Bartimaeus and the Rich Young Man
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
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.
DISCIPLESHIP IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK
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
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
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.
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,
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 YOUNG MAN—A CONTRAST TO BARTIMAEUS
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.
A TRUE DISCIPLE
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.