Jn 1:38), a king (Jn 6:15), or a healer?

Bartimaeus cried out to Jesus because he needed healing. But after his recovery, he chose to follow the Lord. He was after something more important than the resolution of his present predicament. He saw the Lord as more than a mere miracle worker.

“‘What do you want me to do for you?’” Jesus asked Bartimaeus (10:51). This is the exact question the Lord posed to James and John, under a set of very different circumstances (10:36). James and John’s request revealed their blindness; they did not know what to ask for.

They failed to understand or accept the idea of the suffering servant (10:45). What interested them were power and authority—who was the greatest (9:34) and who would sit on the right or left of Jesus (10:37). They failed to accept the meaning of servitude (9:35; 10:45), even after having witnessed many of the Lord’s miracles (7:14; 8:17, 21).

Bartimaeus had heard of Jesus’ miracles. He understood and asked for restoration of his sight according to God’s will. His faith enabled him to overcome the obstacles standing in the way to get to Jesus. His faith not only healed but also saved him (10:52).

The original Greek word that is translated as “to heal” (5:34; cf Mt 9:22) is the same as “to save” (Mt 19:25; Lk 18:26; Acts 2:40; Jas 5:20). Bartimaeus was healed physically and saved spiritually through faith.

Faith brings courage

The disciples were constantly in fear (5:15, 6:50, 9:6, 32, 10:32, 16:18) because of their lack of faith and understanding. In comparison, we see how the insight and faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman enabled her to overcome obstacles to get to Jesus (7:26-30).

Bartimaeus was persistent. The crowd rebuked him (10:48, cf 10:13), but he refused to be silenced. His exuberant faith was in contrast to that of the disciples. His persistence enabled him to overcome obstacles, and his eagerness was shown by jumping up when he realized that Jesus asked for him.

Giving up everything

It was the custom of the period for a beggar to place a garment on the ground by the road. When people walked past, they threw spare change on the garment.

To Bartimaeus the garment was his livelihood, like a boat or net to a fisherman. Yet when he was called, even before he gained his sight, he cast aside his mantle.

This is a pattern with the followers of Jesus who left everything behind to follow Him: Simon and Andrew left their nets behind (1:18), James and John left their father (1:20), Levi left his occupation (2:14), Peter and the disciples left everything to follow Jesus (10:21), the widow left all in the treasury (12:42), and a woman emptied her alabaster jar of perfume on Jesus (14:3).

Following Jesus whole-heartedly

After Jesus healed Bartimaeus, He said “‘Go your way’” (10:52a). Unlike the case of the twelve disciples, Jesus often sent those He had healed back to their own lives (1:43; 2:11; 5:19).

Not everyone is gifted and chosen to be a full-time disciple or minister. It is up to Him to choose. But every human being, the great and the good, the lowly and the dejected, can take up their cross and follow Jesus.

Bartimaeus chose to follow Jesus all the way to Jerusalem (10:52b-11:1). That was a path that led to necessary suffering (8:31, 9:31, 10:32). The disciples did not understand (9:31), and many followers were afraid (10:32), but Bartimaeus chose to follow Jesus without turning back.


The rich man had many possessions (10:22), but Bartimaeus had few (10:46). This difference, however, was not the deciding factor for the way things turned out in their relationship with the Lord Jesus. Other factors were more pertinent.

The rich man asked what he should do for himself to inherit eternal life (10:17). Bartimaeus only asked for mercy (10:51). The rich man had a wrong understanding of Jesus as merely the “good Teacher” (10:17), perhaps just another famous rabbi in town. Bartimaeus called Jesus the Son of David (10:47-48).

The rich man wanted to be judged on the basis of his obedience (10:20), but Bartimaeus followed Jesus with faith. The rich man was commanded to sell his possessions and follow Jesus (10:21). The rich man did not sell (10:22), but Bartimaeus left all behind (10:50, 52). The rich man left Jesus in sorrow (10:22), but Bartimaeus followed Jesus with joy.


So who then is able to be saved (10:26)? Many believers are satisfied with their relationship with God, with their contributions and their observations of the commandments. But one thing is lacking—they are unwilling to bear their cross to follow Jesus.

With his simple faith and total trust, Bartimaeus was saved (10:52). He did not desire position and privilege, but simply wanted to see. He believed, saw, and followed. God’s grace had given him hope and a new life, but he did not waste his life on worldly pursuits.

Rather, he dedicated his life to follow Jesus. He gave up everything before he was healed; he gave up his new-found freedom after he was healed. That exemplifies what it means to fulfill the demands of being a true disciple of Jesus.

PDF Download